South Korea's Game Addiction Law could treat games like drugs and alcohol

The debate surrounding video games has escalated due to the South Korean government's impending Game Addiction Law, which would see games regulated like drugs or alcohol.

Sa Youn Hwang
Sa Youn(Sy) loves technology. He still remembers his high school science fair entry, where his poorly designed robot caught fire in front of hundreds of people. Since then, he has been honing his proficiency in all things tech-related since with a flammable vengeance. Currently a graduate student at Seoul National University, Sy likes to spend his spare time reading tech blogs, tweaking audio equipment, and writing music.
Sa Youn Hwang
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You may have realized by now that Korea is a haven for gamers. Games like Starcraft and more recently, League of Legends, have a huge following, and going to a 'PC bang' (think internet cafe, except with rows and rows of computers with the most up-to-date hardware for less than a dollar per hour) to play games has become a national pastime. Professional Gaming, or e-Sports as it's now called, is a multi-million dollar industry in Korea. You can even get a bachelor's degree in e-Sports.

But several members of the government have been claiming that gaming culture has permeated to the point of detriment across the nation. In a debate hosted by the Democratic Party of Korea, government officials, professors, and industry representatives came together on June 18 to discuss the merits of video games.

Entitled "Video Games: Addiction or Art?" the debate focused on whether the impending Game Addiction Law, which would effectively regulate video games in a similar method to drugs and alcohol in legal context, is the most appropriate way to deal with Korea's current enamour with video games.

Many of the arguments presented were resoundingly positive for video games. Jong-Duk Kim of the Game Developers Association asserted that title of the debate itself demonstrates the problem.

"Everyone and everything has the right to freedom of expression and games are no different. They have the right to freedom of expression as a legally published medium, whether art or not. The title of the debate suggests that if video games are considered to be a form of art, they should be protected and punished otherwise."

Chairman of the Gamers Foundation, Goong-Hoon Nam, said cutting off video games would be like "replacing the engine of your car when it stops running, only to find out that it was merely out of fuel."

Among others, parenting was disputed as one of the major root causes and solutions of video game addiction. Kids were turning to games to relieve stress coming from parents pressuring their children to perform academically. Professor Joong-Kwon Jin urged parents to open lines of communication with their children to reduce stress levels.

Much of the negative societal perception of video games had culminated from recent incidents relating to game addiction. Earlier in April, a man addicted to video games let his 2-year old son die of starvation after playing online games in PC bangs and not returning home for several days.

In late 2011, after a published report indicated teenage students were spending more than 2 hours every day after school playing video games, the government passed the Shutdown Law, which prevents adolescents under the age of 16 from playing games from midnight to 6AM.