On April 29, the South Korea’s National Assembly voted to ban people under the age of 16 from playing online games after midnight in an attempt to control problems related to game addiction. In addition, some games will become “slower” if minors are logged on for a long period of time. Gamers will be given three options for the six hour black-out period –midnight-6 a.m.,1-7 a.m., and 2-8 a.m.
This crackdown on MMOs is obviously to curb so-called game addiction. If you know anything about the game culture in Korea, it’s not surprising. Playing games online is somewhat of a national pastime. Students in my digital games class here in the U.S. are fascinated when I tell them about Korea’s game culture; it is so unique- beautiful and uncanny at the same time.
The reason Korea is able to come up with such ridiculous regulations is because people need to provide their national identification number when they are using the Internet to access certain sites, such as large portal sites. This was, in part, to help reduce the ill effects of online bullying; hiding under the mask of online anonymity, many people used the cyber space to abuse others. There were some extreme cases where targets of online bullying committed suicide, including some celebrities like Choi Jin-sil (read about that here).
Of course, critics are pointing out that bans will not be able to apply to games that are based on foreign servers. (Here is a related article from JoongAng Daily and another one from the Korea Herald.) This really speaks to the legal limitations related to physical boundaries, but also raises concerns: if the government thinks this is a serious loophole, it has the opportunity to block foreign games through ISPs instead of the game companies. Thankfully, the games that are extremely popular among younger Koreans are Korean MMOs that cater specifically to that age group.
It is interesting, however, that the government is trying to take into its hands a problem that really should be addressed by the parents (in my opinion). To some extent, I feel that this move reflects the Korean government’s concerns about its national image related to game culture because it’s quite proud of the e-sports (aka professional Starcraft) culture.