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Online gaming craze hooks Fiji’s urban teenagers

Fiji students. Photo: Wansolwara/USP

Fiji students ... glued to their gaming screens. Photo: Wansolwara/USP

Pacific.Scoop
By Fenton Lutunatabua and Arin Kumar in Suva

Young Fiji computer game junkies are spending up to two days non-stop glued to their screens at various gaming locations in the capital of Suva, putting at risk their physical and psychological wellbeing.

A survey of gaming centers in Suva by a Wansolwara reporting team found some teens skipping school to play, and the hardcore players even sleeping over at the game centers at weekends.

“We are supposed to be in school but my friends and I change out of our uniforms and come to the gaming centers,” said one young player.

“After 3pm, we change back into our school uniforms and go home.”

One high school student says he and his friends spend several hours during the week playing.

The most popular games in Fiji include Counter Strike, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft (WoW).

In Suva, there are three major game centers located at the heart of the city that specialise in online games. Other internet shops now also offer online gaming.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the major centers provide rest areas for VIP members where they can sleep. Refreshments, including coffee, are also available.

Members are offered attractive off-peak rates, such as 12 hours playing time from 9pm to 9am for $5 only.

‘Good deal’
“Because it’s such a good deal, we take advantage of it. But my sleeping patterns are messed up,” says one player. Some players say they spend most, if not all their money, to feed their habit.

The divisional head of psychology at the University of the South Pacific (USP), Dr Roland Schultz, says children who spend too much time on online gaming tend to be relatively socially isolated.

“When children obtain their rewards from computer games and spend large slices of their time playing, they are not developing the normal social skills relevant to children of their age,” said Schultz.

Another lecturer in psychology at the USP, Gaylene Finekaso, said that there were many health risks associated with internet games.

“Players suffer poor concentration due to lack of sleep, and experience changes in weight due to poor nutrition,” she said.

“In some cases they become withdrawn from family and friends. They slowly begin to drop out of society, and their school grades suffer. In a worse case scenario, they get expelled from school.”

Mounting concerns about the adverse effects of online gaming could see it become an official psychiatric diagnosis, Finekaso said.

“If the science warrants it, the American Psychological Association will include gaming addiction as a mental disorder in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which will be out in 2012).”

Wansolwara interviewed Kepa Turaganivalu, 23, a recovering online gaming addict. He started his university foundation studies six years ago but still hasn’t finished his degree. He blames this on his addiction to internet games.

“These games are popular because unlike other games, they never end. My friend has been playing for over four years and he’s still going.

Missing exams
Kepa used to spend about $80 on games every week.

“It came to the point whereby if I had to decide whether to buy something to eat or use the money on games, I would opt for the latter.”

Kepa’s concerned cousin Salusalu Manoa said he would enroll for his courses but would not sit exams.

“He would tell his parents that he was going to school but he would end up at these gaming centers,” said Manoa.

“Physically, he had lost weight. When they’re in this gaming world, they either forget to eat, or spend all their money on gaming. Food is not a priority,” said Manoa.

Eddie Rabuka, a VIP member at one of the centers, describes WoW is the number one game in the world.

“I love it because you control one character who goes around killing anything and everything,” he said.

“Right now my friend and I share a hero, so when I’m not online, he is. That way, our hero is always developing; he’s becoming stronger, has better battle gear and so on. The more time you spend on a hero, the better he becomes, so we have to invest time.”

Rabuka proudly proclaims his record is 48 hours straight without breaks.

The concerned sister of one player who gave her name as Miss Lewatu said her brother only comes home when he runs out of money: “He comes only to eat and sleep, and then his is out again.”

Lewatu’s brother dropped out of one school and was expelled from another. He enrolled in a new school at the beginning of this term but has only attended a few classes.

‘Little world’
“He is in his own little world,” says Lewatu.  “He keeps to himself and barely talks. Life is boring for him unless he is gaming.”

According to Finekaso, the games are addictive because they offer escapism into a fantasy world free from problems.

“It begins as something a group of friends do together. It then escalates into something darker and out of control,” she said.

Kepa said he preferred to play rather than drink with friends or hang out with girls.

“All I could think of was playing. None of the regular things appealed to me,” he said.

Eddie says that when he is not playing, he gets bored.

“I have to come here everyday to play. Most of my friends are people that I meet here, and online.”

Recently, Kepa has tried to decrease his playing hours.

“When it came to school work, I failed everything. When I finally realised what was happening, I was like, it’s the end of the year again, where have all the months gone?”

Police spokesperson Atunaisa Sokomuri said that last year, policemen made checks and were surprised at the number of school children they found at the centers.

‘Online research’
“When we asked them what they were doing there during school hours, they said they were carrying out online research for their school assignments.”

Sokomuri says the owners of the facilities are not very helpful.

“When we ask them why they allow school kids during school hours, they say that they are told by the kids that they are doing online research, and that since they have paid for the service, they should not be removed from the shop.”

Sokomuri said currently there was no law in place to deal with the shop owners.

The principals of both Marist Brothers High School and Dudley High School said they were unaware that students of their schools were at the game centers during school hours. They said they would take all necessary steps in getting to the bottom of this problem.

A concerned parent who did not wish to be named said it seemed that there was little awareness about this issue in Fiji.

“Many parents have no idea how to cope with this,” he said.

“It’s high time the relevant organisation conducted research into this phenomena to discover the scale of this problem.  Parents, school teachers other affected parties need guidance about how to deal with this problem.”

The parent said that his sister’s son skipped classes at university to play the online games. He does not come home on Friday on Saturday nights. Once a bright student, he is doing poorly in his courses.

The same parent has a cousin whose two sons are at the game center every day of the week. They also do not turn up home on some weekends.

“It is really a difficult situation to bring under control because they fined the games so alluring and appear addicted to it,” he said.

Fenton Lutunatabua and Arin Kumar are student journalists at the University of the South Pacific. This was a special report for the journalism newspaper Wansolwara.

3 comments:

  1. 2Luke, 28. September 2009, 20:22

    very true… I myself played the very same games at the very same place.
    hopefully most will grow out of it (i did)… but those addicted may need help.

     
  2. 44, 8. February 2010, 14:16

    2Luks…..Lei Moce LoL!

     
  3. Arnold, 27. August 2010, 2:54

    1)Nobody spends 2 days non stop glued to games at an internet cafe that would cost about 50 dollars a day, if a kid has that much the parents are retarded

    2)counterstrike, grand theft auto, call of duty and wow were all skyne…t games so stop pretending u checked out another net cafe.

    3)please highlight which net cafe provides vip members sleeping space. Ohthats right u cant because it doesnt exist.

    4) Eddie hates WOW and definitely is not addicted to it rofl. way to check up on whether you’re being punked or not.

    5) So if kepa spends 5 dollars a night for the special package(which he did i would know look at my siblings on fb) how can he have spent 80$ a week on gaming? math was hard wasnt it.

    6)SO KEPA WHO IS 23 YEARS OLD WAS AT UNI FOR 6 YEARS?????? HE STARTED UNI at 17 WHAT A GENIOUS