[Viewpoint] The evil posed by computer gamesA middle-school teen strangled his mother to death for forbidding him to play computer games and then committed suicide. A while ago, a game addict in his 20s killed his mother with a knife. Another compulsive game player in his 30s died after playing games nonstop for five days without a decent meal.
A runaway couple was arrested five months after they allowed their three-month-old infant to starve to death while they played online games. The couple sometimes went on with game-playing for 12 hours and ignored their crying baby. When they finally pulled themselves away from playing, they fed her spoiled milk. The couple had met on the Internet. All these monstrous crimes took place this year.
Internet or game addiction is not just a misguided indulgence or amusement. It can lead to grave social illnesses and problems. Recent medical studies discovered that Internet addiction can led to mental disorders and a lack of constraint, numbing physical senses as much as overdosing on drugs and alcohol. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to external arousal and excited feelings resulting from violent Internet games.
Addictions developed at a young age can lead to serious repercussions. Obsessive computer use can take a toll on the body and the mind, robbing it of valuable experiences and opportunities in social and character building and education. The development of a mature and confident member of society can be at risk.
A recent survey showed about 1 million, or 14.3 percent of the country’s teen population, had symptoms of Internet addiction, more than double the 6.3 percent addiction rate among those in their 20s and 30s. What’s more worrisome is that those at risk are growing and becoming younger every year.
Authorities, however, are focusing their attention on promoting online games and the software industry and are turning a blind eye to negative effects of computer use and its impact on teenagers. A foreign press report estimated that Korea’s game industry expanded 17 percent this year to reach $5.5 billion and associated its rapid growth with the rise in computer game addiction among Koreans.
How many more sleepless nights does the industry need to feed its growth? And how many more serious consequences do we have to witness? Game industry development can contribute to the economy, but authorities must not neglect the ill-effects that come from excessive youth exposure to computer games. Proliferation of troubled youth cannot support sustainable social development.
Politicians are wrangling over a bill to limit teenagers’ access to late-night online games. The bill proposes to prohibit teenagers from accessing Internet games from midnight to six in the morning to help contain their impulsive and compulsive playing. Some question the effectiveness of the law, which has been stalled in the National Assembly. But the law can be a start to prevent the development of addiction and raise awareness of the dangers for teenagers.
Regulations alone cannot solve the addiction problem. Teenagers burdened with heavy workload, fierce competition and little time for leisure turn to online games to relieve some of their stress. What is urgent is creating and expanding the infrastructure for leisure and healthy entertainment to lure them away from computer games.
But in the meanwhile, we must come up with emergency steps to cure the addiction problem. We must first systematize ways to bar teens from spending night after night in front of computers. At the same time, medical and counseling support must be provide to help the addicted teens. The government, society and industry alike must aid families to promote positive Internet use for our children.
*The writer is the head of the Korea Youth World Association.
By Maeng Gwang-ho