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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 09:30 GMT
Thai gamers soak up computer skills
In Thailand, young people's obsession with online gaming may help to nurture a generation of computer-literate children, reports BBC ClickOnline's Spencer Kelly from Bangkok.

Thailand internet games
Ministers say the number of nocturnal gamers has dropped
Thailand's capital is one of those places that never seems to sleep.

But while the tourists enjoy the night markets and the bars of Bangkok, the computer savvy locals are flocking to internet cafes to take part in an Asian online phenomenon.

More than 700,000 young Thais are now playing Ragnarok Online, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game, which has taken Asia by storm.

Once registered, players can roam vast digital landscapes, collecting items and interacting with other players wherever they are in the real world.

The game has proved so popular that many fans have been playing long into the night. This raised concerns that Thai children were missing out on other important activities like study and sleep.

The problem became so great that the Thai government imposed a curfew almost six months ago.

Computer literacy

AsiaSoft president Sherman Tan
Most people usually have computers for the interests of entertainment, games and at a later stage they will look into other content
Sherman Tan, AsiaSoft President
Over-18s can still play on into the small hours. After registering at a post office, they are given an adult user ID that will work day or night.

For younger players without the special logon, the game simply stops working at 10pm.

Ragnarok's creators, AsiaSoft, say they understand the Thai authorities' concerns. But they also think that computer games can help introduce technology to the developing world.

"We feel that to improve information technology literacy you need to have some kind of interest to attract people to have their hands on a computer," said Sherman Tan, AsiaSoft President.

"Most people usually have computers for the interests of entertainment, games and at a later stage they will look into other content."

But is it really the government's job to decide what's best for the nation's youth after dark?

Drop in gaming

Ministers defend the government's decision to step in, given the concerns from parents that their children were becoming obsessed with gaming.

"In the developed countries or in the Western countries, parents have enough time to look after their children," said Dr Surapong Suebwonglee, Thai Minister for Information and Communication Technology.

"But in the developing world, in Thailand, the parents, especially those parents who have teenage children, they must work very hard and they work until very late at night so they don't have the time to look after their children properly."

The government say it has seen a significant drop in the number of nocturnal players since the curfew was imposed.

But children can be very inventive when it comes to bending the rules. If the parents let their children use their IDs, there is no way the government can stop them playing after 10 o'clock at night.

If there is a craze that catches a child's attention, it is hard to tear them away.

But at least as they play video games, they are becoming more computer literate, which surely cannot be a bad thing.

Curfew for Thai net gamers
15 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Thailand restricts online gamers
08 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Gaming 'part of student life'
08 Jul 03  |  Technology
Melting pot of online gaming
19 Mar 03  |  Technology
Country profile: Thailand
24 May 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Thailand
15 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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