An increasing number of children in China are retreating from reality and developing what are known as “2-D complexes” — a strong attachment to two-dimensional characters and the worlds they inhabit. It is characteristic for people with 2-D complexes to spend a lot of time alone, playing video games, reading manga, or watching anime.
And yet, instead of condemnation, most Chinese parents tolerate their children locking themselves away in their 2-D worlds. According to an iResearch survey, 70 percent of parents in China are fine if their children are addicted to 2-D culture as long as they maintain good grades in school. This may seem strange to Western parents, many of whom deliberately encourage their kids to spend more time outside.
Are Chinese parents crazy? Many Westerners worry about the underdeveloped social skills and negative health consequences which are a byproduct of spending extended periods inside and alone. They probably raise their eyebrows at what they perceive to be the Chinese asleep at the helm of their parenting duties, but there are three main reasons that a 2-D addiction may be tolerated in China.
First, many Chinese parents would prefer to keep their children locked up inside instead of letting them run free outside for safety reasons. This is especially true for parents who work long hours and can’t always be around to supervise. A 2-D addiction may not be desirable, but time spent in front of a computer is safer than the real world.
Second, many Chinese parents are obsessed with their children getting perfect grades in school. In the iResearch report, about half of parents said they would let their children carry on their 2-D obsessions as long as they did well in school.
However, even if it is possible to juggle academics and a 2-D addiction, an important consideration is whether or not the artifacts of this culture, such as video gaming and watching animated films, have potential detrimental side effects on a child. Does 2-D culture actually have a negative impact on future academic success? Further research needs to be done but a study published in PLOS ONE Journal didn’t find video games to have harmful to cognitive function.
Finally, Chinese parents are also much less concerned than Westerners about potential harm to the social skills of their children. Going out and socializing with friends is not something that most parents push their children to do.
One reason for this is that having developed social skills — in terms of meeting new people — traditionally hasn’t been as important for young adults in Chinese society. Michelle Chen, a woman I know who works as a human resources agent at an American company in Shanghai told me that since people in her company already have developed social networks from school, family, and work, they have far fewer social events than the company’s offices in United States.
She told me that even at the company’s annual party people prefer to simply socialize among their groups of acquaintances. “Striking up a conversation with people you’ve never met is not the norm. People will feel weird and may even get suspicious of your intentions if you do that.”
And yet, while 2-D addictions are often associated with antisocial behavior, the rise in popularity of the culture is actually increasing socialization between young people in China. More importantly, it’s uniting people with similar interests. This is an important shift in a country where social networks are most commonly formed through matchmaking, school, or work.
More and more fans of the genre are meeting up offline with others who share similar interests — both as dates with people met online and at events organized by the 2-D websites. At a cosplay exhibition earlier this year, state-owned China Central Television interviewed one of the performers of a dance group, who said the group had formed because of their common love for 2-D culture.
These online and offline events in turn help people to break from their old social circles and get out to meet new people. Ironically, many of the things parents try to prevent their children from doing in condoning their children’s 2-D lifestyles are happening anyway.
(Header image: Two teenagers dressed up as characters from manga comics look at a smartphone at the Wuhan Optics Valley Animation Festival, Hubei province, May 1, 2010. Shepherd C.Zhou/VCG)