According to the “Research Report on Internet Behaviour of Chinese Teenagers”, published by the China Internet Network Information Center, there were 79 million teenage internet users in the Chinese countryside by December 2015. Among these users there is a large percentage of “left-behind” children who are seriously addicted to video games. Although the issue has gathered a lot of attention from the wider society, there are few signs of improvement. The “rural left-behind population” research team from the College of Humanities and Development Studies at the China Agricultural University started probing into the issue in 2016, and began publishing their findings in the Chinese media in August 2018.
The research team concluded that the issue was a result of the interaction between the booming video game industry, the external social structure of China, and the situation of the “left-behind” children. According to figures provided by the Game Publishers Association Publications Committee, there were 583 million game consumers in 2017, at a 3.1% annual growth rate. These consumers produced a total revenue of 203.6 billion that year, which was 23% more than the previous year. To limit the impact of this “sunrise industry” on these “left-behind” kids, the government has demanded that companies set up countermeasures to prevent addiction, such as setting time restrictions. However, these measures do not seem to be addressing the deeper causes.
Due to urbanization, there are 15.5 million rural left-behind children in compulsory education in 2017, according to Citiobserve. The parents of these children usually work in cities, leaving the kids with their grandparents or relatives in the countryside. These caretakers often assume a smaller role than the parents would in giving guidance or disciplines. Many children thus experience a lack of meaning in life and turn to video games for company. Video games also enjoy this dominance simply because there are no other competitive forms of entertainment in the countryside. The games are usually played on mobile phones, and excessive gaming can affect learning. As it has become ever more necessary for families to keep in touch via mobile phone, parents may find it difficult not to give their children a mobile even if they would prefer them to focus on their studies.
To these kids, video games are not confined to mobiles and computers. As their lives revolve around playing games, the impact has seeped into many social aspects. For example, boys and girls play different games and hardly ever hang out together; kids who do well in games may receive more respect in life. They might learn some collaboration skills through these games, however the research team found no cases of offline interactions between these kids. It is thus a matter of concern whether spending a huge amount of time playing games is actually damaging kids’ ability to interact with each other outside of the internet. As they only need an electronic device at home to engage in this activity, their experience of entertainment is mainly individualistic.
The research team claims to sees the whole issue as an intricate matter and does not place the blame solely on the profit-making companies or on undisciplined kids. They encourage any attempts to improve the situation to come from a wider perspective.