According to the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the problem is already being addressed in East Asian countries.
There are about 113,000 Internet cafes and bars in China, according to official figures. Lower-end establishments are typically a sole means of accessing the Web for China’s migrant labor population and the poor — or at 24-hour locations, a place to stay the night — but higher-end cafes replete with gaming facilities and plush chairs cater to gaming enthusiasts in the nation’s big cities.
According to Moleres’ reportage citing Chinese government statistics, there are 632 million Internet users in China, and authorities say 10 percent of minors who surf the Internet are addicted to it.
The rehabilitation facility in southern Beijing that Moleres photographed treated 62 boys and six girls, primarily in their mid to late-teens. Tao Ren, the military doctor who runs the facility, estimates there are 24 million Internet addicts in China.
At the center — which, as Moleres’ photos depict, some patients have attempted to escape — teens suffering from Internet gaming disorder are monitored for gaming’s effects on their neurological activity, and through labor and military drills are thought to improve brain activity and break the habit.
Tao told Moleres that a number of factors contribute to the disorder. Many of the sufferers don’t spend much time with their parents. As China’s economy expands and competition becomes steeper, “parents work a lot and spend few hours at home,” Tao said. Because of the country’s family-planning restrictions, most children have no siblings, and many are left alone at home to play on their computers.
This cultural context makes the gamer feel as though they have found “a community with shared beliefs and practices” at Internet cafes and in interactions online with other gamers, Moleres said.
Stiff competition to succeed or simply to find a livelihood in Chinese society also means there is a great deal of pressure on students to succeed at school.
“Some say it’s unbearable. They feel overwhelmed,” Moleres said. And parents often expect that their child will support them in their old age. That is one reason, according to Moleres, that Chinese parents often push their children — sometimes too hard — to excel.
While Moleres says this speaks to issues in Chinese society, he hoped to address a global phenomenon, as the lives of the world’s youth are evermore technology-dependent.
“Now it’s a phenomenon that plagues the young in some Asian countries, but which may also soon affect … our youth,” he said.