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Douglas Capraro Douglas Capraro

Photos: Inside a Chinese Online Gaming Addiction Rehab


Military discipline meets group therapy.

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These photos by award-winning photographer Fernando Moleres offer a window into China’s oldest Internet addiction treatment center, in Beijing. The facility, run by military doctor Toa Ren, has treated 5,000 people since 2004. Its aim is to break the habits of game-addicted teens through labor and military drills—the kind of “tough-love” approach that in the US is considered discredited and harmful for teens—while monitoring the effects of gaming on their neurological activity. There are currently 62 boys and six girls in treatment.

With approximately 632 million Internet users and 113,000 Internet cafes and bars around China, including 24-hour locations, Tao Ren estimates that there are 24 million Chinese people are addicted to gaming. He believes that the rising problem is partly due to the high number of children without siblings whose ”parents work a lot and spend few hours at home.” Stiff competition and economic problems also contribute to the pressure on young people to do well at school, and online gaming can provide an escape, as well as a sense of community.

China’s Internet treatment centers are highly controversial. In 2009, 15-year-old Deng Senshan died less than a day after his parents sent him to a camp in the southern Guangxi province where he was allegedly beaten to death. And the Ministry of Health recently banned the use of electric shock therapy at another facility in eastern China.

The Internet Addiction Treatment Center (IATC) is led by Tao Ran, a military doctor and researcher who built his career treating heroin addicts. The center includes a tough-love approach with military discipline, drugs and psychotherapy.

The Internet Addiction Treatment Center (IATC) is led by Tao Ran, a military doctor and researcher who built his career treating heroin addiction.

Leo, center, started playing online video games in 2005, playing an average of 16 hours on days that he is not at school.

Leo, center, started playing online video games in 2005, playing an average of 16 hours on days that he is not at school.

13-year-old Lu Jung Song is checked with to measure his cerebral bioelectrical activity.

Thirteen-year-old Lu Jung Song has his cerebral bioelectrical activity measured.

Some patients take medication, paid for by their families, to counteract irritability, anxiety and sadness.

Some patients take medication, paid for by their families, to counteract irritability, anxiety and sadness.

Patients in the daily group psychotherapy sessions. Some 600 million Chinese use the internet regularly; the government estimates that 13 percent of youth are at risk of developing Internet-related disorders.

Patients in the daily group psychotherapy sessions.