Keeping the government at bay

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Keeping the government at bay


Jeon Jong-soo

Under the new regulation by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, children 16 and under will be allowed to play online games after midnight only if they have their parents’ approval.

The current regulation, which automatically kicks Korean teenagers off online game sessions and sites between midnight and 6 a.m., can also be reactivated upon parents’ request.

But the gaming industry - which has been fiercely lobbying against the regulation - is still unhappy, arguing that few parents will voluntarily lift the curfew. The decision has also irked parental organizations, which accuse the government of giving into the industry.

Under the revised Youth Protection Law in 2011, Korean gamers aged 16 and under were subject to a comprehensive nighttime shutdown. A revised Gaming Promotion Law in 2012 required teenagers aged 18 and under to select their time period upon approval of their legal custodians. The industry and media have raised questions on the efficacy and the excess of dual regulations concerning the comprehensive and optional shutdown systems. Shutdown regulations have caused an uproar among different parties over the past three years.

Over that period, foreign-made games quickly made inroads into the market, taking up nearly 40 percent, and the Korean industry - which ranked No. 1 in the world in online gaming - was outpaced by its Chinese competitors. Online and computer gaming, which accounted for more than 50 percent of culture-related industrial exports, is now in jeopardy due to foreign competition and the shift to mobile platforms. The latest news could be a windfall for PC-based Internet game manufacturers, as mobile platforms will also be subject to the government curfew starting in May 2015. The deregulation, of course, is far from satisfactory for the gaming industry, which has been arguing for policy traffic control. The Culture Ministry controls the nation’s gaming culture and industry, while the Gender Equality Ministry is in charge of youth-related policies. Policies to regulate teenage gaming come from both ministries. Without surrendering their jurisdictions, the two ministries said they will run a permanent council with the gaming and youth communities to reflect the voices of both sectors in future policies.

But we need to focus on the initial purpose of the shutdown regulation instead of arguing over its easing. The Gender Equality Ministry has advocated for the curfew to prevent nighttime gaming from disrupting the health and sleep of schoolchildren. The Culture Ministry insists its selective shutdown system is helpful in preventing compulsive or addictive game playing. Parents’ concern over easing the regulation is understandable, especially with more teenagers developing disorders from game and Internet addiction even with the curfew.

The new government council must work on a new guideline that can protect both youths and the gaming industry, and make continuous efforts to treat and contain gaming addiction. A regulation on game services through digital platforms like smartphones and tablets must consider their social media features and incorporate not only psychological, but also technological and cultural perspectives.

According to a poll by the National Information Society Agency, 25.5 percent of Korean teenagers showed signs of being addicted to smartphones. That’s nearly double the 11.7 percent addicted to the Internet. They cannot stay away from their phones, and feel the strongest urge to exchange messages (37.8 percent) and play games (17.4 percent).

Regulations to curb smartphone game addiction must therefore be designed differently than those for online games. Most of all, the gaming industry must be more aggressive in coming up with actions to prevent addiction if it wants to keep government intervention at bay.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a fellow at the National Information Society Agency.

BY Jeon Jong-soo

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