I guess it's in the eyes. Because otherwise it's difficult to tell the difference between the antisocial, soul-devouring, single-mindedly irascible protagonist of "River Song" and any other teenager.
But when young computer gamer Bekzod Sobirov's eyes take on the look of cinder pits in an outer ring of Hell, it's clear he's on the wrong path.
So goes a cautionary new feature film in Uzbekistan called "River Song
," on the dangers of young people's rapidly growing appetite for computer gaming.
A spokesman for Uzbekino, the state film supervisory agency, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that production wrapped up this month on the project (and on another film touting the merits of education).
The film certainly packs a moral punch. It depicts Bekzod's rise to glorious heights in the perilously addictive world of electronic games, his resulting moral meltdown, and (SPOILER ALERT) his redemption in the traditionally rooted care of his grandfather.
The man behind "River Song" is one of the country's best-recognized talents, writer and filmmaker Sharaf Boshbekov. He clearly believes there's a problem, with or without the science to back up his position.
"The impact of computer gaming on children's psychology is becoming a global problem," he told RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Babajanov. "We have instances of child murderers."
Computer gaming is increasingly regarded within the country as a serious threat to Uzbek youth, perhaps surprising given its lack of household access to the Internet. But there are Internet cafes on just about every corner in population centers (where authorities can keep a close watch on what people are viewing). Cheap electronic devices and computers from nearby China are everywhere. And computer-gaming tournaments are regular events.
Just last year, Uzbek lawmakers railed against computer gaming before passing a curfew requiring youngsters to be home by late evening unless they're accompanied by a chaperone.
Another Uzbek director, Hudaybergan Yusupov, visited the topic a decade ago. In an animated three-minute short called "Game Over
," he showed a screaming toddler eschewing pacifiers and all forms of toy until he gets his hands on a Gameboy-like device. A videogame romp ushers him into adulthood, where he ends up still sitting on his pot and laughing maniacally.
"In 2002, when we filmed that short cartoon, the problem wasn't so acute," Yusupov told RFE/RL. "We exaggerated a bit that kids would need computers as soon as they were potty-trained."
It's also a safe topic for a filmmaker whose most iconic work wouldn't stand much chance of getting made today.
"River Song's" Boshbekov initially made his reputation with a dark full-length film titled "Iron Woman" (Russian: Чудо-женщина and Uzbek: Temir xotin). It tells the story of a "female" robot assembled to do menial tasks who self-destructs by electrocution rather than pick a massive field of cotton -- a pretty explicit condemnation of labor practices and the treatment of women in Uzbek society. Boshbekov made that now classic film in 1990, under perestroika and with the Soviet power structure imploding.
-- RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and Andy Heil