Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 3, 2014

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In South Korea, professional gaming—eSports—are big business and hold a public profile as high as most traditional athletic endeavors. StarCraft may as well be the South Korean national pastime. But the Democratic Party of Korea is concerned that the pastime is becoming an addiction, and they are considering regulating video games like any other controlled substance.

South Korea’s Gaming Laws

Playing GamesSouth Korea already has anti-gaming addiction measures in place. The country’s Shutdown Law, passed in 2011, bans gaming between the hours of midnight and 6AM for gamers under the age of 16. Several major Korean gaming content providers have also entered into voluntary curfew programs, working with the Ministry of Culture to restrict access or bandwidth in an attempt to force kids to log off at reasonable times or after a certain number of hours of gameplay.
The law currently under debate in the South Korean parliament takes things even further, seeking to group StarCraft, League of Legends and other popular online games with drugs, alcohol and gambling. Advertising limitations are also included in the bill, and a piece of companion legislation would tax the gaming industry and use the revenue to fund anti-addiction efforts.

It should come as no surprise that reaction to the proposed legislation is mixed.

Gaming Industry Opposes Law-Parents Support It

Parents, medical professionals and religious groups are in favor of the regulations, but those in the gaming industry—and the gamers that support them—are firmly against the law as proposed. Industry advocates have expressed a fear of artificial restrictions on online innovation—and the resulting entrepreneurship. And pro-gaming advocates have pointed to cultural issues, such as school-related stress and mental health problems, as gaming addiction triggers, not the availability of unrestricted access to games.

Is Gaming Addiction or Decompression?

Korean children have very little in the way of free time. Their schooling is rigorous and their educational responsibilities normally include countless hours of work even after the school day has come to a close. Online gaming is a pathway to decompression for many students that are under constant pressure to excel.

Categorizing gaming as a vice on par with drinking, drugs and gambling could certainly be a slippery slope. While some gamers do suffer from addiction, they are more often than not suffering from some form of mental illness or other personal issue. Gaming addiction is by no means rampant, and regulations limiting gaming could justifiably be perceived as reactionary measures. When push comes to shove, however, increased parental supervision and an open dialogue about socialization and “unplugging” could serve Korea’s youth just as well. Whether Korean legislators listen to the pro-gaming community or simply pushes the legislation through remains to be seen.