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6 Reasons Why You CANNOT Escape from Gratitude International in Breakout 13

By Johnson Ge
Jan. 10, 2023 updated 04:00

The visual novel game Breakout 13 was released on January 9th. The game tells the story of a group of stray teenagers in the behavioral corrections institute “Gratitude International” with a special room called “Room 13”. The game builds Gratitude International heavily based on Yang Yongxin’s controversial ”Internet Addiction Treatment Center” in real-life. We will explain why it is impossible to escape from Gratitude International, or its original source in real life, for six reasons. 

Please be warned, the following content may contain spoilers for Breakout 13’s plot.

First of all, we need some background checks: Who is Yang Yongxin?

A photo of Yang Yongxin.A photo of Yang Yongxin.

Yang Yongxin is a highly controversial Chinese clinical psychiatrist. He believed internet addiction, especially addiction to video games, was a mental disorder and that electroconvulsive therapy(ECT) was the cure. He administered ECT to over 6000 adolescents from 2006 to 2009. At that time, the mainstream treated him like an expert on problem children, while the gaming community saw him as a demon.

Reason #1 Electroconvulsive therapy

When we are talking about Yang’s ECT, we are specifically referring to the practice of putting electrodes on either side of an adolescent’s temple, then unleashing a continuous series of electric pulses through the brain. There are no measures like anesthesia or muscle relaxants involved in the treatment; patients are merely restrained with tight straps or held down, in case the “patient” is resisting or twitching in pain.

A photo of Yang Yongxin administering therapy to a patient.A photo of Yang Yongxin administering therapy to a patient.

The adolescents who experienced ECT described the therapy as “painful” and “fearsome”. “It is hard to explain if you have not personally experienced it by yourself,” said one interviewed adolescent, “The best metaphor I can find is like two hammers knocking my head at an extremely high frequency. Before I could react, the next pulse came. I did not scream because I could not even open my mouth.”

The lack of theoretical support for the treatment at the time and the minimal protection of the adolescents quickly led to controversy and eventually caused the Chinese Government to ban ECT in internet addiction treatment years later.

Though we cannot directly feel the pain of ECT while playing Breakout 13, we can still see how it impacts the characters. Some can barely stand after the therapy, and some suffer from the after-effects and must take pills to heal themselves. It is possible to trigger a “Mental Breakdown” game over ending if the player fails the ECT mini-game as well.

A screenshot of Breakout 13’s Game Over screenA screenshot of Breakout 13’s Game Over screen

And no doubt, the ECT is not only a “therapy” but also a method of punishment for the “bad kids”. Can you guess who the “worst kids” were? The ones who tried to escape. The fear of receiving extra ECT as punishment would scare off many from even thinking of trying.

Reason #2 Principal Yang

According to the adolescents who experienced ECT, Rule #1 in the institution was to obey Principal Yang, especially during therapy.

In Breakout 13, the main antagonist is called Yang Yong’en, one word different from Yang Yongxin.In Breakout 13, the main antagonist is called Yang Yong’en, one word different from Yang Yongxin.

In a CCTV interview in 2009, Yang described how the “therapy” worked. He would ask the “patient” questions like “do you know why you are here” and “do you have internet addictions”. If the answer he received was unsatisfactory, he would “correct” the “patient” with a hint of the “right answer” and would then start the ECT therapy until he was satisfied with all the answers. Sometimes, the therapy would take longer than an hour if the patient was uncooperative.

A screenshot from the interview video shows details of Yang Yongxin’s methods.A screenshot from the interview video shows details of Yang Yongxin’s methods.

In Breakout 13, there is a similar mini-game during ECT. Different words will pop out for you to click: most of them are direct thoughts of the protagonist, but they will only anger Principal Yang and cause the player to lose HP. The small and inconspicuous ones are the ones Principal Yang wants to hear and the key to clearing the Mini-Game. Playing the Mini-Game feels like fighting against oneself: the only way to end the suffering is by suppressing one’s true thoughts by choosing/pretending to obey Principal Yang.

A screenshot of Breakout 13’s therapy mini-game.A screenshot of Breakout 13’s therapy mini-game.

By making obedience to Principal Yang the most efficient or only way to end the therapy, the intended effect is to condition the patient to be obedient at all times. Some people would not even contemplate escaping, and when others tried to escape, they would report it to Principal Yang immediately. In fact, players may unlock the “Principal Yang’s Good Student” hidden ending in Breakout 13 if they choose to snitch on other patients

A screenshot of Breakout 13’s Hidden Ending.A screenshot of Breakout 13’s Hidden Ending.

