Do you answer to your WoW avatar name? Do you steal (and murder) from 81-year old women to pay for your MMOG subscription? (True story – Vietnam, 2007) If your answer is yes, you may be addicted to online gaming.
Back in 2007, Jump Up Internet Rescue School, an Internet addiction camp fully backed by the government, opened in South Korea. Children of all ages attended the camp (tuition free), often forced by their parents. They engaged in outdoor activities and obstacles courses that are often the stuff of team-building activities at corporate retreats; except with one wrinkle – Blackberries, iPhones and other Internet ready devices were not allowed.
In the past, South Korea has tried offering its game-playing citizens free programs that would either shut down a user’s computer after a predetermined amount of time, or bore the player into voluntary cessation called, “Internet Fatigue”. These programs were efforts to curb the rate of Internet addiction (spurred by online gaming), which in 2010 was estimated to be around 2 million South Koreans, though industry experts say the number is larger.
Most recently on November 20, 2011, a new law, dubbed the Cinderella Law, will place regulations on when users under a certain age can play networked games. This means that popular MMOGs such as Cabal Online, the ever-popular Sudden Attack 2, and console networks such as PSN and Xbox Live, will no longer be available to players under the age of 16 between the hours of midnight and 6 AM.
Why, you might ask, would the government want to place such heavy restrictions on an industry that had a reported domestic value of ₩1.5 trillion in 2010 (that’s $1.3 billion adjusted for inflation)? Objectives of the law include preventing video game related deaths (in 2005, a South Korean man died from cardiac arrest after playing StarCraft for 50 straight hours), protecting the health of South Korean children (many South Korean children already lack sleep due to the high-pressure demands of the Korean education system), and as a way to prevent online gaming addiction.
Opponents of the law, such as the Korean Association of Game Industry, an amalgam of game developers and publishers, which include Nexon and NCSoft, and MoonHwaYunDae, a cultural solidarity group, oppose the law as an “excessive prohibition”. Others point to the possibility that enforcement of the Cinderella Law will violate laws designed to protect personal information (proposed enforcement methods include requiring credit card numbers, and cell phone numbers to play online games, in addition to the basic requirement of a social security number). Gamers on forums, such as OnRPG, have called the Cinderella Law a “meaningless law” because of the many ways to circumvent the law. These methods range from borrowing a social security number from a parent or older sibling, using servers located outside of the Korean Peninsula to play games such as League of Legends, using free online game servers like Classic Battle.net, which do not require identification, and playing non-networked console or mobile games.
Since the Cinderella Law has been in effect for only two months, we will have to wait and see how the government will respond to efforts to violate the law. The actions of game-loving citizens and the government’s response could lead to a whole slew of legal questions such as, whether requiring more than a social security number to play online games is in violation of the Personal Information Protection Act (which was put into effect one month before the Cinderella Law. One of the principal provisions of PIPA requires that entities conform to additional consent requirements for certain “sensitive” or “unique identifying” information); jurisdictional issues and South Korea’s sovereign right to control its Internet ‘borders’ (if players choose to circumvent the law through the use of North American servers, will South Korea be able to reach across the globe to enforce its law?); and whether limiting gameplay is a violation of civil rights.
There is no way to predict the outcome of these legal questions, but this blogger is sure that countries such as China, and Vietnam, which have also instituted time-based and other restrictions on online gaming, will be watching closely to see how their South Korean neighbor handles its addiction to online gaming.