Hooked on computers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, 12:00am

When PEOPLE think of addictions, the first things that come to mind may be drugs or alcohol. But internet and gaming addictions can have serious consequences, particularly on teenagers.

An addiction can be psychological or physical, and can be detrimental to health and relationships.

Internet cafes in Hong Kong provide a glimpse of the gaming mania that has gripped local teens. The cafes are filled with loud music, smoky air and violent games, but online addiction is not confined to such places.

It can happen behind closed doors at home, too.

Game designers are doing their best to attract vulnerable players.

Take Project Entropia, an online game in which players can use real money to buy property.

There's a problem though - the 'property' is in pixels!

In 2004, Project Entropia announced the sale of Treasure Island, which was snapped up for a staggering US$26,500. Then another gamer bought a virtual space station for US$100,000.

Wendy Fung Yuen-han, a social worker with the Hong Kong Family Welfare Service (HKFWS), helps young boys who are addicted to computers.

'Based on my experience, girls spend more time on MSN or ICQ whereas boys prefer online gaming. Whatever the problem, our main aim is to educate students about healthy computer use and help them connect with reality,' she said.

The HKFWS offers a rehabilitation programme for computer addicts, and it has been a success.

Parents are also advised to make use of this service, which educates them on the dangers of excessive computer use and helps them understand what their child is going though.

Brian Tang Tsz-hong, a 15-year-old student, began using computers in Form Five. In Form Seven, he was introduced to the world of online gaming by his friends and his life changed.

'I experienced this overwhelming feeling of success playing these games - and I ended up playing for at least nine to 10 hours a day.'

Brian ended up quickly doing his homework before leaving for school each morning, and in the end, his grades suffered.

'I felt guilty - but that overpowering feeling of never-ending success kept me going for one and a half years,' he recalled.

Benjamin Ting-shun, also 15, became an internet addict in Primary Four and it took him four years to kick the habit.

'I didn't experience a feeling of success,' he says. 'It was more like a feeling of absolute emptiness - like there was nothing in my mind at all.'

Like Brian, his schoolwork suffered, and the addiction affected his relationship with his father.

Benjamin finally realised there was something wrong and decided to stop playing computer games and concentrate on his studies.

'I couldn't keep lying to my teachers. I used to tell them that I couldn't finish my homework because I was lazy. But I wasn't - it was my computer addiction,' he said.

Brian and Benjamin joined a HKFWS-run rehabilitation programme which was advertised in their school.

After attending a series of workshops, the boys regained control of their lives.

They are interested in becoming Youth Net Addiction ambassadors in future so that they can use their experience to help others with similar problems.

So what is their advice for young internet addicts?

Brian says it's important to seek help.

Benjamin's view is straightforward. 'Think about your future,' he said.

For more details about the rehabilitation programme, call the HKFWS on 2549 5106