Online games: entertainment or addiction?

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A new draft Decree for the Management of Online Games prohibits online games providers and Internet cafés from providing online games services between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Gamers will also have to register their personal information each time to be able to play and they will be limited to a maximum of three hours per game, according to the draft, which wil be submitted to the government for approval next month.

"I regularly play online games after work, said office worker Vo Ngoc Dang, when asked to comment on the draft decree. "Most other entertainment options finish at 10 p.m., so this is a great alternative. And, online gaming keeps kids off the street and from social ills and crime.

However, for 16-year-old Phan Quoc Thai, a ninth-grader at Vinh Huu secondary school in Go Cong Tay District, Tien Giang Province, online gaming is more than just entertainment.

According to police, Thai stabbed his grandfather to death on April 20 because the 64-year-old man refused to give him money to play online games and forced him to return money that he had stolen from a neighbor. After throwing the man's body into a nearby canal, Thai stole money from his house. He was arrested a day later while playing games at a local Internet café, they said.

Many students spend too long playing online games and neglect their studies, while some resort to crime to feed their gaming addiction, Do Quy Doan, deputy minister of Information and Communications, told a seminar on May 13 in Hanoi.

"The online games market is new [to Vietnam]. It needs to be properly managed to ensure [game] companies' development and restrict the negative effects on players, he said.

Unhappy gamers

But gamers strongly criticized the proposals, saying that they have to work during the day and are only free to play between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Nguyen Tan Tai, a security guard for a company in the southern province of Long An, said he often comes home at around 8 p.m. and plays games for fun at around nine or ten at night. "I don't have much time for entertainment and I would have even less if the curfew took effect. he said.

Others said this proposal could lead to other social problems and that there should be another way to control any harmful effects on youths caused by gaming.

"They shouldn't ban playing online games at night because gamers could hold illegal street races or cause public disturbances [instead], said Trinh Minh Hoang, a gamer in Ho Chi Minh City.

Trieu Phuong Son Duong of the northern province of Tuyen Quang admitted that despite its benefits, online gaming has also had a negative impact on society. However, he said that "the education system cannot manage its students and so people are blaming online games.

Providers in hot water

The draft decree was also criticized by game providers who are worried about losses due to a decreased number of customers and who insisted online games were purely a form of entertainment.

Le Hong Minh, director of VNG, the country's top online games firm, thought the effectiveness of the proposed time limit was dubious.

"The limit mainly aims to control children and teenagers. But, most of them return home after 10 p.m. and only a few stay in Internet cafés. After 10 p.m., many people want to play online games. Adult gamers account for a large percentage of our customer base and we are most concerned with them as they have the financial capacity to generate more revenue for us.

Lam Thanh, strategic manager of online games provider VTC Intecom, echoed Minh's viewpoint, saying that many adults were not free to play games before 10 p.m.

Another point of view

However, experts, gamers' parents and even some gamers backed the proposal to limit the available hours for online gaming for fear of an increase in crime due to the possible impaired physical and mental health of gamers.

Le Thanh Luc, a student from the northern province of Ninh Binh, said that "it was right for the Ministry of Information and Communications to ban playing online games at certain times.

"Most gamers are students but they skip classes to play games. Our students often joke sleep during the day and play games at night'. Many university students stop studying after being expelled for skipping classes.

Luc also criticized online games providers who are only interested in their revenue and not the success of future generations.

When asked whether she was for or against the new regulation, Nguyen Thi Thung, mother of a 22-year-old gamer in HCMC said: "My family is poor but my daughter spends tens of thousands of dong on games every day. The amount is almost equal to my daily income from a rice eatery. I hope they ban playing online games round the clock.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS

 - Each person is allowed to play for a maximum of five hours a day in "preferential games, whose contents introduce and promote Vietnam's history and culture, and three hours at most if they play other games.

 - Games providers and Internet cafés are not allowed to provide game services between 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

 - Internet cafés are not allowed to serve customers in school-uniforms between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. These facilities have to verify and save personal information of gamers, including name, age, permanent address and an identity card number or passport.

 - All virtual items and awards that gamers get are not considered property and cannot be changed for money.

 - Game content including violent or sexual acts, including brutal fighting or bleeding, is strictly prohibited.

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