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Tuesday, April 8 @ Angelika

In 2005, a 28-year-old South Korean man died in front of his computer from heart failure. The cause? Exhaustion after reportedly playing online video games for 50 hours straight. Alarming cases like these have been on the rise in recent years, with young people across this increasingly-interwebed world literally playing video games themselves to death.

web_junkieWhile this trend appears most prominent across Asia, as of now China is the first and only country to officially consider internet addiction as a medical disorder, declaring it to be the number one health threat to its youth. Since then, over 400 private rehabilitation centers have sprung up across the country, aiming to combat this “illness” with a blend of re-education, boot camp and therapy——either group, or in some cases, the electroshock variety.

In WEB JUNKIE, Israeli filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia takes us inside one such center, the “Chinese Teenager Mental Growth Center,” which operates as part of the Beijing Military Hospital. Tension builds when teens and their parents meet with therapists within the confines of the center to discuss their addiction. Meanwhile, in the safety of their rooms, the boys laugh, boast and reveal personal details of their exploits, and why they prefer the World of Warcraft over the real world itself. The film offers an intimate look at this complicated issue and the personal and social problems at its heart.

DIFF: What inspired you to take on this topic?

Shosh Shlam: I think that the internet has changed essentially the human relationship. We are connected more online but we have also created a new solitude. I see this as the dark side of the internet.

DIFF: Why do you think China became the first country to take on internet addiction in this way?

SS: The government in China views it as a threat to society as a whole. In China, with the one child policy, the future of the family is on the teenagers’ shoulders. So when they do things like skip school to play video games, they hurt the most important value for their family which is education.

DIFF: Overall the staff at the center appear very willing to allow you and your crew access. Can you tell me about the process of filming at this private camp?

SS: I met the head of the camp, Professor Tao, after lots of research. He felt it is important for him to spread word of this issue in the world. After creating trust, I convinced him to let me inside the camp and tell the story.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 12.58.20 PMDIFF: What would you say are the cultural, emotional or psychological factors that have caused these kids to turn to the internet for their happiness?

SS: In China the cultural reasons for children to escape to the virtual world is the one child policy and the strict education system. On top there are difficult family relationship that we do not know what came first. Loneliness is number one reason for the children’s escape.

DIFF: Would you say staying at the camp was beneficial for most of these young people? Are you aware of the success rates?

SS: Professor Tao claimed 70 percent of success. I do not have any other information to verify it.

DIFF: China is also a nation that views freedom of information on the internet as a threat. With the camp functioning as part of the Beijing Military Hospital, would you say there is a political motive behind these treatment centers?

SS: Yes. China, as a communist country, sees internet addiction as a threat to society. 

DIFF: What do you believe has been the most successful treatment for these kids?

SS: The most successful were the group therapy between the children to their parents, suggesting family problems are an origin of the problem.


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