Former college student gets a grip after gaming addiction

By Zhang Yiqian in Zhangjiakou Source:Global Times Published: 2013-4-12 23:48:01


Jin Aibing reunites with his family in Hebei Province after four and a half years of reclusive life in an Internet cafe in Changchun, Jilin Province on March 30. Photo: CFP
Jin Aibing reunites with his family in Hebei Province after four and a half years of reclusive life in an Internet cafe in Changchun, Jilin Province on March 30. Photo: CFP
Jin Aibing in the cafe on March 22 Photo: CFP
Jin Aibing in the cafe on March 22 Photo: CFP


The dirt road that leads to the cave-house in which Jin Aibing lived for more than 20 years looked the same to him as the van approached Yujiatun village near Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.

The last time he saw it was in 2008, when he came back home briefly after he finished attending Jilin University in Changchun, capital of Northeast China's Jilin Province, before returning to his college town in order to find a job. His parents had accompanied him to Beijing before parting ways on the train and did not see him again for four and a half years.

Jin became addicted to online gaming in college and flunked several classes required for his degree, resulting in his failure to graduate - a detail he hid from his parents. Without a degree, he had trouble finding a job and ended up living in an Internet cafe for those four and a half years. After local media reported on his strange life, his parents finally got wind of his whereabouts and reached out to him. On March 28, Jin, now 29, returned home.

Talk of the town

"The second day I got back home, I went to our farm to help," he told the Global Times in his bedroom, his hands red from helping his parents with farm work.

The roughly 500 people in his village make a living by planting sunflowers and corn. Jin's family has been farming the land for generations.

From a young age, Jin was a good student, always getting good grades and ranking at the top of his class. But despite having studied hard for the gaokao, China's college entrance examinations, he was admitted into only an average college. Determined to achieve greater academic success, Jin retook the gaokao the following year.

"We were all pressured pretty hard," he said. "People who chose to retake the gaokao have an ideal school in mind."

His hard work paid off with a high score that landed him at Jilin University, a well-respected university in China. He became the pride of his family and the talk of the town.

Down the rabbit hole

At first, college life seemed relaxing in comparison to the stressful years in high school. Jin suddenly found himself free of pressure and nagging parents. He chose computer science as a major, but he had little sense of what it entailed, and he didn't have a detailed plan for the future.

During his sophomore year, his friends introduced him to international online game sensation World of Warcraft.

"I started playing that nonstop," he said. "Even in class, I would sit in the back and talk with my classmates about the game."

Jin's playing began to get in the way of his studies. While many college students learn the hard way that gaming can really take over one's life, most abandon the practice when their degree is on the line. When the school told Jin he had to retake six courses he had failed, he did not change his habits and opted for no diploma.

In 2008, after his class graduated, Jin went back home for two months, never telling his parents what had happened. Then he packed a few things and went back to Changchun.

"I thought I should find a job first, and then explain everything to my family," he said.

But finding a job without a degree wasn't easy. 

He settled down where he felt most familiar - an Internet cafe named Xueyuan, where he often went during his college years. He was also introduced to Chinese online game Tianxia 3, or The World 3.

"The Internet bar charged about 20 yuan ($3.22) per day with discounts. I started making a living by selling game currency for real money and made about 1,500 yuan a month," Jin said.

Jin made a bed from the cafe's sofas and bought necessary toiletries nearby, eating on the cheap and showering on campus. "The cafe owners didn't bother me since I was quiet and didn't cause any trouble," Jin said.

 He became an icon there. Since he always sat at seat No.77, everyone called him "Qi Ge" (Brother Seven).

Still, it wasn't ideal.

"It was noisy at night when people came in and out, but you get used to that after a while," he said.

New tomorrow

During these years, Jin never contacted his family. He had their numbers memorized but could never bring himself to call.

"For all those years I had a knot in my heart. I didn't know what I'd say to my family when I saw them again, and I was in denial."

Instead, he occupied his mind with gaming.

For a long time, he refused to acknowledge the hold that gaming had on his life, further distancing himself from the reality of the course his life had taken.

"At first I was very addicted," he said. "After I left school in 2008, I played for a living."

Meanwhile, his family was worried sick, imagining all kinds of horrific scenarios, from him being run over by a car to getting trapped in a pyramid scheme.

After a local media outlet did a piece on him, everything changed.

A psychologist from the university talked with him and tried to convince him to go home. His family also sought him out. His cousin went to Changchun and found him at the cafe. There, through the phone, Jin talked to his father for the first time in four and a half years.

"He called me by my nickname, Lizi. He sounded excited," Jin said. "I just told him there was too much to say, and that I'd talk to him when I saw him."

Without even packing his things, Jin went back home. At first, he was afraid of people gossiping behind his back, but all his fears went out the window when he saw the joyful faces of his family.

Several of his peers, as well as his brother, are now married with children, but Jin says that right now, what he wants to do most is to pick up where he left off: finding a job.

"I'm resisting the idea of going back to school now," he said. "I just want to get a job and put this whole thing behind me."

Thanks to the media reports, some companies have been trying to help him. He is also trying to hook up with online gaming giant Netease, hoping to work as a game tester.


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