The law can’t curb game addiction

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The law can’t curb game addiction


Lee Hyung-cho

Memory loss, a typical condition associated with old age, is affecting young people because they are becoming over-reliant on screen-based gadgets, warns German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer. The author of “Digital Dementia” argues that children regularly exposed to computer, online, mobile and digital media are on a fast track to trouble with memory and thinking.

Excessive media use has been linked not only with obesity, but with sleep disorders and other health issues, as well as aggressive behavior and attention disorders, he said, warning that computers and smartphones can be “poison” for kids. Sleep deprivation can deteriorate the body’s resilience, raising the possibility of infection and the risk of a heart attack, cancers and other fatal diseases. Spitzer instructs parents to limit screen time for children of all ages to two hours a day and set “screen-free zones.”

The American Psychiatric Association in May 2013 listed Internet gaming disorder as a “condition for further study” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), meaning more research is required before it can be classified as an “official” disorder.

According to a government study in 2013, Internet addiction among adolescents in South Korea - frequently cited as the most wired population - reached 11.7 percent, up from 10.7 percent the previous year. The spread of smartphones among the youth population, estimated at 700,000 in 2011, surged eightfold to reach five million last year.

More than 20 percent spend too much time with their smartphones, to the extent that they show addictive symptoms. This is how seriously the Internet and smartphones are affecting young Koreans. The automatic shutdown on online games is a kind of minimum protection to keep young people away from computers so they may get a decent night’s rest.

The gaming industry claims the law impairs the right of young people to lead a happy life and filed a suit with the Constitutional Court. The high court in April ruled that the law was designed to ensure that students got adequate sleep and that game addiction was contained. Young people are not yet mature enough to control their behavior and, therefore, need special protection. The court concluded that an optional shutdown for teenage gamers would be of no help in view of the physical and mental harm on the body from online game addiction and the compulsive nature of being glued to the computer.

The government, in deciding to give authority to parents to shut down the computers of their children after midnight, is going against the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Can parents with little or less knowledge about online gaming really restrict their children? Do children develop addictive gaming habits because they do not have adults in the house?

If gaming addiction was containable to the home, the government would not have had to increase the budget to fund a joint program to handle Internet addiction. The gaming industry blames the drop in their first-half revenue to industrial regulation. If the shutdown law played a part in that drop, it would mean that the gaming industry needs children to stay up all night to play online games in order to make profit. Companies should not benefit at the expense of young people’s physical and mental health.

Media is no longer an option, as it has become indispensable in our lives. Self-restraint has become crucial, lest one finds oneself a slave to a machine. Young people, until they are at least 19, must grow up with healthy habits so that they can become the masters of their technology. The government and society have a duty to see to it that they do. The option to play online games until the wee hours should not be part of parental responsibilities. The government is neglecting its duty to protect young people to help the gaming industry. The government must retract its decision and strive harder to fight against online game and smartphone addiction.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is the director of the Institute for Media Addiction.

BY Lee Hyung-cho

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