One thing you’ll notice out here in Korea is a preponderance of tiny, dimly lit “PC Rooms.” In fact, you’d be hard pressed to go more than two blocks without seeing one of these shady little dens filled wall to wall with high-speed computers. Typically these places lack windows, pump out the crappiest techno music ever created, and there’s usually a black light poster somewhere near the front door. So why so many? Maybe it’s because S. Korea is notorious for being addicted to online gaming; sometimes fatally. In fact, the term “Korea Scale” – the definitive psychological measure of internet addiction – owes it’s name the tiny little country. According to Wired Magazine, more than 30 percent of Korean minors are addicted to online games. Combine an incredibly competitive culture, widespread internet access, and bored teenagers, and you could meet a fate like 28 year-old Lee Seung Seop, who according to the BBC, died of exhaustion after playing Starcraft non-stop for nearly 50 hours. Seriously. I thought my addiction to the Word Jumble was bad. Read on for more zaniness
So just how game-addicted is Korean culture? There are literally entire television stations devoted to broadcasting nothing but people playing video games. Many shows are quite elaborate, replete with slow-mo instant replays, in-depth stats, and even their own announcers. When I first saw it on TV I was blown away. Watching these programs is basically laziness watching laziness. The next logical step is to have have a show where you watch people who watch people play video games all day. You could make it into a reality show or something. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Fox Network is probably working on something like that right now. They could call it Korean Idle.
Perhaps the ultimate sign that your country has a gaming problem is when the government has to create internet rehab centers to help ween their population off the sweet sweet broadband juice. And not just one or two – try 140, with more scheduled to be created soon. There’s even an Internet Rehab boot camp, which was featured in a Nov. 2007 article by the New York Times. Here’s a snippet:
Initially, the camp had problems with participants sneaking away to go online, even during a 10-minute break before lunch, Ms. Lee said. Now, the campers are under constant surveillance, including while asleep, and are kept busy with chores, like washing their clothes and cleaning their rooms.
One participant, Lee Chang-hoon, 15, began using the computer to pass the time while his parents were working and he was home alone. He said he quickly came to prefer the virtual world, where he seemed to enjoy more success and popularity than in the real one.
He spent 17 hours a day online, mostly looking at Japanese comics and playing a combat role-playing game called Sudden Attack. He played all night, and skipped school two or three times a week to catch up on sleep…
…“I don’t have a problem,” Chang-hoon said in an interview three days after starting the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine.” But later that day, he seemed to start changing his mind, if only slightly.
With the knowledge I now have, I couldn’t have been happier when, on the way to school today, I saw two of my students playing baseball – together – outside – in a park – with a real bat and ball.