South Korea's Looking To Officially Classify Gaming As An Addiction

A few years ago, I visited South Korea on tour with a marching band. The culture there was entirely different from what I was used to at the time - video games, rather than being something strange or unfamiliar, formed the core of the nation's media and pastimes. To me, this vibrant society was a haven for gaming, and I vowed I would one day go back there.

Unfortunately,  there's a dark side to Korea's gaming culture, as well. Theirs is a society which, for one reason or another, seems particularly prone to video game and Internet addiction. We've seen children starve to death as their parents gamed the night away. We've seen people quite literally play themselves to death in the dark corners of Internet cafes. We've even seen people kill their friends, family, and parents for getting between them and the game. 

"My parents tried to stop me, but I kept playing," said Shin Minchul, a 21-year old college student and former gamer. "Even the government couldn't have stopped me. II dreamed of being a professional. By high school, I was playing World of Warcraft for fifteen-hour stints."  


I don't profess to know why this has become such an epidemic. I am neither a sociologist nor a psychologist.  There is a chance that incidents like this could well be in the future for North America: currently, over 90% of homes in South Korea have access to broadband Internet, and 24-hour Internet Cafes - "PC Rooms" - operate throughout the country. Contrast that to the United States, where Internet cafes are still relatively sparse (and certainly not open 24 hours a day), and only 78% of homes have access to Broadband

It's a  frightening thought - the concept that South Korea's addiction woes are tied not to the nation's cultural background nor to the type of games available(there's a reason many MMO sites talk about "Korean grindfests), but to the technology itself. Could the Internet really have such a pull? If we were to implement freely-available access and 24-hour hotspots, would we really start seeing the same incidents taking place?

That's certainly a possibility, and one of which we should most definitely be wary. Though I love gaming, and consider the hobby an incredibly important fixture in my life, I'm all-too-familiar with the draw a good game can have. Many a night in University I would pull away from a gaming session to find myself staring bleary-eyed at the clock with the realization that I had to be up for class in a matter of hours. 

South Korea's Parliament is looking to take action against the epidemic of video game addiction. Fourteen ruling-party lawmakers, parents, religious groups, and doctors are considering listing online video games as a "potentially antisocial addiction" alongside gambling, drugs, and alcohol. 

"Without online games, kids would talk to their mother and play," explained Kim Min-sun, a mother of two.

If passed, this bill would put a limit on video game advertising, as well as building a fund designed to fight gaming addiction through a portion of the game industry's revenue. This last bill is the latest in a long string of efforts Korea's government has made to address the addiction problem. In 2011, the Shutdown Law was passed, which prevented gamers under the age of 16 from playing between midnight and 6 AM. Then, in 2012, they introduced a system which forced mandatory breaks in play-time. 

Not everyone is on-board with these provisions, and many worry that they will severely injure a thriving industry in the country.

"Workers in the game industry are worrying about the bill," noted Se-jeong Kim, Blueside CEO. "I feel sad when I hear that games are anti-social as well as harm health." 

Opponents of the bill maintain that it's simply fighting the symptoms of a more expansive issue in lieu of actually attacking the problem at its source. There exists a significant dearth of leisure activities for teenagers in the country, so many of them turn to gaming and find themselves hooked later in life. What's more, the highly competitive education system often drives students to lose themselves in a virtual world rather than deal with the extreme stress brought on by parents and educators.

From where I stand, video game addiction definitely looks like a problem, particularly in South Korea. I don't think trying to legislate it away is the correct route, though. Instead, perhaps parents, educators, and officials should take a closer look at what's causing the addiction. Maybe then, we can find a fix that doesn't involve a country neutering one of its greatest, most promising industries.