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

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.

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