Friday, April 16, 2010

Brush Your Teeth, Finish Your Raid, and Go to Bed

by C.T. Hutt

Childhood videogame addiction has become the new darling scapegoat of fussy PTAs and politicians; the phenomenon is blamed for everything from slumping test scores to childhood obesity. When a new and pervasive problem like this is introduced to society, what can be done? Who could possibly step in to save helpless citizens? Say hello to our hero: a half-baked piece of domestic legislation.

The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced this week that they will be implementing a country wide internet service restriction for six hours every night to curb online videogame addiction in minors. The so called “nighttime shutdown” will apply to most online video games available to young people in the hope of promoting better sleeping and study habits. This decree comes in the wake of a widely syndicated news story in Korea about a couple who let their infant child die of malnutrition while they played online games. Despite its good intentions, this decision sets a disastrous precedent for the place of government in our digital lives.

Video game addiction for South Korea’s kids is a serious issue. A survey compiled by the Korea Youth Counseling Institute indicates that approximately 29% of Korea’s school children suffer from some kind of gaming or internet addiction, hence the government’s decision to step in and make things right. The problems with a government body’s intrusion into the private activities of citizens and corporations are manifold. Not the least of these is that government officials have a notoriously poor understanding of modern technology (hence the quote in the picture from the United State’s former Senator Ted Stevens).

The concept of legislating on a country-wide level when children can and cannot play a game is impractical if not impossible. Even if the Korean government had the power to fully enact this plan, doing so would have significant negative implications. Under this decree, every young gamer in Korea will have to register their digital personas with a federal body, people will have to surrender control of their internet connections to the government, and gaming companies will be obligated to hand over the personal information of their clients to the feds. This is to say nothing of the fact that kids will almost certainly find a way to hack around these restrictions. In a free and democratic country like South Korea, this mandate from a relatively small government body is an empty suit. But just because it is sure to be widely ignored doesn’t make it any less misguided.

Because this plan is destined to fail I am not overly concerned for the status of gaming freedom for Korea’s youth in the near future. However, the precedent set by suggesting that government should be the intervening force to resolve this type of issue is troubling. Rather than ask how the government can tackle the negative effects of childhood videogame addiction, I think it would be more pertinent to first inquire if governments should be the force telling children when to go to bed. The answer to that question is a resounding no. This decree is a clear example of government overstepping its bounds. (If only there were some expression I could use to describe a federal administrative body as a domestic overseer of children, like an older sibling or a parent should be. Ah well.)

Thankfully there is an organization with the power to tackle this problem without spending a dime of taxpayers’ money or further blurring the lines between government power and people’s personal lives: parents. You want your kid to study? Sit them down at the table and put a book in front of them. You want them to go to bed? Turn off the computer and tuck them in. The only sensible solution to the problem of childhood video game addiction is good parenting.

If we depend on government solutions to solve our personal problems with gaming, we risk giving up control of our medium to a body that doesn’t really understand it. It’s a bad move for gaming, for free speech, and for private life.

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