South Korea’s online gaming scene has a sort of magnetic, train-wreck like pull to it. On the one hand it forms almost a Mecca of sorts for online gamers, a world where all their possibilities come true and the thought of one day being venerated for their skillz, for receiving national TV coverage after an amazing headshot or a sweet early-game strat, is not a distant dream but an actual, tangible goal. On the other hand, it provides an all-too-real insight into some of the worst excesses of that world – which is unfortunately what ends up getting the most coverage elsewhere in the electric world.
Back in April, we discussed that the South Korean government was implementing a curfew on online gaming for underaged internet users, following the widely-publicised death of three-month-old Kim Soo-rang back in March. Those restrictions were pretty harsh, but generally well-received – as was their decision to send counsellors to elementary schools to teach children about how to use the Internet healthily. In April the government also announced that the estimated number of teenagers with symptoms of Internet addiction was in decline, from over a million in 2007 to around 938,000 by the end of 2009.
So that’s good news for the teenagers of Korea – but by contrast, the number of twenty- and thirty-year olds believed to be addicted to the Internet has been increasing, to 975,000 in 2009 alone. Many of them, out of jobs and low on income, have been turning to online gaming in the hope of striking a lucky break and winning big.
Many others are using onling gaming to supplement their real-world income – you may recall that in South Korea it is considered a legal form of work to make money from in-game currencies and trades. And with an estimated $900 million AUD being changed hands every year through the Korean gaming internet, it’s easy to see the lure of online gaming as a “quick fix”. Unfortunately while teenagers have a vigilant parent to peek through their bedroom door at 4 AM and screech at them until they go to bed, no such watchful guardian exists for the older Internet addict. In fact the Korea Computer Life Institute announced recently that it believes that three out of ten adults in Korea are suffering from some form of Internet addiction.
Statistics such as this are what are prompting the South Korean government to announce plans to open counselling centres for the Internet addicts of the country. The government has set aside 10 billion won – about $9.8 million of our kangaroo-dollars – to fund the centres, as well as a campaign of education to the public. It seems like there is finally real movement behind the fight against Internet addiction, but in the end it still comes down to the user to make the right decision for themselves. We’ll bring you more from our hard-wired Korean cousins as and when it happens – but until then, consider taking a walk outside.
After setting up a download or something, at least.