The Lemon Internet Bar is a tiny place, just 300 square feet and brimming with 80 or so computers in tidy rows. On any given day dozens of young men and women fill the oversized armchairs, illuminated by glowing screens as they wage war in games like Legendary Alliance and DOTA. They spend hours and hours there, sustaining themselves on junk food and catnaps as they lose all track of time. “You can stay indefinitely,” says photographer Jingli Wu. “You can even sleep there.”
Wu knows this because he’s done it himself. He was 6 when he started playing videogames, and even now loves an epic gaming session at a place like the Lemon Internet Bar in Zhao Zhuang, a city 350 miles south of Beijing. Wu ventured into the place two years ago, and soon started photographing this chaotic, caffeine-fueled microcosm of China’s thriving internet cafe culture. “When you play at home, there is no such atmosphere,” Wu says.
Lemon Internet Bar is one of the country’s 145,000 registered internet cafes. Visitors pay a small hourly fee of about 50 cents, plus the cost of soft drinks, to use the PCs. Some chat and check emails, but most people while away hours playing games. Although the law prohibits anyone younger than 18, minors often sneak into these “hotbeds of juvenile crime and depravity,” as the Communist Youth League once described them.
Wu has visited the cafe countless times, occasionally spending as long as six hours gaming or photographing fellow gamers with his Leica. His casual, candid photos reveal a chaotic place where people appear to have lost all sense of time. They’re engrossed in a digital world, one so much larger than the room they while away their time in.