Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chinese "Internet" Bars

Being that I don't actually have a computer of my own, I am occasionally subjected to the phenomenon that is a Chinese internet bar if I want to check my email or peruse the information super highway. The funny thing about Chinese internet bars, however, is that nobody there actually uses the internet. There are the occasional Skype-ers and sometimes I see people watching their copy of the newest pirated DVD. Once in a while I'll even see another foreigner and notice their open web browser as I give them "the nod" (coincidentally, Internet Explorer is the only desktop icon in English, rather than Chinese characters). The real draw for Chinese people to go to the internet bar, however, is to play Counter Strike, or some other interactive game that I can't even begin to fathom the obsession with. Not to play into some broad cultural stereotypes, but Chinese people are serious gamers.

The experience of entering one of these spaces in their peak hours (it is usually SLAMmed around 11pm on a Saturday night--prime time for some video games if you ask me...), is total sensory overload. It's like walking into some bizarre and unknown cyber zone. They are absolutely massive--usually at least 200 computers--and are full to capacity of the most die-hard gamers, engulfed in the smoky haze of their endlessly burning cigarettes. As I sit at a computer and wonder if I am really going to be able to sit through the furious slurping of noodles taking place next to me, the sound is promptly drowned out by the screams of some fanatic outburst across the room. Apparently these guys in the internet bar are playing eachother, and feel the need to stand up at the computer and reenact god-only-knows-what explosion just took place on the computer screen not 2 seconds prior. Sometimes the really talented gamers will even have a small peanut gallery of onlookers surrounding them, who provide commentary and assist in the requisite shouting across the warehouse-sized room and fanatically waving their arms every time a big play is made.

While I don't really see myself choosing the "internet" bar over the alcohol-serving variety on a Friday night, maybe I will one day discover the Chinese fascination with these games. I'm sure they are wondering the same thing about writing rambling musings to an unknown cyber audience...

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