What do computer games mean to you? They can be just a little fun, treated as a trifling thing that young people enjoy playing, or they can be work if you are a professional gamer. Regardless of how you consider them, computer games have made a great impact on our lives. Even if you do not play computer games, many people around you, such as friends or family and especially college students enjoy playing them.
Computer games are also one of the major industries of South Korea, designated as one of the government’s “five major global-killer contents.” Recently, according to data investigated by the Bank of Korea, digital games account for 85% of the revenue generated from intellectual property rights in Korea (including K-POP, movies, dramas, games, etc.). The number of people involved in the computer game industry has also increased. Game companies are increasingly looking for more game experts, because to make one game, a lot of elements are needed such as game programming, design, music, videos and such. Games are a bigger part of our lives than you might think.
However, some people are concerned about the impact of these games on players. In the past few years, a number of side effects of playing computer games too much have been reported, such as leading an abnormal life, because people were too immersed in computer games. Also, some gamers could not distinguish between real and virtual lives in the games. Parents, in particular, have antipathy to games since they often cannot control their children addicted to the games. Most of them think that computer games are evil, since when their children become immersed in the games, it impairs their physical and mental health, and they cannot stick to their lives.
On April 30, this year, a bill named "Bill for the Prevention and Treatment of Addiction Management” was proposed to the National Assembly. The bill intends to manage the high level of addiction to the computer games and create an antigame addiction environment nationally. There seens to be no problem with the purpose of the bill. However, it becomes a problem because “Internet games” are included as the four harmful addictions in the country along with alcohol, gambling, and drugs. Thus, a lot of discussions have been made about regarding Internet games, alcohol, gambling and drugs as all the same. The public opinion opposing against this immedaitely blew up on the Internet.
Game Addiction is Real?
Although the issue whether there really is a thing called “game addiction” was constantly brought up in the public hearing, opinions are still diverse. Considering the fact that Lawmaker Shin Ui-jin was the family doctor of Na-young in the “Na-young case,”* the bill is not entirely unfounded. She claimed, “While watching children who cannot stop playing games in days as a doctor, I felt the hearts of the sad parents. If it is not an addiction, then what is an addiction?” In the hearing, two psychiatry professors supported her (Lee Hae-kwak, a psychiatry professor at St. Mary’s Hospital in Uijeongbu, and Pang Su-young, a psychiatry professor of Gangnam Ulji Hospital). Professor Lee said, “Not only alcohol and gambling but also computer games has the mechanism that
gives excessive stimulation and reward. However, currently the government only covers one to four percent of those in need of treatment. Therefore, the specialist should manage the addicts, and treat and prevent the addiction within related departments.” Also, the Korean Addiction Psychiatric Association distributed documents called “100 truths and misunderstandings about addiction--Addiction Forum” and agreed to include computer games as one of the four addictive substances. This document has been referred to when supporters of the bill explained the medical aspects of game addiction.
▲ From left, a woman is saying "Game rules me." On the right, a child is absorbed in an computer game
Just for Treatment, with No Intention of Suppressing the Industry
The bill was proposed by Congressmen Shin Ui-jin, a former professor of psychiatry. As mentioned above, its intent is clear: the government is responsible for actively managing and regulating the four named addictions including Internet games, so related departments work together to manage the addictions intensively. In regards to the games, the intent is the same ? to treat the addiction ? but never to suppress or regulate the game industry.
At the special section of News 9 in JTBC called “hit-talk”, Senator Shin said, “This bill is for the prevention, treatment and management of the addicts, and the government will be responsible for the entire process. It never bans playing comptuer games or charges anything. It is to heal and prevent children who do not go to school, and play games instead.” Such claim was repeated during the ensuing discussions. Addressing critics of the bill, she wrote a long letter called, “truth and misunderstanding of the bill for the treatment and prevention of addiction management” on her blog recently. She wrote, “Installing traffic signals, building hospitals to treat patients, and making related laws in order to decrease car accidents does not mean killing the car industry. With the same sense, the bill is intended to treat and manage the addicts, not to regulate the industry. I do not know why it is being misunderstood as a game industry-killing bill.” As it can be seen in her writing, Shin has been working aggressively to dispel the misunderstandings regarding the purpose of the bill.
▲ Students are learning how to appropriately enjoy computer games in Game Culture Class.
