Teenagers play online games at an Internet cafe. An online game curfew cuts connections from midnight till 6 a.m. / Korea Times
Those aged under 16 to be banned from playing games from midnight till 6 a.m.
By Yoon Ja-young
The shutdown of online games was approved by the Legislation Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly. Only approval at the plenary session around the end of the month remains. The measure is not without controversy. Businesses protest it will stifle the game industry and predict that the measure will generally be ineffective. There are however supporters, especially parents, who say that the shutdown is necessary.
The Legislation Judiciary Committee approved a revision bill for the Youth Protection Act, which includes an online game shutdown. With the implementation of the law, which will come into effect six months from the official announcement, those aged under 16 will be unable to play online games from midnight till 6 a.m. Mobile games were excluded from the restriction, but will be considered in two years.
Impact on game businesses
“No immediate effect on online game companies here is expected. When taking into consideration that those aged 18 or under account for 28.9 percent of online gamers those aged under 16 represent less than 20 percent. The number of those in the age group playing between midnight and 6 a.m. will be even less,” said Jung Woo-chul, an analyst at Mirae Asset Securities.
He said that the average revenue per user (ARPU) of online gamers was 25,160 won a month last year, while it stood at only 6,794 won for those aged under 14. “Players of major games are in their 30s. The age of online gamers is rising fast,” he added. Online game giant NCsoft’s main games are Lineage and Lineage II. As it has been 13 years since the launch of Lineage and eight for Lineage II most players are over 16.
The move will also increase management costs for game companies. They will have to shoulder the expense of the shutdown system. They will have to increase servers to store personal information, check users aren’t stealing someone else’s identification and strengthen security.
“Instead of enforcing the regulation, it would have been better if the government had devised other ways to modify the current situation for teenagers who immerse themselves in online games rather than other leisure activities,” said Choi Hoon, an analyst at KB Investment Securities.
The measure also reflects negatively on online games. On top of criticism in the local market, businesses fear that the shutdown will hamper the export of games, as it may encourage the idea abroad that Korean games are harmful.
Some say that the shutdown would implement a double regulation, as games already go through a rating system. Thailand imposes an online game shutdown, but it has no rating system. There are also critical voices that doubt the effectiveness of a shutdown as it will only apply to local games. Those from abroad won’t be subject to the restriction.
Supporters of shutdown
There are supporters of the regulation, especially among parents. “Game companies are concerned about the damage following the shutdown, but frankly, as a mom, I do think that it is necessary. I don’t understand why game companies are so strongly opposing the shutdown for midnight till 6 a.m., when children are supposed to be sleeping,” said a blogger, who introduced herself as a fulltime housewife with two children. “I am concerned whether the shutdown will be able to protect kids 100 percent from game addiction. I do hope that it will stop kids from playing games when they should be sleeping.”
Alliance for Love of Children, an NGO, also welcomed the approval of the bill. “We are sorry that it set the age limit at 16 instead of 19, and that it gave a two year grace period on mobile games,” the NGO said in an announcement. “Restricting children and teenagers to a limited connection to network games at night comes not out of a restriction on the game industry. It is the basic right of children to sleep. We have made an effort to change excessive internet game surroundings, but the passage of the revision bill was delayed due to lobbying by game companies. We are sorry that many children have been affected by game addiction.”
Alliance for Love of Children said that 26.7 percent of high school students play Internet games after midnight, and added that mobile games should be subject to the same regulation as it is basically playing the same games on a different platform. “It supports game companies without any consideration to the health of teenagers.” It is requesting that game connections be severed after three hours of play.
The NGO cites game addiction cases such as teenagers even dying while playing games or game addicts stealing money from their parents to buy game items or even killing them. According to a report by the National Information Society Agency, 938,000 teenagers were addicted to games in 2009, making up over half of the total of game addicts. A research by the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Seoul National University showed that the brains of game addicts showed similar irregularities to cocaine addicts. There is some research that has concluded that violent games don’t negatively affect the behavior of children. The implication is that the controversy over the regulation on games isn’t likely to find a simple compromise.
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