Chinese 'Warcraft' Game Distributor Sued Over Teen's Suicide

The parents of a 13-year-old Chinese boy who they say jumped to his death from a tall building after playing one of the popular "World of Warcraft" online games for 36 hours straight are suing its Chinese distributor, a news report said Friday.

Zhang Xiaoyi died on Dec. 27, 2004, leaving behind a suicide note saying he wanted "to join the heroes of the game he worshipped," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

It said Zhang's parents, who live in Tianjin, just east of Beijing, are seeking 100,000 yuan ($12,500) from Aomeisoft, the Chinese distributor of "Warcraft: Orcs and Humans."

The suit says Aomeisoft failed to include a warning that the game's U.S. maker rates it as suitable only for players above age 13, according to Xinhua.

The Warcraft games are made by Blizzard Entertainment, a unit of Paris-based Vivendi Universal SA (V). Xinhua said a Tianjin court rejected a claim by the parents against the game maker.

The vice president of Aomeisoft, Bai Jie, told The Associated Press that he saw news reports about the lawsuit but that the company hasn't received any official court notice.

Bai said Zhang's parents were suing the wrong company, because Aomeisoft was set up in August, eight months after his death. Bai said he didn't know which distributor sold the game in 2004.

China has 111 million Internet users, second only to the United States. It is one of the world's biggest markets for online games, with tens of millions of players, many of whom hunker down for hours in front of PCs in public Internet cafes.

But the government has expressed concern about the violence and sexual content of some games. It has imposed curfews and time limits on children in Internet cafes and banned them near schools.

Also Friday, a newspaper said the Beijing city government has launched a review of the Chinese capital's 1,007 licensed Internet cafes to ensure they are complying with rules on admitting minors.

Violators could lose their licenses, the China Daily said.

In 2004, China shut down thousands of Internet cafes nationwide after a series of fatal fires and other accidents.

Xinhua said Zhang played at a "game hall," but didn't say whether that was an Internet cafe, which would have been required to limit his time there to a few hours.

Several cities have clinics to treat what psychiatrists have dubbed "Internet addiction" in users, many of them children and teenagers, who play online games or surf the Web for days at a time.

Specialists at a Beijing hospital examined Zhang's diary, school records and suicide note and concluded that "Zhang had excessively indulged in unhealthy games and contracted serious Internet addiction before his death," Xinhua reported.

His parents' suit also calls on the distributor to put a warning on the game's packaging saying "playing games excessively harms health," the report said.

Bai, the Aomeisoft executive, said the company plans to add "anti-addiction warnings" to future games.

The Warcraft games have 2.5 million players in China, with copies in more than 100,000 Internet cafes, Vivendi Universal chairman Jean-Bernard Levy told reporters in Shanghai in April.