Video Gaming Addictions in South Korea

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In Seoul, an addicted young middle schooler constantly avoided his grandmother in order to play video games . He was always locked in his bedroom, while she looked out on the veranda window watching him glued to the screen. His addiction led him to sneak out to cyber cafes, still avoiding his grandma while she desperately attempted to find him. Sadly, today he is 21, unemployed, and is still addicted. At his grandfather’s funeral, he disrespectfully played games on his phone. ”Games ruined the child,” weeped his grandmother. Nowadays, video game addiction is a contentious subject in South Korea. How video games affect the mental health of the adolescents that play them has caused much controversy.

In May, the World Health Organization added the “Internet gaming disorder” into the International Classification of Diseases. South Korean mental health professionals welcomed this and claim this “will broaden understanding of the problem and improve treatment.” The health professionals also  pointed out numerous deaths related to gaming, such as a baby dying of malnutrition due to the addiction of her parents.

Still, South Korea’s gaming industry claims this will cause negative economic consequences. As of 2017, South Korea exported $6 billion in games. “The entire ecosystem of the game industry could collapse,” says Kim Jung-tae, Dongyang University professor of game studies, and worries the problem may cause gaming companies to move. He called the push to acknowledge the negativity of being addicted to games a “witch hunt,”  fueled by psychiatrists and bureaucrats “who stand to profit from funding for research and treatment,” and parents who are “eager to explain away their children’s academic failures.” The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism estimates the gaming disorder designation will decrease income by $9,000,000,000 and lose 8,700 jobs. Many urge South Korea to turn down the gaming disorder. Roh Sung-won, a professor at Hanyang University Hospital, Seoul, points out that alcohol and cars aren’t banned even though they cause major problems, like drunk driving. 

Mental health experts are still pondering over the video gaming disorder designation. In 2011 South Korea established the “Cinderella” Law, requiring all 15 and under to shut down all gaming after midnight. As for the 21 year-old, after many visits to hospitals and clinics that failed to cure him, he grew an addiction to illegal gambling. This led to minor fraud. In July, he was arrested due to issues related to said fraud and gambling, and is in jail awaiting trial. His grandmother often recalls when he played soccer. His coach saw talent in him and requested lessons, but because his family was poor, they declined. Now she wonders if accepting would have “made all the difference.”

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