Gaming is different from gamblingKungen is a male character on Tarren Mill Europe, one of the most famous locations in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The player - who in real life is Thomas Bengtsson from Sweden - is the guild leader of the Nihilum community, worshipped by more than 13 million WoW players around the world. As the ringleader with the name of Wowkungen (the word “kungen” in Swedish means “king”), he led his group in a raid against one dungeon after another and was the world’s first player to complete 22 missions. He plays live online in his crusade whenever a new patch or version is introduced, drawing 4 million people around the world to watch him play. In real life, he works at the fast food joint Burger King and was promoted to branch manger after being selected as Employee of the Month for 17 consecutive months.
People unfamiliar with World of Warcraft would probably call a compulsive game player like Kungen an addict. They believe a person who is so obsessed with games and fantasy in the virtual world cannot lead a normal life and must therefore be contained with regulations and laws.
According to the National Assembly Research Service, the number of game addicts requiring professional help and treatment totals about 50,000. The number is just a meager 0.25 percent of the more than 20 million game players in Korea. The majority, 99.7 percent, such as Bengtsson, go on with their ordinary lives.
Games in the digital information age have become crucial and influential cultural mediums for expression. The world population is connected through the Internet and play while communicating and interacting with one another. Games have incorporated and applied the expressive forms and styles of novels, plays, movies, documentaries and musical pieces.
Their aesthetic taste has now reached a poetic level. Games now don’t just merely inspire and stir the brain, they gratify emotions and aesthetic appetites.
The National Assembly recently introduced a bill identifying game playing as an addiction on the same level as gambling and alcohol, creating a state-run agency to control this addiction. The bill is problematic for four reasons.
First, the law goes against the principles of equality and requires a comparison in similarities of qualities and features. Gaming is different from an alcohol, drug or gambling addiction because the latter have anti-social and criminal associations.
Secondly, the law violates the principle of clarity demanded of specific targets. In targeting Internet games and other media, the law is accusing cultural expression as potentially addictive and dangerous.
Third, the law does not obey the principle of prohibition on excess, which requires clear, objective and scientific arguments and a case proving a link to harmful effects. There is no objective proof that gaming causes addiction or has addictive potential. The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2011 upheld a federal appeals court decision to throw out California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, saying governments lack authority to “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”
The case defies the notion that violent games stimulate acts of brutality and addictive symptoms.
Fourth, the law also goes against the principle of the ban on duplicated regulations. Serious addicts who require therapy and help are contained through the Youth Protection Law and the law on the Prevention of Excessive Indulgence in Games.
Social problems from the mass media cannot be solved through legal means. We have seen numerous laws aimed to contain and ban violence and sensationalism on television being thrown out.
These problems can be best addressed through a better understanding of social and mass media, and through a parent-child dialogue, in addition to other communicative efforts.
We beseech sensible judgment and engagement toward fledging cultural media from the people who are campaigning for the law.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor in the digital media department at Ewha Womans University and a novelist under the name Lee In-hwa.
By You Chul-gyun