Game addiction as a disease
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
I had to go to a weeklong makeup military training because I missed a half-day reserve duty training during my college days. I missed the training because I was engrossed in PC game at the time. I had used up all my savings to buy a 286 IBM AT. The expensive purchase was initially for college assignments. It was wondrous to write course reports on a computer instead of a typewriter.
Then I discovered PC games. I was mesmerized by the novel experience. I missed meals and classes, and often stayed up all night. The military training was on one such day. The game did not go as I had hoped. I promised to myself I would not stay up late, but I could not leave the screen even when a new day arrived: I experienced what game addiction can do to a person.
Games are designed to excite. Individuals can be absorbed in appealing games. When many people share the same feeling, it becomes a social sensation, like StarCraft in the late ’90s. Yet there is price. Games consume time and sense. If gaming becomes too much, it can dominate everyday life.
Many have stayed up all night or opted to use a lunch hour to play computer games. Korean parents joke that they lose their sons to online games and daughters to idol stars during their teenage years. If gaming becomes too much, individuals can become disconnected from human relationships or social activities. If the obsession goes on too long, people may start to worry about addiction.
Korea has battled with game addiction for a long time. It started to become a social issue in the ’90s and often made headlines in the 2000s. Gaming often led to violence and crimes because of monetary exchanges. A parent killed her own child because she found the baby affected her game performance. Since gaming has become a common pastime, various social problems have been the consequences.
The labeling has already unsettled the Korean gaming industry and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The local industry has strongly rejected the definition of game addiction, citing a lack of scientific and medical proof. It points to personal or social factors that could cause a person to become engrossed in a game. It fears the stigma of addiction could lead to an 11-trillion-won ($9.28-billion) loss for the local game industry over the next three years and reduce its workforce by 15 percent. There are already rumors of taxation to lessen game addiction. The game industry is on the counteroffensive, as if the label could become as big a setback to the industry as the automatic online game curfew on teenagers in the past.
It is misleading to consider the decision by the WHO an industrial threat. For instance, alcoholism is a disease widely recognized by people and the WTO, yet there is no direct sanction to restricting drinking. Abusive drinking or drunk driving is regulated, but drinking itself is left to the individual’s discretion.
Gaming should also be seen in this light. It can be a stimulating leisure activity, but over-indulging can be harmful. Both the community and the state should try to help minimize the harm. A debate on defining the scope of the disorder will follow along with an investigation before taking any administrative action.
The industry can get involved then. Instead of resisting the label, the industry must cooperate in looking into the extent of game disorders and addictive harm, as well as what society can do to reduce them. The government must also refrain from taking excessive action such as levying additional taxes on the industry.
Joongang Ilbo, May 27, Page 29