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South Korea ponders the implications of video game addiction law

updated 04:31 pm EDT, Mon June 23, 2014

Debate considers law that would regulate games like drugs and alcohol

South Korea is struggling with how it should deal with the population's booming interest in playing video games. From eSports involving games like League of Legends or Starcraft, to the surge of internet cafés and "PC bangs," games are rooted in the culture of the country. However, a string of gaming incidents and growing concern has caused the government to consider passing a law that would regulate videos games in a similar fashion to drugs and alcohol.

During a debate hosted by the Democratic Party of Korea, a panel of government members, professors and members of the game industry came together to discuss the effect of games in society. The debate, which was titled "Video Games: Addiction or Art," looked to bridge the gap between concerns and cultural issues. The panel covered the prejudice toward games, students using games as a coping mechanism and the possible impact on the industry.

Due to the pressure in academics and the hectic schedule for school-related activities, the panel showed that there is a reason students have flocked to video games. Using them as a coping mechanism for poor home environments, or to blow off steam after a stress-filled day is a common occurrence. Combined with a lack of time, activities such as gaming are turned to because of a lack of options.

On the merit of art, the panel held different views based on the point of the medium. Instead, it boils down to the objective of the product rather than its artistic meaning. Games can be used as problem-solving, but the importance is perspective. Professor Joong-Kwon Jin said that the experience that is delivered is what is the most important.

The panel also stated that the country also has some of the same stigmas and prejudices about video games that the United States does. Video games are often tied to violent acts without a full understanding of the content. A leader in the game industry said that the violence could be due to there being a lack of legal punishment for violent acts. Later it would be said that the definition of addiction needs to be addressed by the medical community and industry, since each side sees it differently.

The discussion cane about due to a bill announced as under consideration late last year in the South Korean parliament. The "Game Addiction Act" is aimed at curbing the anti-social addictions that video games cause within the country. If passed, the law places limits on advertising video games, in addition to building a fund to curb addiction. However, the fund would be built on video game companies handing over one percent of their revenue.

The concern from members of the government and community aren't without validity. Instances where a child has killed a parent over playing online games, or a young child starving to death while parents played games at a café, made national headlines in the country. A death case also involved a man suffering from dehydration and heart failure during a multi-day stint in a game café. A government study in 2011 showed that over 125,000 children ages 10 to 19 required treatment for addiction, or were at risk of addiction.

To curb some of the issues with the younger population, the government put the Shutdown Law into effect in 2011. The law bans anyone under the age of 16 from playing between the hours of midnight and 6AM. Voluntary measures, such as in-game reminders to step away from the computer, have been instituted by companies like NCSoft.

While the debate isn't expected to change the minds of an entire country, the gathering of individuals from a range of fields sheds some light on the perception of games. Members of the community argue that there is merit of the integration of games into the culture, even if the outcome is troubled.

By Electronista Staff
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