South Korea and gaming addiction

The world is full of people addicted to games if the media is be believed, yet even the recent Panorama witch-hunt could only find three people addicted to games in the UK. So, off they went to South Korea to show what apparently heading our way in the near future. This made me want to search for more facts rather than opinion.

Whilst the people of North Korea struggle behind closed doors, their neighbours in South Korea continue to lead the world with the fastest broadband speeds in the world and even hope to be getting speeds of 1 Gbps service by 2012. To put it into perspective, that is 200 times as fast as your typical 5 Mbps DSL connection that you may find here in the UK. With super-fast speeds like this I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that an estimated 17 million people in the country of 48 million play video-games as they lead the way in the MMO and online gaming industries.

Reports suggest that a typical high school student, meanwhile, spends 23 hours a week playing games online and the world’s media has been quick to blame much of the country’s problems on their favourite pastime. In fact, as you read this your perception of South Korea will probably be something along the lines of “I hear the nation is addicted to games and they play for 20 hours at a time and it has even driven many people to suicide or even murder!” In truth it was this growing theory in the media that made me want to find out more.

There have been many newspaper headlines and magazine articles about obsessed video game addicts in South Korea but my findings showed that this is not the full story. Yes, it is true that the nation loves their games and it is also true that internet folklore commonly refers to the game Starcraft as their national “sport”, due to the fact it is televised more than any other “proper” sport. A survey by the South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication also shows that nearly 64 percent of five-year-olds use the Internet and 93 percent of preschoolers selected online games as the reason for going online.

One day gaming addicts will look like this.

However, in all the millions of people who play games, I could only find a handful of negative stories where the blame was placed on gaming addiction. The headlines will be familiar to many of you: “15-year-old boy kills mother and commits suicide after a row over online gaming escalated into violence” and “Korean dies after 50 hour games session”. Both of which are quite disturbing but these few headlines do not tell the full story, in fact quite the opposite.

The facts are that South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and this is not something that only affects the poor or uneducated. It has been widely reported that the rich and famous of the country who carry the ubiquitous label “celebrity” also have an unprecedented suicide rate in recent years.

What this clearly shows is that there are serious issues in certain aspects in the society and culture of South Korea and to simply label gaming as the cause for these problems is not only lazy but insulting. I struggled to find more than five gaming-related stories for this “massive problem” affecting a country of millions, yet via the media and word of mouth on the internet, there are many people who rather foolishly believe that these problems are because of gaming.

Maybe this is the problem with today’s society where people now cease to take responsibility for their actions and misfortunes and instead find it easier to blame it on something else. After all “It wasn’t my fault, I had an addiction” is much easier than accepting your own part of the blame. It’s also easier to label something and not tackle the real issues at hand.

Let’s not dwell on the negative too much though, professional gamers over there attract huge sums in sponsorship and can make more than $100,000 a year. More than 15 million people are registered for online gaming in a  country that also hosts the annual World Cyber Games. They are passionate about gaming and bloody good at it, but what I have learned here is to think twice before believing a few quick headlines.

Too much of anything is never a good way to live your life, but we knew that anyway, didn’t we?

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