The number of internet connections in Vietnam has soared in the last 10 years, increasing from 200,000 in 2000 to over 22m by June 2009. Internet cafes offering online game services are very popular in big cities. (Text/images: Ha Mi)
According to forecasts, the number of online game players in Vietnam will exceed 10m by 2011, with "Online Games" signs at every internet cafe.
Users at internet cafes are mostly teenagers who come to play online games for hours at a time.
Internet cafes tend to be open from 0600 until 2300, charging 3,000 – 4,000 dong (10-13p) per hour. Some teenagers play for up to 13 hours at a time, stopping only to drink water or eat instant noodles.
Despite the regulations which require cafe owners to monitor players' ages, there are children as young as six years old playing online games.
VinaGame is one of the biggest companies distributing online games in Vietnam. Teenage gamers meet at its service centre to trade online game accounts. Players who cannot reach the next level on a certain game can buy an account from a player who has.
Hai, 14, was once an online game addict who used to play up to 15 hours each day. He cried as he described the times he stole money from his father to support his online game addiction.
The Centre of Culture and Sports for Youth of South Vietnam runs a course aimed at helping young people rekindle family relationships and create more personal interactions to replace the virtual world.
Though the course is not designed solely for game addicts, it helped Hai express his emotions and thoughts: "I would like to give my dad a hug and kiss… so that we two could understand each other better," he said.
Introducing teenagers to new hobbies such as dancing, hip hop and rap is one of the ways used by the youth centre to help them move away from their online addiction.
Hai's parents believe that with determination and the support of their families, teenagers can succeed in kicking their habit.
Hai's message to other teenagers: "Games would be a form of entertainment if used properly, but if not, it only brings loss – the loss of love and trust from your family. It's only the virtual world, and it's not worth the loss you would suffer."
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