Rep wants online games to be branded addictive

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Rep wants online games to be branded addictive

A lawmaker’s bill to designate online gaming as an addictive pleasure - along with drugs and alcohol - sparked a political firestorm and an outcry from game lovers and the industry.

Shin Eui-jin, a psychiatrist-turned-lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, proposed a bill regulating online gaming in a similar fashion to drugs and alcohol back in April. She said at the time the idea was meant to serve as a basis for establishing a state-run body dedicated to rehabilitating young game addicts.

But critics say the bill will put game players and providers under stronger state control and stifle the industry.

“The passage of the bill would be the same as the pronouncement of a death sentence to the game industry,” said the Korea Internet and Digital Entertainment Association, a lobbying group for online game companies.

The association started an online petition to block the bill on Oct. 28, and a total of over 240,000 people had signed it as of yesterday.

The home page of Representative Shin crashed yesterday due to heavy traffic by people who disapprove of her bill.

“Game companies are now trying to distort my proposal by bringing up provocative phrases like ‘death sentence,’?” said Shin at a press briefing yesterday. “The CEOs of Nexen, NC Soft, Neowiz and NHN should come forward and discuss the issue.”

Shin said she was just trying to help young people who are addicted to online games.

“What I’d like to do is to provide more comprehensive recovery or a precautionary counseling service for adolescent gamers who spend too much time playing online games,” she said. “The proposal will help bring together various professionals - from nurses, counselors and social workers - to protect heavy game players.”

“It’s absurd to treat gamers in the same way as drug addicts and alcoholics,” the game industry association said, “and online companies like illegal drug sellers.”

The proposed legislature created a fresh hot-button issue in the political realm. Jun Byung-hun, floor leader of the Democratic Party, dismissed Shin’s bill.

“To me, the law appears to be drawn up by old heavy-handed men,” said Jun, who also serves as president of the Korea e-Sports Association, a government body that promotes Korea’s e-Sports, online gaming played tournament style.

“President Park Geun-hye identified the game industry as one of five promising future businesses, but her party member wants to block the promotion of the booming industry,” Jun said.

“I know the bill is at the center of controversy,” said Saenuri Party Representative Nam Kyung-pil. “And I think it’s not a great idea to view games in the same category as drugs and gambling.”

Korea’s gamers and online game companies blame the government for already being too nannyish. Starting from 2012, the government implemented a curfew on teenagers playing online gaming from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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