Footing the bill for game addictsDue to strengthened regulations on Internet games, online game companies must now seek the approval of parents or legal guardians in order to issue memberships to a minor. The new regulation is an extension of the law that prevents minors from playing online PC games from midnight until 6 a.m. Lee Ju-ho, the minister of education, science and technology, recently visited the Korea Game Industry Association, which counts 90 game operators and developers among its members, and pointed to online games as one of the factors contributing to violence and bullying at schools.
Research shows that measures are needed to tackle the growing scourge of game addiction among Korean students, as 470,000, or 6.5 percent, of elementary, middle and high school students, are excessively immersed in games. Another study shows that young people who spend hours each day in these virtual worlds perform worse academically than their peers.
However, many people are skeptical of the usefulness of the government warning and its ability to rein in addiction to online games. In fact, rather than keeping kids away from their favorite multiplayer games, the series of restrictive measures and ramped up level of government interference threatens to undermine the status of the world-leading domestic gaming industry.
Games themselves are not inherently bad. The problem is their addictive nature and the fact that game developers are often keen to capitalize on this. One even announced recently, while soliciting investment, that it plans to make its games more addictive to boost revenue. And somewhat hypocritically, many programmers and game developers confess they limit the amount of time they allow their own children to play such games.
Meanwhile, children from low-income families seem more prone to game addiction, as are children with two working parents. More than half of the students who spend more than four hours a day playing games said in a survey that they had no interference from their parents. This trend is helped by the proliferation of Internet cafes equipped with super-fast connectivity, which can be considered breeding grounds for addicts. For now, imposing a blanket restriction on access hours may be the safest way to protect children from themselves, but local authorities should also increase preventive after-school classes and offer programs to help wean addicts off games. It would be fitting for game operators to finance these from their huge profits.
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