Chinese Game on Controversial “Correction Institutes” for Internet Addiction Becomes a Breakout Hit on Steam

Apparently, it's based on a true story.

by bhernardo
Image via ALT Lab

In the month of big game releases on Steam, one title that actually came out in January this year is capturing the hearts of narrative game fans. Breakout 13, a game by Chinese company ALT Lab, gathered more than 11,000 concurrent players in the morning of Feb. 2, according to Steamcharts. That’s more than long-standing titles like Fallout 76, Vampire Survivors, and Dying Light 2.

Breakout 13 is an interactive movie instead of being a traditional narrative game. With human actors, the game tells the story of “unguided” teenagers who are addicted to the internet and video games and are taken by force to “an island in the middle of the dark ocean” to undergo “behavior correction”. That means being electrocuted by a machine until they are too hurt and scared—or grateful, as the correction institute suggests—to ever touch a joystick or smartphone again. A radical kind of therapy, but one that’s needed for the game’s villain, the principal, to set the grim tone of the protagonist’s attempt to escape this shady institution.

The game wasn’t a huge success when it released on Jan. 9, when it peaked at around 4,000 concurrent players to rapidly dip to less than 700 in the past few days. What made the game surge in popularity again was the release of its final chapters on Feb. 2. On release, Breakout 13 players only had access to chapters one to five, with chapters six to the narrative’s end being available now.

This model of periodic releases of game chapters mimics what’s done with TV shows all the time, forcing fans to engage frequently with the title and for longer than they probably would if all chapters were available at once. Other episodic games like Life is Strange and The Wolf Among Us successfully ran this formula in the past and became huge hits, also because of the quality of their gameplay and narrative.

Breakout 13 is an Adaptation of Another Video Game

In the Breakout 13 Steam page, developers refer to another Chinese game, Mysteries of Fence, as the original source of its narrative. Mysteries of Fence, though, uses cartoon art instead of real actors.

Developers of the game say it’s based on a true story, and that such rehabilitation centers for “internet addiction” were something real in China, despite being in lower numbers today. They say that the internet was seen as a “dreadful monster” by older generations in its early days in the country, and teenagers who were deeply engaged with it were seen as ill. The developers’ goal with Mysteries of Fence was “to record the unknown pain and struggles of ordinary people in the far east country, hoping that our descendants will never forget these tragedies happened before.”

- This article was updated on February 2nd, 2023