Last week, 18 politicians from the Korean Saenuri Party, passed the “internet game addiction preventing bill” (prevention bill) and “game addiction curing bill” (dubbed the ‘curing bill’). The hope is to enforce a gaming 'lock-out' period from 10pm to 7am in order to ‘cure those addicted to games’. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family aims to fund this policy by collecting 1% of gaming companies' annual income to ‘cure youngsters’ (IE they will take money from gaming companies to fund a policy that prevents youngsters from playing games – Ouch!).
According to the prevention bill, the existing shutdown policy of Korea will be strengthened. Currently, youngsters of 16 and under cannot play games from 12am to 6am, with fines of 10,000,000 KRW (appx. 9,465 USD) or a 2 year jail term for those who flaunt it.The current shutdown policy started in November 2011, was dubbed the ‘Cinderella Law’ and was backed by the Korea Youth Work Agency, YMCA, YWCA.
The Cinderella Law has been criticized for violating children’s and civil rights, and also because the government has not proven that playing games is any more harmful than anything else. The Korea Association of Game Industry (KAOGI), made up of 14 game publishers (Nexon, NCSoft etc) are in the early stages of legal action against the government for this ‘excessive prohibition’. The MoonHwaYunDae (cultural solidarity organization) filed an appeal to the Korea’s Constitutional Court against the law, but it was passed nonetheless.
Can it even be enforced? Due to gaping loopholes, children could easily log in with their parent’s account and can log in to Western servers such as League of Legends. We mentioned in an earlier article that Korea has introduced another bill preventing games companies from collecting personal ID numbers. According to ThisIsGame, 5% of teenagers already illegally hijack a parent’s identity to play. To deal with this problem, the MGEF wanted gaming companies to collect identification law systems, in direct contradiction to another personal information protection law in force at the time, which is iron-clad and slightly draconian. Also, CD games are not regulated at all. This is almost as pointless as the 18th amendment of the US constitution (prohibition of alcohol). People have died while playing games and the gaming addiction is a social issue in Korea - but is this too excessive?
According to ThisIsGame, 29% of Korean online gamers are under 18 and 20% of those are under the age of 16. The immediate economical effect on online games companies is minimal. Shouldering the expense of the shutdown system, they will have to increase servers, and disk space to store personal information. They will also need to strengthen the identification method. However, this goes against it. It is expected that the shutdown law will hamper the export of games and reflects badly on online games.
The constitutionality and validity of South Korea’s shutdown law is indeed challenged. It is a 6-hour lock-out, and although the intended motivation is no doubt to reduce the amount of hours teenagers spend gaming, the government wants to encourage them to study or to sleep. There has been a considerable backlash from parents, who attest that their freedom to educate their own children has been compromised. It is also a clear violation of the equal opportunity rights how and takes a heavy toll on the gaming industry.
International Reach. Console services such as Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Network were affected, with those under 15-years prevented from registering for PSN accounts during the six-hour-curfue. Xbox was given a 2-month grace period to create a system of blocking those under 16.
Korea is the most-wired country in the world. Games such as Lineage, Mabinogi and Aion are the most played MMORPGs in the world. However, last year, a Korean professional gamer under 16 was barred from an international competition because of the curfew. WeMadeEntertainment, the maker of AnyPang (one of the most played online games in Korea) announced yesterday that they will be boycotting G-Star 2013 (Korea’s largest international gaming Expo). With opposition to the bill gaining a lot of support from the gaming and IT industries, it will be interesting to see how events unfold.