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The Peninsula

Role Playing More Than a Game in South Korea

Published May 1, 2012
Author: Caryn Fisher
Category: South Korea

By Caryn Fisher

The ongoing trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the alleged mass killer from Norway who is undergoing trial for the murder of 77 people, reopens the concept of a link between violent video games and acts of violence in real life. During his trial, Breivik stated that he used the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” as shooting practice prior to the incident and had in the past spent time playing “World of Warcraft” for up to 16 hours a day. Although various studies and recent articles by Forbes and Reuters agree that there is no correlation between violent video games and violence itself, there is still a fear of correlation which the media plays upon, particularly in cases such as school shootings. Additionally, there also exists the problem of video game addiction, a problem currently faced by the South Korean government, as well as many other nations.

Imagine Seoul, a city where there is a 24-hour PC room on almost every street, filled with people of various ages who stay there from anywhere to a few hours to over a day. South Korea is a country where celebrities aren’t just movie stars and singers, but are also pro-gamers, such as Lim Yo-Hwan (aka Slayers_BoxeR), who earns around US $400,000 a year. In addition to celebrity pro-gamers, as of 2002, many of Korea’s major companies, such as SK Telecom and Samsung Electronics, began to sponsor teams to compete in pro-matches and tournaments, some of which reached audiences of 120,000 on-site and over 1,000,000 through online streaming.

For any video game fanatic, this would seem like paradise, but to the Korean government, this might not be the case. According to the National Information Society Agency, approximately 8% of the population in South Korea between the ages of 9 and 39 suffers from internet addiction, the rate being the highest for those between the ages of 9 and 12, coming in at around 14%. Due to this the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family instituted the Cinderella Law (also known as the Shutdown Law) in 2011. Under the Cinderella Law, individuals under the age of 16 are banned from accessing gaming websites between midnight and 6am. The South Korean government started this initiative in the hopes of treating people for gaming addiction and to help increase the amount of time that students spend studying, rather than online.

Despite the fact that this program was started less than a year ago, there have already been some mixed reactions by the parents of the game playing youth. Some parents state that they feel the government is trying to dictate their children’s lives, while giving the parents less say in how to educate their children. At the same time, there has also been some positive feedback from other parents, such as those who feel that as parents they often don’t have the time to constantly monitor their children’s online-gaming behavior due to having to work late. No matter which side their parents fall on though, young students who have been blocked from their hobby have already found other ways to get around the system, using their parents’ ID numbers instead of their own to register for the games for example.

Unfortunately, the Cinderella Law initiative, focused mostly on younger students, does not fully address the issue of gaming addiction in Korea. Although the Korean cases of internet and gaming addiction are not linked to cases of murder, such as the case of Columbine High School in the United States, there are many cases of personal and familial neglect that have stemmed from gaming addiction. One of such cases was in 2005 when a 28 year old man collapsed and died after playing the game “StarCraft” for 50 hours straight, with little sleep and few meals. The man, who died in a Daegu hospital after collapsing in a PC room, is said to have passed due to heart failure stemming from exhaustion. There was also another case in 2010 in which a Korean couple pleaded guilty to negligent homicide after their three month old daughter died of malnutrition while they visited PC rooms for extended gaming sessions. Ironically, the game they played, “Prius Online,” involved the raising of a child in the game. Although these types of cases are quite rare, the Korean government has responded by subsidizing programs in hundreds of hospitals and clinics focused on treating gaming addiction, one example being the Save Brain Clinic at Gongju National Hospital.

Although the figures for gaming addiction in South Korea seem relatively small compared to that of the United States, where up to 90% of young individuals play video games and up to 15% of them may be addicted to gaming, and China, where approximately 20 million people play online games, it is still a positive step that the South Korean government is looking into the issue. Along with South Korea, several other countries, including the United States, China, the Netherlands, and Canada have also begun opening treatment centers for gaming addiction. While the threat of gaming addiction looms, the Korean government also cannot deny that in a country of nearly 50 million people, of which more than half are registered for online gaming, the online-gaming industry is an important industry for the country. In 2011, it earned $1.1 billion in exports, more than half of the country’s overseas revenue. Balancing the benefits of this booming industry with its potential cost will likely continue to be a challenge as the influence and benefits, as both a hobby and occupation, continue to grow, particularly for the younger generations, in the most wired country in the world.

Caryn Fisher is the Executive Assistant to the President at the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from Rory O’Donnell’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

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