Online games, offline crimes

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The growing online game market has brought side effects on gamers with physical and mental disorder and on society with robbery, homicide and murder.

Ta Gia Khanh says he spends up to eight hours playing online games every night after his classes at a university in Hanoi. He then suffers from fatigue at school during the day.

The 23-year-old student began playing mostly massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) several years ago as a 10th-grader in his hometown in the northern Thai Binh Province. It was then that online games made their debut in Vietnam and Khanh became immediately addicted to at least seven games.

He said he had tried time and time again to cut down on his playing time because it kept getting him into trouble.

In one such situation, a group of his gamer friends got into a brawl with another group of players in which the fighters resorted to smashing each other in the heads with helmets and chairs.

But the consequences of online game addiction have been far worse for others than for Khanh. Murder, robbery and other crimes rank high on the list of crimes committed in relation to game addiction in Vietnam and experts say the trend will only get worse as gaming in Vietnam continues to expand at a rapid pace.

Growing market

According to a report from US-based Pearl Research, the number of gamers in Vietnam and India will exceed 25 million by 2014, thanks to growing economies and an increasing amount of Internet users.

Pearl said that in Vietnam, there are over 50 online games on the market, a significant number considering the fact that the country's online game market just began gaining traction in 2004, with top online games having some 200,000 users.

Locally-developed games tailored for domestic audiences are also a growing trend as Vietnam has 22 million Internet users and an Internet penetration rate of 25 percent, the agency said.

Internet cafes throughout the country seem almost always packed with young people playing online games.

Most online games providers in Vietnam have plans to reach more customers.

Nguyen Hoang Tuan Anh, External Affairs Director of game operator VNG (former VinaGame) Company in Ho Chi Minh City, said the company's 16 online games had attracted a total of about five million gamers. He also revealed a plan to launch a new MMORPG game on March 27.

Rising crime

On January 14, the Dong Nai Province's People's Court sentenced a teenager to ten years in jail after she killed a three-year-old child and robbed a pair of earrings to sell for money to play online games.

Nguyen Bich Huyen, 15, was found guilty of murdering Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh on May 7 last year after she took the baby to her house and stole the earrings. After the victim cried, Huyen strangled her to death with a scarf and hid the dead body in her wardrobe.

The dead body was found two days later by Huyen's mother who noticed a strange smell coming from her daughter's room. Police apprehended the murderer soon after.

In another case, a 12th-grader in Thanh Hoa Province was accused of murdering a four-year-old child and attempting to murder a 50- year-old woman while stealing.

Police said Pham Ba Minh of Vinh Loc District's Vinh Quang Commune snuck into the victims' house in the same commune on January 3. Minh said he had gone there to steal gold jewelry after spending all the money his parents gave him on online games. He said he was addicted to the games.

He attacked and seriously injured the woman, Vu Thi Canh, before stabbing her four-year-old grandchild to death when it cried out. Minh confessed he spent the money he made selling the gold earrings and a necklace he stole on a mobile phone, clothes and "virtual" money in the online games he was addicted to. He was arrested two days later.

Besides murder cases for the cause of money to play online games, many gamers have also arranged for real-life fights due to conflicts rising from fights in online games.

Dangerous addiction

Doctor Le Minh Cong of the National Mental Hospital 2 in Dong Nai Province, 30 kilometers to the northeast of HCMC, said many patients had been admitted lately after becoming addicted to online games.

"Between 5-10 percent of the recently admitted patients have physical and mental disorders related to online games," he said. "Many patients had quit school, abandoned their families and begun living lives of crime."

He said a 14-year-old patient, identified only as N., was recently admitted to the hospital with signs of a sleeping disorder and aggressive behavior.

People who know the 7th-grader say his personality had changed significantly in the last five months, since he began playing online games. He also stole money from his family and used all the money from school fees to play online games.

Two weeks prior to being admitted to the hospital, N. ran away from home and gathered with a group of gamers to wander Dong Nai's Bien Hoa Town to steal and beg for money to play games.

Last month, the Hanoi Department of Education and Training instructed all schools in the capital city to cooperate with local authorities and police to monitor Internet shops and prevent students from dropping out of school to play games.

In December 2009, authorities in the central city of Da Nang issued a decision that required all Internet shops providing online games services to be at least 200 meters from schools.

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