Reason #3  Militarized Management

Both in real life and in Breakout 13, the institution uses militarized management. Meaning that the adolescents in the facility have a strictly set schedule and complicated regulations.

The adolescents must hand in personal belongings, including mobile phones and IDs, when they first arrive at the institution and can only retrieve them after “graduation”. All their daily necessities are provided by institution employees. This is all designed to leave them zero possibility to communicate with the outside or take photos or videos as evidence.

A screenshot of Breakout 13 shows that cell phones are prohibited in the institution.A screenshot of Breakout 13 shows that cell phones are prohibited in the institution.

There is little free time left for them each day, limiting the chance they could have social contact with other students and discuss any kind of plans that may be unfavorable for the institution managers.

Reason #4 There is nowhere to escape to

In Breakout 13, Gratitude International is not even in China, but in real life, the Internet Addiction Treatment Center was located somewhere remote, far from populated areas. That way, if an adolescent succeeded in escaping, which was already incredibly difficult, they could not go far. Their electronic devices like mobile phones and their IDs were confiscated by their families or the institution, leaving them little chance to use public transportation or contact others.

Furthermore, the therapy fee in the institution was costly compared to the economic level of the surrounding area, and the institution greatly boosted the local economy by providing well-paid job opportunities to the residents.

A screenshot of Breakout 13 shows Principal Yang’s reasoning for why nobody is able to escape.A screenshot of Breakout 13 shows Principal Yang’s reasoning for why nobody is able to escape.

Because of the benefits the Treatment Center brought, the people who lived in the surrounding area were unlikely to help the escaped adolescents and were more likely to help the institution pursue them.

It is hard to blame them because-

Reason #5 People believe they are sick

In 2010, when Breakout 13’s story was set, gaming was considered a type of disorder by the mainstream in China. Even though there were no standardized diagnoses for ‘internet addiction’, it did not prevent clinics from exercising excessive power in diagnosing and confining those they deemed to have this supposed disorder.

Meanwhile, there were very few people familiar with the mental health field at that time. People would easily confuse words like disorder, illness, psychopathy, etc.  In this case, the escaped adolescents would be treated like problem children who were unpredictable, manic, and dangerous. It was believed the treatment center was the right place for them to stay.

Reason #6 Their Families

The most important reason is that their families, primarily parents, wanted the adolescents to stay in the institution for treatment. In the self-reported memories of the institution, many mentioned they were forced by their families in many ways.

CCTV’s program showed that “Huang He”, a young adult who was 18, was drugged by his family with 12 sleeping pills before being taken to the treatment center. Other cases revealed online showed other methods, including setting up a fake trip for the “patients” to lure them in or people disguised as police officers to “take them into custody”.

In Breakout 13, the protagonist is convinced by his mother that “they were just taking a tour to view the institution”. But in fact, he was forced to stay afterward. Later on, players may find a special clue: a torn photo taken from a family tour. It hints that the owner of the photo may have been betrayed by their family and imprisoned in the institution as well.

A screenshot of an in-game clueA screenshot of an in-game clue

According to China Youth Daily’s report in 2009, some, if not many, parents knew the details of the therapy, and they thought it was exactly what they needed. “A parent said excitedly that their child knelt in front of them and cried for forgiveness after two days of therapy. They were very satisfied with Yang’s work,” the reporter wrote in the article.

A similar idea is shown in Breakout 13 as well. There is a quote by Principle Yang in the game that says that the parents are not silly and that the protagonist’s mother took one month to research the institution before sending him there. And the hidden ending in the prologue shows that his mother merely wants “a good boy that listens to me on everything”.

A screenshot of the hidden ending.A screenshot of the hidden ending.

In real life, Yang Yongxin’s ECT treatment ended in 2009 when ECT in treating Internet addiction was banned by the Government. There were people disappointed that nobody brought a lawsuit against Yang afterward. Some believed, though controversial, that Yang did not violate any law. Some others guessed most of the “patients” were young at that time, and they lacked the evidence to pursue legal recourse.

In the first half of Breakout 13, players will taste similar powerlessness and despair experienced by patients at the treatment center. However, the in-game trailer hints that the second half may go in a different direction from the real-life stories, giving players a chance to strike back against Gratitude International.