Escaping the World: A Chinese Perspective on Virtual Worlds

David Kurt Herold

Abstract


Virtual worlds and 'the Internet' in general are highly popular in the People's Republic of China. This article will argue, though, that in contrast to non-Chinese perceptions of virtual worlds and the Internet, Chinese users tend to see virtual worlds as wholly separate from their offline existence and identity.

Based on the authors research experience with the Chinese Internet, and his years of teaching Chinese students in the 3D online world Second Life, the paper will demonstrate that Chinese usage frames virtual worlds (and the Internet in general) as spaces, in which it is permissible to rebel against authority, where users receive validation and approval from their peers, and where they can escape their often stressful and boring lives. The low costs involved, and the high entertainment value of virtual worlds, combined with a perception of virtual worlds as 'gaming', 'consequence-less' and 'not serious' spaces, contributes to the high attractiveness of virtual worlds to young Chinese, which has led to a moral panic in society about the dangers of Internet or gaming 'addiction'.

The article will conclude that this framing of virtual worlds is so strong in China, in particular among young Chinese, that any attempt to utilize virtual worlds for other purposes, e.g. marketing, education, etc. will have to carefully re-frame and re-situate virtual worlds for Chinese Internet users.


Keywords


China; virtual worlds; perceptions; framing

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The full website for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research can be found at: http://jvwresearch.org