Thieving farmer puts China’s online games under scrutiny again

BEIJING: China’s love/hate relationship with online gaming has taken another twist with the news that one “Internet addict” has taken her love for the Happy Farm game a little too far.

Li Xia, of the northwestern Gansu province, was caught stealing her neighbour’s real vegetables — one of the things players of Happy Farm can do to increase their own crops and earn more points in its virtual world.

The case has reignited the debate in China of just how much influence these games are having on society.

Judging by the numbers alone, online gaming has permeated the nation’s very fabric. China has more than 400 million Internet users and the revenue last year from online games alone amounted to 25bil yuan (RM13.5bil), with estimates being that figure is set to rise by 30% this year.

There are currently 138,000 cybercafes across the country, according to China’s Ministry of Culture, and these attract some 135 million customers per year.

For most of them, the attraction is online games such as Happy Farm, Miracle Journey to the West and, of course, the wildly successful World of Warcraft, accounting for tens of millions of Internet users daily.

But the Chinese Government has been increasingly concerned about their content, releasing a paper this year that identified addiction to the games and “vulgar content” as the two main problems facing the online game industry. There have also been calls for legislation that allows for the censoring of content.

Happy Farm — a game similar to Facebook’s wildly successful Farmville — is already “phasing out” the stealing function from its game, according to mainland Chinese media as Li emerges from the five days in custody she received for her offence.

But not everyone is convinced that controls should be the way forward.

“Only a handful of people can’t tell games from reality,” Beijing computer shop owner Zhang Qi told the China Daily. “I’ve played these games lots of times but I have never copied.” — Relaxnews 2010

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