In China, Monks Mix 'Counter-Strike' With Spiritual Enlightenment

Counter-StrikeBuddhist monks. "Counter-Strike."

Not exactly two things you expect to have anything in common. But, while researching a story that has absolutely nothing to do with either, we discovered some monks in China that are big fans of Valve's shooter.

Honestly, I didn't believe Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford when he told me.

"I was a bit surprised when I was in China and I was told about a group of Monks who live in a temple next to a Cybercafe. Apparently, the monks are not permitted to drink alcohol, eat meat or be married, but it’s totally acceptable for them to play violent video games. Apparently, this group of Monks spent a lot of time next door to their temple at the Cybercafe playing 'Counter-Strike,'" Pitchford told Multiplayer.

He wasn't lying. Scouring the results of a simple Google search for "counter-strike monks" I found a number of visitors stumbling across monks firing their virtual AK-47s in de_dust (a famous "Counter-Strike" map).

For more, we spoke with a world traveler who actually saw the monks in person.

One of the five precepts for living a Buddhist lifestyle is that followers "do not kill," but that doesn't seem to extend to the world of video games.

"I never thought I'd see a monk pull out his knife and hack someone to death because he'd run out of ammo!" remarked trekker Chris Lynch to Multiplayer in an e-mail exchange. "The monks I saw were mostly teenagers, dressed in dark maroon robes, but otherwise pretty much the same as boys everywhere. They were quieter, but not in an intense, competitive way -- they were having a lot of fun shooting each other, and chatting among themselves while they did."

The majority of sightings appear to have taken place outside of the Labrang Monastery, located in Xiahe County in China's Gansu province (check out this area on Google Maps for a better idea of the location). Aside from Tibet, Labrang is reportedly Buddhism's most prolific monastery town. The Internet café in question isn’t far from the monastery, which Lynch described as "run down ... basic, third-world conditions in the Himalayas. The net 'cafe' was a bare concrete room with old computers, tables and chairs."

Lynch also observed cafe-users playing "Diablo 2" and "Half-Life," albeit with "Counter-Strike" clearly proving the most popular amongst the monks. The fact that the monks Lynch encountered were younger didn't surprise him much; young boys are sent to monasteries for education purposes on their path to becoming fully professed monks.

"A couple might've been late teens, early 20s. I guess one of the things that made it surreal was how normal it seemed. Xiahe is remote, and there was nothing much in the town, so I can understand their excitement -- if I was a Tibetan kid, I'd probably be there too!" confessed Lynch.

I attempted to track down the Internet café, but as Lynch suggests, Xiahe is hard to reach. Much of what we know about the social culture in Xiahe comes from the online writings of tourists passing through. There is no Xiahe "Counter-Strike" clan or notable online presence. The Internet café isn't part of a Chinese chain. It is, essentially, in the middle of nowhere, a small blip in gaming culture otherwise gone unnoticed.

If you ever find yourself backpacking through China, most travel sites recommend heading to Xiahe from Linxia. Together, Xiahe and Linxia make up what's sometimes dubbed "Little Tibet." There are other ways into Xiahe, but all require a lengthy, bumpy bus trip.

Readers, have you ever encountered a monk in "Counter-Strike?" I wonder if they use voice chat.

[Photo Credit: Chung Sung-Jun]

Have a hot tip? Is there a topic that Multiplayer should be covering and isn't? Maybe you've spotted these monks on your own travels. Drop me an e-mail.