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South Korea pulls plug on late-night adolescent online gamers

By Jiyeon Lee, CNN
updated 2:26 AM EST, Tue November 22, 2011
A new system called the
A new system called the "shutdown law" blocks those under the age of 16 from accessing gaming websites after midnight.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The "Cinderella law" blocks under-16 gamers from accessing sites after midnight
  • A 2010 survey found nearly 14% of 9-to-12-year-olds in South Korea are Internet addicts
  • A court challenge is in the works
  • One argument is that the ban discriminates, doesn't cover activities such as watching TV or movies

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- In its effort to curb game addiction among adolescents, South Korea pulled the plug this weekend on young gamers after midnight by blocking access to game websites, putting a hotly debated law into practice.

The new system called the "shutdown law," also referred to as the "Cinderella law," blocks those under the age of 16 from accessing gaming websites after midnight and has fueled heated anger among younger gamers and avid game fans. The new rule does not affect mobile games or certain games used on social networking websites.

As South Korea, which has one of the richest online gaming cultures in the world, tries to battle gaming addiction that has led to serious consequences, it struggles to find effective means to selectively help those in need. Roughly 8% of the population between the ages of 9 to 39 suffers from Internet addiction, according to a study conducted in 2010 by the National Information Society Agency (NIA), which runs a national Internet addiction counseling center. The addiction rate for those between 9 and 12 was highest at 14%, according to the NIA.

The government is heavily involved in treating people for gaming addiction by holding workshops on prevention education at schools and offering counseling for students with an addiction.

However, internet users have flooded the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which initiated the policy, website with postings calling the new measure "a waste of money," "idiotic" and "useless," and questioning whether it will prevent young gamers from playing into late hours.

"Do you really think that teenagers are going to give up on gaming and study?" one posting from the website read. "Have you even thought about what the result of this going to be before deciding to crackdown on it?"

Some called on the government to shut down the ministry, while others said parents should have the autonomy to decide how long their children can play games.

South Korea's advanced gaming culture revolves around high-speed Internet cafes where gamers can sit around the clock playing games, glitzy tournaments hosted by big brand companies and professional gamers that have celebrity status with huge fan bases.

Game companies have been actively preparing for the shutdown, easing in the new regulation days before the official mandatory start date. Critics point out that many teenagers hold gaming accounts created with their parent's personal information, easily providing them with an alternative log-in option.

The controversial shutdown system already faces a petition in the constitutional courts.

"You can say someone is an alcoholic if they drink more than three bottles (of liquor) a day, but you can't call them alcoholic because they drink after midnight. It's the same with gaming," Lee Byung-chan, the lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of parents and a young gamer said.

The argument is that the measure violates the right to happiness and discriminates gaming against other leisure activities such as watching movies or television.

"From the parents' point of view, it violates their right to educate their children," Lee added. It is for the parents to decide what time they want to allow their children to play games or not, not for the government to exclude them from that process, the argument goes.

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