By Bae Hyun-jung
Online game addiction in Korean society has gone far beyond a mere social nuisance, resulting in accidental deaths and even murders.
The police on Wednesday detained a married couple who, seriously addicted to internet games, left their three-month-old daughter to starve to death last year, said officials.
The 41-year-old husband and 25-year-old wife met through an online chatting website and were both gaming addicts.
Since moving out from the wife's parents' house, they spent most of their time in internet cafes, reportedly leaving their newborn girl completely unattended. They only occasionally dropped by to feed her powdered milk.
Last September, after a 12-hour gaming-session, they came home in the morning to find their daughter dead, said officials.
The baby's malnourished body fueled police suspicion that the couple was responsible for the death because of neglect. They then requested the National Institute of Scientific Investigation to perform an autopsy.
The couple soon fled to the wife's parents' house in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province but was detected on Monday.
The powdered milk formula in the feeding bottle was spoiled when the police found the deceased baby, said officials.
"I am sorry for what I did and hope that my daughter does not suffer any more in heaven," the husband said.
The couple, being jobless and almost penniless, could not bear the parental burden and thus ended up escaping reality by abandoning themselves to virtual reality, said police officials.
The game which stole their attention away from their baby was ironically a role playing game in which they raised a virtual character of a young girl, according to officials.
The couple's case, however, was not the only recent crime caused from online game addiction.
A 22-year-old man was caught and indicted last month for murdering his mother as because she continuously nagged him for spending too much time and energy playing games. After his crime, the man headed to a nearby internet cafe and continued with his game, said officials.
Last July, a 21-year-old man was arrested for killing his mother, blaming her for her internet addiction and neglecting the family.
A worker in his 30s died of exhaustion in a Seoul internet cafe, after spending five consecutive days playing games.
Officials should temporarily ban online games and investigate the intensity of their addictive power, according to the People's livelihood Economy Research Institute.
The sales level of internet cafes reached 490 billion won (S$600 million) per year last year, according to Health Ministry data. Crimes rooted in internet addiction also soared to cost the government 97 billion won per year.
Though internet addiction is now widely accepted as an independent form of mental illness, there is little data on the exact situation, according to the PERI.
"Game addicts, unlike alcohol or drug addicts, lose their brain's controlling capacities and thus become unable to sense their body's damage," said an official of the Internet Addiction Research Center.
The Culture Ministry has so far focused on promoting the online game industry and related markets but should now notice the serious consequences and come up with necessary measures, he also said.
Rep. Lee Joung-sun of the ruling Grand National Party last month submitted a bill restricting the hours offered to online game users but the game industry largely protested, in fear of profit loss.
Also, several bills are presently pending in the National Assembly, suggesting restrictions on teenagers' use of internet cafes and games.
Over 520,000 or 7 percent of primary school students may be classified as online game addicts, according to the Korea Creative Content Agency.
"The problem is that game addiction does not just appear in young students who have little control," said the IARC official.
"It is now affecting the entire society by tempting adults to neglect their minimum duties and daily life."