SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - South Korean efforts to battle online game addiction among teenagers, a move set off by the death of a baby whose game-playing parents neglected to feed her, are advancing — but at a glacial pace.
Proposed steps to block teenagers from playing games between midnight and 6:00 a.m. have prompted questions of whether such action is reasonable in a democratic society, while government ministries remain at odds about new legislation up for review this week.
The threat of the “night time shutdown,” proposed late last year, has so far had little impact in a country with so many gaming devotees that they have given rise to hordes of Internet cafes called “PC bangs” that dot the streets of Seoul and are used by young teenagers to play online games.
“This is not a logical law that will stop me from playing games when I want to,” said 14-year-old Kim Young-ho, who often visits such cafes, which offer spaces to rest as well as drinks and light meals for online game lovers.
The new regulations would mean that underage gamers — whose age is known since they have to log in to use the games — would be automatically disconnected after midnight.
The “curfew” was proposed as part of a Youth Protection Law after the notorious incident of a 3-month-old baby starving to death while her parents played online games, but it took eight months of wrangling before it was decided to apply it to teenagers under 15.
But now the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are locked in another fight over whether the bill, which will be discussed later this week, should include games played on mobile phones.
The Family Ministry says the regulation should include all online games regardless of whether they use computers, mobile phones or other types of platforms, but the Culture Ministry says it should apply only to online games using computers.
In addition, the government has yet to agree on a start date for the measure.
As a result, few in one of the world’s most wired countries appear to be worried as yet.
“Few students I know have even heard about this law. I don’t think they would care if they knew because it would be easy to get around,” said Park Yong-chan, 13.
Reporting by Danbee Moon; editing by Elaine Lies