The Government is Responsible for the Cost of Treatment
During “hit-talk”, Senator Shin also spoke about a major issue, the cost of treatment for game addiction. The host of the program questioned, “Who covers the cost for treating the addicts?" and she responded, “I think it is, of course, the nation’s duty. So far, the government has failed to systematically control the addiction. Institutions and experts in the field are insufficient, because the system is managed by different departments and is not well planned. It is the duty of the government to plan properly, and to install related institutions if necessary.” However, contrary to what she said on the show, she expressed her consent on a bill named “Assistance for the Treatment of Game Addiction,” proposed by Lawmaker Son In-chun on Jan. 8. The bill states that if computer games is included in the bill, the game companies will have to pay six percent of their sales to the government. Thus, the issue regarding the cost of treatment and regulation on game addiction still remains controversial as it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the cost.
Games are drugs?
“Are we drug dealers?” says the angry game developers who are opposing against the bill. The bill floated on the surface in late October, when Korea Internet & Digital Entertainment Association (K-IDEA) raised a strong objection. K-IDEA called it a very bad news for the Korean game industry and expressed their condolences to “the death of the Korean game industry” on the main page of its website. Since then problems have been raised in many areas. K-IDEA had a signature campaign in opposition to the bill (280,000 people had signed as of Nov. 20). The anger overall seems to exist, because games are considered as equally as drugs and gambling. Public also raised their voices of rage on the internet asking, “Is the professional game league a drug league and are the professional game teams drug parties?” Supporters of the bill tell the opponents not to incite. However, for opponents, if the computer games are defined as “addiction,” people will regard computer games as no less illegal and dangerous than drugs and gambling.
Game Addiction? There is No Accurate Evidence Yet.
The worldwide standpoint is skeptical regarding whether game addiction is real or not, and the answer often depends on the domestic psychiatric views in one’s country. Recently at the annual meeting of the Psychiatric Association of the World held in Vienna, Austria, experts in psychiatry around the world discussed this bill. They said in one voice that the scholars of the World Psychiatric Association have carefully defined computer games and the Internet as an illness, but formed this conclusion without scientific evidence or research. Elias, who is a professor at Stanford University and is considered a worldclass expert on problems concerning the Internet and games, said that this subject should be approached very carefully and seriously because no country has a standard criteria for a survey of the methods and final diagnosis on measuring game addiction. Besides, the scientific basis has remained in an elementary stage in the treatment method. In general, psychiatry uses the words “Internet game failure” for the phenomenon of indulgence in games and the Internet.
In this way, opponents are dissatisfied by the regulation for defining the problems of gamers as an addiction, even though it is not medically clear and the treatment method is also not systematically established. They say that in the first place the word “game addiction” is not accurate, thus it is not possible to regard the computer game as an addiction. Furthermore, they complain that the Korean Psychiatric Association gives wrong evidence because they use the stats about Internet failure for game failure and “Game brain theory,” which has already died out. Supporters use the example of gamers imitating the crimes they see in games, but they cannot give a scientific explanation how games cause these crimes.
The Impact of Defining Game Addiction on Media Industry
According to the bill, the word "addiction" means being dependent physically and mentally on any of the following items by abusing them.
A. Alcohol B. Drug C. Gambling
D. Media contents such as Internet games
E. Others which are defined as "addiction" according to the presidential decree
According to D, the bill’s definition of media content is very comprehensive. Various media industries besides the game indsutry, such as music and comedy, are opposing against the idea to include internet games as one of the media contents. When “Joint committee for cultural content and game regulatory reform” was formed on Nov. 22 to prevent Internet game addiction, many culture and art organizations such as the independent music production association, cultural solidarity, the cartoon industry, the film writers association and K-IDEA have gathered together. At this occasion, the art community expressed their concern that the newly proposed bill could have an adverse effect on the whole cultural content. They were concerned that there would be regulating limits on advertising and promotions on their contents. Previously, many cartoons did not meet the cencorship criteria from the 1980 to 90s, and even a small amount of violence or sexuality was immediately advised to be removed. The art association also emphasized that the bill can be misused or possibly destroy the art industry.
The Reaction of Game Companies
As mentioned above, the size of the game industry in Korea is enormous. It puts out overwhelming revenue among the Korean media contents, and is expected to record a growth rate of 37 percent when compared to last year. It takes up 10 percent of the total sales in global game market. Some large game companies have contributed greatly to the creation of new jobs, numbering about 10 million. The game industry is truly considered as one of the most essential and important industry in Korea. However, the circumstances are definitely not favorable for the game companies. They were forced to accept and carry out the regulation on computer games according to the “Cooling-off System,” also commonly known as the “Shutdown System.” However, with the newly proposed bill, they are considering their option to actually leave Korea.
