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South Korea Wants to Regulate Online Gaming Like Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs, alcohol and gambling. With those already under tight control, the South Korean government wants to add a fourth vice to the list – online gaming.

Earlier this month, South Korean lawmakers proposed a bill that regulates online gaming in a similar fashion to drugs and alcohol. As local news reported, the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare took a step further [ko] towards the restriction last weekend by designating the online game as one of the four major addictive elements [ko] which merit state-level control.

Net users have erupted with jeers and criticism, and the proposed regulation has unsurprisingly drawn severe backlash from members of the gaming industry who are enraged to be considered in the same category as drugs and gambling.

New main image of the Korea Internet and Digital Entertainment Association's website

New main image of the Korea Internet and Digital Entertainment Association's website that wrote “Condolence to the Republic of Korea's Gaming Industry”, implying that the government's decision will bring death to the Korean game industry. Fair Use Image.

The Korea Internet and Digital Entertainment Association posted an online petition [ko] in their website, arguing that the government's decision will bring death to the Korean gaming industry, which makes up 60 percent of the nation's entire contents market. Only few days have passed, but it has already gathered over 55,000 signatures.

Korean social media has been inundated with sarcastic comments mocking the bill, with some users saying that they would love to abuse it by taking sick leaves:

I welcome this news of designating game addiction as a disease. I will definitely be diagnosed as suffering from game-addiction at the company hospital.

Once game addiction is acknowledged as a disease, then I would qualify for sick leave, and even be deemed to be disabled! I could even use the first-degree disabled person sticker on my car to get discounts. Gaming is so worth trying!

Some serious responses voiced concerns that lawmakers and government officials lack understanding of the gaming industry or user behavior:

The reason why the issue of online gaming addiction is being blown out of proportion is because many struggle to understand the concept of “virtual reality”. People tend to develop irrational fear for something they don't understand. Actually, I think no one has clear idea on how the gaming [industry] will develop.

Several years ago, the authorities presented some statistics on gaming addiction which were later found to actually be data on Internet addiction. It was a data set unqualified to be used as an evidence for gaming addiction. Furthermore, that study is thought to be bit groundless. Nowadays, they even don't try offering any data sets and blindly claim that gaming leads to addiction. Gaming addiction issues are no longer a topic for a rational debate. 

The latest developments are in line with the previous controversy over a shutdown system implemented by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism which dictates a time window when teenagers aged 16 or under are allowed to play online games — another case of an infamous bureaucratic decision that net users called out for being neither informed nor effective: 

These things pro-Shutdown-ers have in common: 1. They have no real understanding of the details of the Shutdown law. 2. They have no understanding of students's rights. 3. They have no understanding of the real causes of gaming addiction. 4. They have no understanding of the structure of the gaming industry. (Since they've heard that gaming companies make a lot of money, they assume their would be similar to those of the big corporations)

Many net users pointed out that the authorities have failed to see the big picture, either intentionally or unintentionally:

@idgmatrix:게임 중독이란 없다. 다만 여가와 놀이 시간의 심각한 부족이 있을 뿐이다. 원인과 결과를 뒤집지 말라. 우리의 연간 근무시간은 세계 1위를 달리고 있고[...]

@idgmatrix: There is no such think as gaming addiction. What we see is a serious shortage of leisure time and entertainment hours. Don't confuse the causes of the problem with the symptoms. Our nation’s annual work hours are ranked as the highest in the world [...]

Actually, it is no surprise that our young people are addicted to gaming, since they have so many emotional issues — it is understandable that they, who had to suffer under the 12-year f**ked-up education system, want to escape from reality (by gaming)

@kinophio: 게임중독 여론은 최소한 3개 층위의 크로스다. 학부모의 지지율이 절실한 정치권, 지위의 안전과 돈줄을 확보하고픈 정부부처/민간단체, 그리고 ‘진심으로’ 게임이 미운 학부모들이다.

@kinophio: There are at least three layers (of interest groups) involved in the gaming addiction debate: political groups desperately seeking supports from the parents, government divisions and private organizations who want to secure their status and money source, and lastly, parents who genuinely hate the game.

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