When the sullen, confused teenage boys of Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia’s doc Web Junkie speak of being drugged and tricked into a three-month stay at a militaristic rehabilitation facility to cure their addictions to online gaming, you will probably wonder at the extremeness.
Their parents fret about their boys’ neglected studies, unpredictable temperaments, and disrespectful back talk — things that might seem par for the course for 16-year-olds. The treatment is so severe that it plays like satire of bad science fiction: Nurses with military escorts scurry through empty halls, as anguished cries sound from behind closed doors. Dead-eyed teenagers get hooked up to alien EEG machines and are berated by drill sergeants. Psychologists tell us in furtive talking-head sequences about the boys’ disconnection from reality. Surely a little World of Warcraft can’t be worth all this?
Yet, the slow (albeit unevenly paced) unveiling of the boys’ stories is persuasive and chilling. Internet addiction is real. One parent confesses that her son wore diapers so he would never have to leave the game; another details her son’s attempted suicide after she confiscated his computer. The teens themselves laugh off the idea they have problems and brag about having played for 300 hours straight.
Most disconcerting of all is the clear understanding that no one knows what to do. The parents are helpless; the boys are in denial; and the psychologists admit they’re playing pin the tail on the diagnosis and can’t guarantee results. When reality is this bleak, who wouldn’t prefer the virtual world?