Posted by: viaprograms | September 28, 2010

In the Spider’s Web

The author in front of Spider Talk Internet Cafe

Last weekend the school where I teach repaired its servers. The internet hasn’t worked since, so I’ve been going to Spider Talk, an internet cafe across the street. Up the stairs is a main room of 30 computer terminals. Side rooms have private cubicles and leather chairs for an extra yuan an hour. At the counter they sell hot dogs spinning on rollers, as well as soda, instant noodles and chips. The place smells of sweat, but it’s less of a dungeon than most Chinese internet cafes.

Nearly everyone I see at Spider Talk is playing a game and chatting on QQ. World of Warcraft is popular for those who can afford a monthly subscription, but so are older (and free) favorites such as Warcraft 3 and Counter Strike. The guy next to me plays a medieval sword fighting game using a blonde ninja avatar. Next to him, a guy controls a dance crew of boy band types—girls in skinny jeans and belly buttons peeping, boys with sunglasses and moppy molasses hair. He types fast, making his dancers shimmy and twist. Every few seconds he slams a key and little halos radiate from their feet. He is a puppeteer.

It’s easy to label this escapism. Away from 6-person dorms and no-choice classes, away from nagging parents or double-shift jobs, away from government bureaucracy and surrounded by air conditioning and junk food—they enter a place where they can finally be whoever they want. It’s a freedom not possible in the real world and barely so online. Call it individualism by the hour. Sure, there are restrictions on the Chinese internet, but freedom is arguably a relative matter.

– China Volunteer Daniel Tkach

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