[Article excerpt] It shocks people that major domestic game companies are planning to be headquartered abroad. On Nov. 12, according to the game industry and Culture & Content Agency, the major game companies such as N, G, and D Companies are pushing ahead with developing and publishing the blockbuster online games, which cost tens of billions of won overseas.
[Article excerpt] Recently in G-STAR (Game Show & Trade, All Round) held in Busan, Germany North Rhine- Westphalia (NRW) federalism official conducted 'Korea- Germany game industry seminars' and they considered to generously support Korean game companies if they move to Germany and produce games.
Although the bill was proposed with no intention of harming the game industry and companies, if the regulations on computer games continue, small businesses, as well as large game companies may want to leave the nation and move abroad. If so, it is obvious that Korean game industry would be immensely damaged.
▲ A lot of people attended the LOL World Championship
How Can We Make the Win-win Bill?
The bill remains very controversial. First of all, on the Internet there are more opponents of the bill than proponents. Most opponents of the bill claim that the bill is “old-thinking.” Based on the polls, the majority of the opponents were in their 20s and 30s (50.9 percent of 20s and 43.5 percent of 30s), while proponents age up to 40s. The root cause of the whole controversy, then, arises from the difference in the opinions between the young and the older generations.
Proponents of the bill argue, “It is just for treating game addicts," while opponents rebut saying, “Game addiction does not even exist and if it does, you should regard music, drama and movies as addictions as well.” The dispute continues as the proponents argue, “Games are essentially different from those” based on the findings of psychiatry. Nonetheless, they only refer to the findings that are advantageous to their claim. Thus, the debate never ends, and it is just the same story over and over again. There is also the responsibility of the game companies in this situation. Accidents and crimes occurred due to overindulgence in computer games are continuously reported in the media, and the voices warning about the violence and propaganda of these games have pointed to the game companies' lack of actions. However, they have not yet expressed their position, and are rather far from doing self-reflection and taking actions to deal with the side effects of overindulgence in computer games. Whenever these companies got criticized, they have turned to the gamers and avoided criticism. Game industry is a kind of enterprise but also a part of culture, and companies earn a lot of revenue compared to the other cultural industries. As Lawmaker Shin stated, “Children are damaged eventually, but the game companies grab the stall”, game companies definitely hold the responsibility to some extent.
But in the end, the problem is within the bill as well. The bill was originally intended to help game addicts, but it also damages those involved in games and the game industry. It is definitely not right that the nation regulates games along with gambling and drugs which are certainly “illegal” and this makes people confuse games equally as bad. However, the biggest problem is that proponents show the willingness to pass the bill in spite of these problems. If the proponents wanted to create an institution for addicts, they should make an organization for games, separated from alcohol, gambling, and drug addictions. There is no need to put games in the category of the four evils of society.
▲ Domestic four big game companies: Nexon, Neowiz, NCSoft and Hangame
Recently, SKT T1, Korean professional game team, won the LOL (League Of Legends) World Championships. 32 million people watched this final, so the team’s sponsor, SK, was promoted a lot. As this case shows, enjoying and watching games is spreading Korean culture more and more in the world. Mobile games have attracted diverse age groups of people, and as the competition in games is growing in size, the scale of the game industry has reached an enormous level. GTA 5, considered as the world's best game, had sales of 1 trillion won during the first three days after its release. This shows that the game industry has high potentiality in generating a lot of revenues than any other industries. In addition, as it needs a lot of developers to create a game, the game industry can greatly contribute to the nation's economy by creating many new jobs.
Thus, in the 21st century, computer games appear to be our national pastime. They reaped a big success in Korea and worldwide as well and have the enormous potentiality in the future business. At this point, there seems to be only one job to be done, and that is, if side effects such as “Internet game failure” occur, the government and companies should closely work together to resolve them. They should have a synergistic relationship with each other. The effects of the bill remain unclear yet, nevertheless, the bill should be used as a guidance to provide treatment and prevention of the game addicts and provide a healthy game environment in Korea.
* A sexual crime occured in December 2008, in which criminal Cho Du-soon raped a 8 year old girl, Na-young, and caused a controversy over strengthening the punishment on sexual criminals in Korea.