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Online gaming ensnares Vietnamese youngsters

By Long Nguyen   June 12, 2020 | 05:15 am PT
Virtual recreation has grown in popularity among Vietnamese youth, leading to real-life consequences.

On June 9, the body of a five-year-old boy was found next to a stream in a forest in the central province of Nghe An. His hands were tied, and mouth covered with duct tape.

Local police later arrested Dao Ngoc Hoang, an 11th-grader, who admitted he was addicted to an online game called "Hide and Seek", kidnapped the boy to a nearby forest with the purpose of hiding, then rescuing him, mimicking the game.

The police confirmed he was an online game addict and once also hid his mother's bicycle.

Online game addiction has hit Vietnamese youth hard in recent years, with a large number of students skipping class to play, Internet shops defying bans to remain open all day to create a lucrative market for the industry.

According to a report by POKKT, a leading smartphone advertising platform in Southeast Asia, the number of Vietnamese gamers was 28 million in 2018 and could jump to 40 million this year.

A boy plays computer games. Photo by Shutterstock/koonsiri boonnak.

A player takes a virtual break from reality. Photo by Shutterstock/koonsiri boonnak.

Gaming revenues are expected to experience an annual growth rate of 11.6 percent from 2019 to 2023, resulting in a market volume of $147 million by 2023, according to German online statistics portal Statista.

American technology company Nvidia in 2018 reported that Vietnam had a number of Internet cafes equal to Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines combined, at about 45,000.

In 2009, the country banned Internet cafes from being situated within 200 meters of schools, in a bid to keep students in class.

However, the availability of mobile phones makes policing screen time a problem, as some players eventually pay the ultimate price.

In 2017, a 26-year-old man died in an Internet cafe in southern Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province after a marathon gaming stint.

According to local authorities, the gamer died of acute pneumonia, exacerbated by physical exhaustion as he had not eaten or drunk any liquids over a long period.

Though the case put a stain on online gaming, few players took heed.

Virtual fun

"If I did not play computer games, what would I do in my free time?" Le Viet Anh, a 10-grader in Hanoi's Ba Dinh District, asked.

Urban teenagers spend most of their day time studying at school or home, with only four hours a day for recreation, which either involves TV or the Internet, according to TITA Research, a Vietnamese market research and consulting company.

Viet Anh has relied on his trusty smartphone to access the popular online game "Mobile Legends" without the knowledge of his parents.

"The more my parents ban me from playing, the more I want to, it is that addictive," he maintained.

People play computer games at an internet shop in Hoi An in central Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Minh Duy.

People play computer games at an internet shop in Hoi An Town, central Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Minh Duy.

In fact, gaming companies know exactly how to keep players hooked.

Oscar Lopez, employed at a leading Chinese gaming company, once told media that apart from the fact games have an inherent addictive quality because they offer immediate entertainment, gaming firms have psychological divisions that apply algorithms to entice the subconscious.

"If I lose a match or a virtual life, I will play until I win. And if I win, I will play until my Mom tells me to come downstairs for dinner," said Le Hoang Thanh An, a university student in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11. Calling himself a game addict, An said he would give up on games when he graduates.

Another reason contributing to online game addiction is the growing number of game streamers and famous players in Vietnam, causing youngsters to idolize their favorite virtual heroes.

One of the most popular gamers in the country is Nguyen Duc Binh, 24 (nickname: Chim Se Di Nang--Sunny Sparrow), famous since attending high school in Hanoi for his performance in "Age of Empires".

Each of Binh's streamed battles on YouTube can attract hundreds of thousands of viewers, keen to emulate his success.

"I want to be Chim Se Di Nang because he has earned a lot of money and fame by playing games," Viet Anh confirmed, adding he once spotted the famous gamer in Hanoi.

What’s more, youngsters, especially those from Generation Z, frequently copy their parents when it comes to mobile phone or Internet use.

"My Mom told me to stop playing my favorite game, though I see her playing 'Candy Crush' whenever she has free time," according to Truong The Anh, 19, university student in Hanoi's Long Bien District.

'These violent delights have violent ends'

Phan Minh Duc, 21, has been struggling to improve his GPA and perform in his part-time job at an IT firm in Hanoi.

However, Vietnam’s recent social distancing campaign afforded him the perfect excuse to virtually immerse himself up to eight hours per day at home.

In 2018, World Health Organization officially recognized a "gaming disorder" as a mental health condition that effects players both physically and mentally.

Doctor Nguyen Trong An, former head of the Department of Children Affairs under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, confirmed an increasing number of children are hospitalized due to mental issues related to gaming addiction in Vietnam.

More importantly, many "first-person shooter" games, for instance, promote the use of violence, which is often later played out in real life.

According to psychology expert Hoang Duong in HCMC's Children's Hospital No. 1, many action games are well-designed to reflect real-life situations, making it difficult for young players to distinguish between virtual worlds and reality.

Duong added many of his minor patients have trouble communicating with their parents and friends since they tend to act more violently, mimicking the games they play.

Meanwhile, Hoang's actions in the central province of Nghe An shocked his teachers in Quynh Luu 4 High School, who, aware of his addiction, frequently urged him to focus more on studying.

Tragedy ensued as imaginary obsession failed to pay heed to the sober call of reality, leaving an innocent, five-year-old boy to pay the price.

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