MIT's Henry Jenkins: Why the Chinese Fear Game Addiction More than Game Violence

February 4, 2008 -
In the United States and Europe, the cultural struggle over the video game medium typically focuses on graphic portrayals of violence and sexuality.

In China, however, concerns over so-called video game addiction are fueling the debate. At least, that's how MIT professor Henry Jenkins sees it. Writing for his Confessions of an Aca-Fan blog, Jenkins details a recent trip to China, where he attended the International Games and Learning Forum:
I was struck by how little of the conversation about the negative social impact of games centered around issues of media violence or even sex. I had noted a similar disinterest in games violence when I had visited China five years ago in the wake of a tragic fire in a cybercafe started by a high school student...

The Chinese had little interest in the argument that games violence [causes] real world violence. Rather, the incident was read in terms of concerns about the breakdown of traditional community life and the loss of the moral influence of the extended family... both of which were seen as a consequence of rapid cultural, technological, and economic changes. The incident was also read partially in relation to a focus on 'games and internet addiction.'

Could China's ruling elites have a vested interest in fostering the notion of game addiction? Jenkins speculates on this:
We need to be careful about taking this 'addiction' rhetoric at face value... For one thing, Chinese youth used cybercafes as their point of access to both games and the internet. To some degree, the Chinese government is using a rhetoric of addiction to rationalize their periodic crackdowns on young people's digital access... (see: China flags crackdown on undesirable online games)

In that sense, addiction rhetoric does some of the same work that the Firewall does in terms of restricting youth participation in the online world...

At a time when aspects of capitalism are reshaping Chinese society... addiction rhetoric gives the Chinese a way to talk about the impact of leisure culture and consumer capitalism on their lives. Playing games is problematic precisely because it is unproductive (or seen as such)...

Jenkins' lengthy blog entry also touches on game piracy and the serious game movement in China. It's definitely worth a read.

Comments

'The Chinese had little interest in the argument that games violence [causes] real world violence. Rather, the incident was read in terms of concerns about the breakdown of traditional community life and the loss of the moral influence of the extended family… "

!
somebody got it right! good for you china.

The Chinese don't want to become lazy like americans

also, w00t Henry Jenkins

remember, games are just games, glad the chinese have realised that they're just that, and are instead working on helping people maintain a balance between life, and games, which is a good thing (imho)

THe image of the 'useless partner' sat on the couch, watching TV, drinking beer and never doing anything, is a universal one, regardless of whether TV, Bowling, Fishing or computer games involved, they have all caused divorces.

That said, I'm still in two minds about this whole addiction thing, part of me is concerned because games are advertised and judged by their 'addictiveness', which doesn't present a good image in the first place, the second concern is that too many stereotypes of gamers is what is leading to many problems. If a gamer is feeling angry at the world, who can he or she turn to without them resorting to TV phsychology and stereotypes?

I've heard a lot of opponents to games make the comment 'You Gamers', I wonder if they are aware just how ignorant, rude and stereotypical that generalisation is? I wonder if they realise just how much damage [i]they[/i] are doing to a large percentage of the next generation's opinions by boxing them up into a generalisation and jumping to conclusions about us? If I said 'You Christians' or 'You Muslims', both of which are voluntary (in the West) just like Video Game playing, I'm sure there would be an outcry.

Anyway, I've drifted way off topic there, addictiveness is a complex issue, games are certainly not physically addictive like Alcohol or Drugs, there is no chemical bond that pulls you back to the game, but, like all leisure pursuits, you need self-control, something a large number of people lack, especially those who rely too heavily on their government to control their lives for them, a situation that does exist in China and a situation that many censors would love to exist in the West.

remember, games are just games, glad the chinese have realised that they’re just that, and are instead working on helping people maintain a balance between life, and games, which is a good thing (imho)

But again, the problem becomes one of government interference. And in China they don't have any protection from that. There was talk for a while about government-mandated penalties for staying online too long in online games (reducing a player's stats by half if they stayed online too many hours in one day, that sort of thing). Whether anything actually came of that I don't know, but I remember it being discussed, and if they'd decided to implement it what was there to stop them?

The Chinese want to crackdown on the access of young people (the people most likely to rebel) to the internet. This is just a continuation of what Chinese Google started.

China needs to worry about that thick layer of smog all over it. That crap blows across the Pacific into OUR territory. >:(

Of course they aren't worried about content, anyone caught playing a game with sex in it is run over by a tank. If the result of that digital sex is a digital baby girl, the video game equipment is destroyed too. The content debate is long gone in China, the government won and they have moved on to how much the government will let you play your censored games.

The article is quite interesting and touches on some larger issues of China's view of Western Media and the Internet. Reading about how a representative from the Educational Ministry was also present in a talk reminded me a bit of the turf wars that have been known to go on between agencies and ministries over things like the Internet. The State Administration for Radio, Film, and Telivision; the Ministry of Information Industries; Xinhua; and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation are the major players all vying to regulate or dereguate the Internet. They are definitely not all on the same page, and each has their own motivation.

Another interesting point is the use of games to inculcate national and cultural values. One can imagine with the increased funding of the Chinese military and it's new attempts to replicate the US military officer college recruitment method that a Chinese version of America's Army may soon be in the pipeline. Heck, with Chinese studios learning more about Western games it may be fully translated and released in America. I can even imagine a game showing the exploits of the People's Liberation Army during WWII/Chinese Civil War, similar to our Call of Duty/Medal of Honour series. Of course, those exploits will have to be exaggerated since most of the fighting was done by the KMT. ;p

loss of moral influence? if video games break down morals, why arent i going around flipping off half of the civilized world?

You need to realise that 'morally acceptable' in most countries means 'doing what we want you to do instead of what you want to do'.

China doesn't care about violent games. They don't care even about sexually explicit games. What has them in such a stir? Good games.

Damn commie hypocrites. Of course they need a stick to wave in front of the youth. Start getting ideas on the internet about pulling our country out of the 1950s and we ban your games for your own good.

Of course the other problem with "gaming addiction" in MMOs is one of unfettered access to people with more freedom and consequently opinions the communist party may not approve of...

Unless they are blocking access to world wide game servers? Probably not given the number of gold farmers who seem to be based in china.

Gift.

"Of course they aren’t worried about content, anyone caught playing a game with sex in it is run over by a tank. If the result of that digital sex is a digital baby girl, the video game equipment is destroyed too. The content debate is long gone in China, the government won and they have moved on to how much the government will let you play your censored games."

You obviously haven't seen many games available in China.

Some of these posters should really read the whole article before posting their comments.

In any case, the article is really worth the read as GP does not summarize the whole thing. He talks in some length about how the Chinese gaming industry are discussing ways to improve their image and win the approval of the Chinese government to viewing their trade in a more favorable light. I really liked the section where he relates how China's One Child policy has boosted to MMO industry due to the inability for youths and adults to find a more people in their age group to socialize with. MMOs win out to console games due to the fact that it is one of the few gaming types that can actually make a profit without (much) piracy concerns (btws, he also offers an interesting insight into China's piracy problem). Not only that, but he also sort of relates how MMOs are more like a social tool where players do not feel as monitored by the government as other aspects of the internet.

As I said earlier, definately worth the read.

It could also be a reminiscent of the opium wars of the late 1800s. Opium had destroyed a lot of China and made a lot of the western countries (England, Dutch, German) very rich by making people addicted to the stuff.

I wonder if this is another push to stop the destruction of the status quo in China and maybe another smaller western imperialism.

Maybe someone who is Chinese could correct me but to me it just sounds like China is just scared that kids or people will stop listening to their families in general.

I agree with this guy. But like Luke Stapley said about opium, anything that's used too much can harm the family/society/economy/country, not just video games.

We have the same "problem" here, its just not as bad because us freedom-loving Americans are used to being able to do what we want with our free-time and have thus learned how to moderate it. Well, maybe not all Americans, but the vast majority of us do (despite what the media would like you to believe).

I know we hear stories about nutjobs that starve themselves to death playing video games, but honestly, how many Americans actually know anyone that is likely to do that? Every society has its dregs, but they tend to be few and far between. Yet they are the ones who make the news. It's important to remember that.

"Maybe someone who is Chinese could correct me but to me it just sounds like China is just scared that kids or people will stop listening to their families in general."

This is part of the issue. Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, etc. are often family/community-centric, as opposed to individualistic nations such as America. This leads to some crackdown on certain behavior that the government believe would lead to juvenile delinquency. If you want an American comparison, think of when some states some made sodomy illegal by law and you'll have the right idea.

The problem isn't just 'haha China's a bunch of commies lol,' it's much worse than people think it is, actually

"We have the same “problem” here, its just not as bad because us freedom-loving Americans are used to being able to do what we want with our free-time and have thus learned how to moderate it. Well, maybe not all Americans, but the vast majority of us do (despite what the media would like you to believe)."

It is on a completely different level from the U.S. Freedom and stuff are not related to this issue, so please stop making this another bout of Commies vs. Capitalists.

Think of the general American opinion of an Asian student: well read, never causes trouble, straight As, etc. This stereotype is in place for a reason and it is because they face extreme pressure to do well in school. Currently, with China slowly rising as an economic force and converting to Capitalism instead of Communism, the old ways of everyone able to get a job are long gone now. Unemployment rates are higher and higher, and students are thus subject to more and more pressures these days to compete with the other billion people for a job from the instant they start school. I tutored a student once in English, and his parents were incredibly hard on him. He got a 99% on one English test and they were busting his chops. It was hard to watch since I've been where he was before.

I'll tell you now, a good number of people can stand this type of stress and are quite happy and leading rather healthy lifestyles in China. Despite what many people think, it's not a land of martial law; in fact, it's not much different from America from the vantage point of your ordinary citizen. Most of them can do whatever they want, really. Others who can't handle this stress, though, retreat into a virtual world, and in China, that is huge business. The Internet Cafes here are set up like casinos. They're comfortable, you can get food delivered to your seat, the windows are blocked so you lose your sense of time, etc... basically preying on people's weakness. And there's where everything unravels.

I'm not trying to say there is any right or wrong associated with this, I'm just trying to outline certain differences and similarities between American and Chinese lifestyles and try to right some of the misconceptions people here have. If you still believe it's the wrong type of thing to do, more power to you. But to judge without all the facts is irresponsible and makes us as bad as the accused.

I never knew Red Green was a professor.

@ Dan:

Yeah, he got a PH.D in Duct-tape...
 
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