National Edition

Online gaming addictions: Sundance films explore a darker side of the Internet

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 7:25 p.m. MST

"However, there is fierce opposition to the proposed bill. Opponents argue that a detailed study on overindulgence in online games should be conducted first, rather than blindly regulating Internet games," according to BusinessKorea.com.

Boot camp

China is one of the first countries to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, according to the film Web Junkie, which takes viewers into one of 400 military-style boot camps where teenagers are treated.

Most of the patients are teenage boys who spend six hours or more a day at Internet cafes playing online games. The film shows some of the boys bragging about who has played for the longest continuous stretch, only stopping to cat nap, eat or go to the bathroom. One teen claimed to have played 15 days straight.

But Medalia and co-director Shosh Shlam also revealed an underlying cause of the youths attraction to online gaming — dysfunctional relationships between the child and his parents.

"There were family issues and clearly (online gaming) is an escape for these kids," Medalia said. "The questions was what came first, the addiction and overuse of the Internet or the relationship problems."

Some of the teens said when gaming they felt successful and accepted. They dismissed the notion that they had become antisocial, with one boy saying he had fallen in love with another gamer online who understood him, calling it his first "cyber love."

The therapy also involved parents who were candidly told during a session that their children were lonely because the parents failed to connect to them emotionally.

One parent responded that these children are the only child — the result of the China's one-child policy — and as parents they failed to make friends with their only child.

"We only ask them to study hard," he said. "Their pain, their worries, we see none of that ... as long as they study hard all is well."

The psychologist conducting the session, Professor Tao Ran, said these children have turned to the Internet as their friend and confidant: "All of them feel zero degree of emotion toward another person," he told the parents.

The rehabilitation centers in China have been around since 2004 and Tao claims a 70 percent success rate in curing patients of Internet addictions. But Shlam said there is no reliable data on the success of the rehab treatments centers.

Reality vs. fantasy

Tao invited the Israeli filmmakers to his camp because he wants to spread his theory that the Internet can be as addictive as a drug and the West needs to address the issue as aggressively as Asia, Shlam said.

Internet addiction is not considered a clinical disorder in the United States, where experts say it requires further study.

"We need to be careful as to whether we're responding to a fear of technology rather than looking at the complex pressures around a individual who is exhibiting signs of abuse of any substance or activity in ways that are problematic in all areas of the individual's life," said Pamela Brown Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, in Newport Beach, Calif.

She questions whether efforts in South Korea to regulate the Internet will address the underlying problems of people obsessed with online gaming.

"My concern is that it's an easy answer to blame games and the Internet (and) ignore more fundamental issues surrounding mental health," she said.

Veatch explained the debate around the societal impact of developing technologies also delves into questions of reality verses imagined reality that have been asked every time a new medium takes hold in society.

The remote nation of Bhutan has the benefit of learning from more developed countries that have been adapting to electronic media for more than a century. French Filmmaker Thomas Balmes' documentary "Happiness" begins with King Jigme Wangchuck announcing an initiative in 1999 to provide television and Internet throughout the largely undeveloped nation and assuring the masses that rapid development was synonymous with the “gross national happiness” of his country.

The film, which follows a family of yak herders in the rural highlands of Bhutan and their dogged pursuit of buying a television in time for the electrification of their village, questions of whether the innovation brings happiness.

Balmes, who doesn't have a TV in his own home because he doesn't like the content broadcast on French television, said he does not advocate getting rid of technology or slowing its advance.

"We shouldn't replace the computer with pen and paper, but we should be working at educating ourselves about technology" and how it impacts society, he said.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere