The Death of a Young Online Game Player

(Southern Weekend)  The Death of a Young Online Game Player.  By Shen Ying (沈颖), Song Han (宋涵) and Chen Peng (陈鹏). 

[in translation]

After playing 36 consecutive hours of online games, a 13-year-old boy jumped from the 24th floor of a building and committed suicide while assuming a standard sky-flying pose.

Almost a year later, the scholar Zhang Chunliang who researches Internet addiction was authorized by the dead boys' parents to file suit against the American manufacturer Blizzard Entertainment of the game 'Warcraft III.'

"This lawsuit is a hot potato, because I can't find a place to file the case," said Zhang Chunliang.  From September 2005, the lawsuit request met multiple setbacks in Tianjin.  After the Spring Festival, since the Chinese commercial representative for 'Warcraft III' was located in Beijing, Zhang Chunliang sent the complaint to the court in the Chaoyang district of Beijing city.

As of the deadline for this article, Zhang Chunliang is still waiting for a notice that the case has been accepted.

In June 2004, Zhang Chunliang began to research online games.  "At the time, I was just collecting information and running data analyses."  Then two personal experiences totally upset his plan.

In September that year, Zhang Chunliang witnessed a shocking scene at the Internet bar in his neighborhood: a boy was staring at the computer screen while screaming "Kill him!"  Meanwhile, his mother had finally found him and she was kneeling on the ground, "Mom is begging you, please come to school, mom has been looking for you for one whole week ..."

The other scene was when the 13-year-old boy jumped from the 24th floor.  On the morning of December 27, 2004, in the Yuehai Garden district of Tanggu District of the city of Tianjin, Zhang Xiaoyi played games non-stop for 36 hours and then he "flew" towards the ocean in the southeastern direction in search of his adored heroes: Lungdian, the Angel of Revenge and the Sentinel.

After visiting the home of Zhang Xiaoyi for thirteen times, Zhang Chunliang finally located the father Zhang Jianhua and his wife.  "The mother seemed to be mentally confused.  She keep saying to herself, 'The child is not dead.  He has only gone to play games at the Internet bar.  When he gets tired, he will return home.'"

The father Zhang Jianhua said that he tried to seek justice for his son at the Internet bar, the public security bureau, the school and the education department but everybody avoided him.

Even more unexpected was that many media concluded that the death of Zhang Xiaoyi was due to improper upbringing by his parents.  The loss of their son had hurt them deeply and they had no strength left to defend themselves.  So they had to leave home.

So who was responsible for the death of the child?  Inspired by the American tobacco company compensation lawsuit, Zhang Chunliang thought about suing the American company Blizzard Entertainment which produced the game for compensation.

After being turned down twice by the Tianjin courts, on November 17 last year, Zhang Chunliang went again to the Number Two Intermediate Court in the city of Tianjin to submit a lawsuit.  In front of the CCTV camera, a judge named Zhu accepted the document and promised to respond in a week.

When Zhang Chunliang called one week later, the judge impatiently said, "Not enough impact.  Impossible to accept the case."

Zhang Chunliang said that he did not want to oppose the entire game industry and that was why he chose to sue a foreign game company.  "While I don't want to hurt the Chinese online game manufacturers, I want to remind them not to evade their responsibility."

According to lawyer Li Gang for this case, "Based upon the violence and adult content, foreign countries classify the online games.  Zhang Xiaoyi's 'Warcraft III' game was labeled as category 'T' in the United States, which means children under 13 were not allowed to play.  But when the game is sold in China, there is no such packaging.  Zhang Xiaoyi began playing since he was eleven years old.  He committed suicide two years later."

Therefore, a demand in the lawsuit about Zhang Xiaoyi was: "In the product package, manual and within the game itself, the level of violence and bloodiness should be indicated; there should be warnings to the effect that 'excessive gaming may lead to addiction and ill-health'; there should be technical steps take to prevent addiction; and a total of 100,000 RMB is requested as compensation for the death of the victim."


On November 14, 2005, one day before Zhang Chunliang submitted the document to the court, 16-year-old Hu Bin of Lujiang county, Anhui province, swallowed the pesticide that he brought to the Internet bar and died two days later.  Before committing suicide, he had played games for 11 days at the Internet bar.

On November 26, Zhang Chunliang went to the home of Hu Bin in Anhui.  On the door to the home, Zhang Chunliang saw these words: "Even the gods cannot save me."  This was the experience of Hu Bin before he died.

"As he was about to die, he said, 'Dad, the pesticide that I drank was toxic.'  I said, 'Why did you drink it if it was toxic?'  He said, 'I drank it because I want to make sure that you can't save me.  I have played enough.'" His father said.

"He said, 'Mom, I cannot control myself.  I only want to play.  I cannot control my legs.'  He said, 'I don't want you to get angry.'"  His mother said.

On November 16, Hu Bin's life signs were getting weaker and weaker.  He was fading in and out of consciousness.

"He said, 'There are demons coming.  I have to kill them all."  His father said.

His mother looked at him and he seemed to be asleep,  But "his hand was still moving; it was the motion of game playing."

On November 27, Zhang Chunliang accepted the formal request by the parents of Hu Bin to sue the online game manufacturer.  ...

Starting with Zhang Xiaoyi, Zhang Chunliang has now received the authorization of 26 families and he is supported by a team of more than a dozen lawyers.  They have continued the lawsuits against various game manufacturers.

Among the 26 families, two children committed suicide, four children were suspected of deliberate murder or assault, but most were suffering from Internet-related problems. ...

The online gaming industry is the intersection of the areas of networking, computers, software, consumer spending and electronics.  Online gaming affects telecommunications, information technology, media, publishing and so on.  According to data, the direct income from online gaming is 1.93 billion RMB, the direct income generated from online gaming is 9.54 billion RMB to the telecommunications industry, 4.08 billion RMB to the IT industry and 2.74 billion RMB to the publishing/media industries.

According to data, the amount will grow to 5 billion in 2006.

Someone said, this business "requires the least investment."  And yet "I can make a lot of money even while I am sleeping!"

Zhang Chunliang believed that while online gaming has generated huge wealth, it has also created 14.3 million online game players, including 2.6 million Internet-addicted youth.


Related linkYouth’s Death Linked to Game  Red Herring, November 18, 2006.