Internet addiction, considered by some to be a first world problem, is a nightmarish — and fatal — issue for some South Koreans.
In the early 90s, the South Korean government implemented policies to aggressively increase the number of internet connections in the country, investing heavily in broadband infrastructure.
The new HBO documentary “Love Child” narrates the story of a South Korean couple’s internet addiction. “Love Child” raises questions about the implications of South Koreans’ dependency on the internet, including the story of one couple who let their baby die because they were too busy playing online games.
“Love Child” will air on HBO on July 28 at 9 p.m. EST, and will be available On Demand starting on July 29. We got an early preview of the film and learned a lot about the toll internet addiction can take on someone.
In 2010, a South Korean couple was arrested for charges related to the death of their two-month old daughter.
Their daughter Sarang was malnourished. Her parents would leave her at home for six or more hours at a time, and would go to a popular cybercafe to play online games.
This is the interior of the underground cybercafe and online gaming center PC Bang, where the couple spent hours every day playing games.
24-hour gaming centres are commonplace in the country. 2 million South Koreans are believed to be online gaming addicts.
The parents met at PC Bang while they were playing the fantasy game Prius. 'They would come here after dinner and play all night. They were so happy, lost in the game together,' said Sang-Deuk Lee, a clerk at PC Bang.
When Sarang's parents left her at home all night, they were raising a virtual child, Anima, inside Prius.
When high-speed broadband Internet was first introduced in South Korea, it was too expensive to install at home, so people began installing computers together in one space. That's how online gaming centres and cybercafes came to be so ubiquitous in the country.
Sarang's parents were trying to save money so they'd pay for a discounted block of 10 hours of gaming time for the price of seven hours.
The couple didn't hold regular jobs, so they made money from 'gold farming.' The parents would sell virtual currency they earned in Prius to people who wanted to buy game items without taking the time to earn them.
Joon Kim, an amateur gamer, says he started playing online games in the fourth grade. He made $US10,000 from gold farming.
Authorities performed an autopsy to determine Sarang's cause of death. The couple was brought to trial on murder charges. They admitted to negligence.
Sarang's parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Korean law reduces the sentence for people who are convicted but have mental illness, so the couple's attorney sought to have the couple diagnosed with internet addiction.
The cause of the baby's accidental death was determined to be online addiction, making it the first case in the country where game addiction caused a fatality.
Sarang's story is not the only case of fatal internet addiction. A homeless mother addicted to online gaming was arrested when she secretly gave birth in a bathroom stall at PC Bang and suffocated the baby with a plastic bag.
To curb the country's addiction, authorities enforced a curfew for children under 16, preventing them from playing games from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. As a result, gaming companies stopped making games for kids 15 and under.
But game and online addiction is a social problem, one that can't only be solved solely through government intervention.
Patients are shown a 3D video of nature, then a gaming scene, and finally a scene that makes the patient feel aversion. It's designed to associate video games with negative feelings.
The rise of smartphones means people aren't limited to cyber cafes; the game market is expanding in Korea, for better or worse.
South Korea's internet economy is worth $US7.9 billion. Last year, the country exported $US4.2 billion in cultural contents, with 50% coming from its online gaming industry.
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