Monday, November 29, 2010

Estimated 1.9 Million Koreans With an Internet Addiction

There is a difference between being dependent on the internet, and being addicted to the internet.  Everyone who has a computer at home or at work, and needs it to work or communicate with others, will be a little compulsive about using it.  People are just dependent on the technology and there is nothing harmful about compulsively checking your e-mail or hitting refresh on a favorite website.

Then there is addiction.  How do you know if you or a loved one has an internet addiction?  When a person refuses to interact socially in the real-world because that would mean less time spent in an imaginary one, they have a problem.  The most obvious indicator of addiction is how a person reacts when they are told they cannot be on the internet for whatever reason.  If they get frustrated, upset, sad, angry, or violent, then they have a problem.

I know this from personal experience.  I had an online gaming addiction when I was 15 and it consumed my life.  I was addicted to a RPG real-time online WWII strategy game.  I stopped eating, stopped caring about school, lost all my friends, and had a couple disastrous confrontations with my family about it.  After a year of being addicted to internet gaming, I agreed to go to counseling for it.  Ultimately, I agreed with my father that I had a problem and that the best thing for me was to give up all forms of internet and video gaming until I finished high school.  I went two years without playing internet of video games in my own home, though I still played socially with friends at their houses.

This was ten years ago.  The graphics, the connection speeds, the character and plot development, the level of online interaction, and the intensity of all these online games I imagine are ten times as addicting now than when I was a teenager.

South Korea is the most internet wired country on Earth, and they are beginning to recognize and acknowledge internet gaming addiction as a proper psychological disorder.

Source in the Korea Times:
A 15-year-old middle schoolboy strangled his mother earlier this week in a fit of anger during an argument over his playing of violent computer games and then took his own life, sounding a wake-up call to the whole nation.
Game addiction has long been a social issue in Korea where the game industry is thriving on an advanced Internet infrastructure. 
Many middle and high school boys lock themselves in their room at home or spend hours in a “PC bang” (Internet cafe) to play highly-addictive computer games. The crimes committed by teen game addicts are increasing and turning more violent.
Online games are evolving everyday with better sound effects, fancier 3D graphics and updated structures ㅡ fatal temptation teens find hard to resist. For many of them, the games may be the only exit from their stifling school life.
My life sucked when I was fifteen.  I was a nobody in the real world.  However, once I was able to create my own character in an online universe, I could be anything or anyone and progress in the game became immediate and instantly gratifying.  Achieving success in the real world is a very arduous, long, and sometimes risky process.  It is hard to explain to a teenage boy that he might have to wait a decade before he will stop feeling so insecure about his place in life.
The middle school boy, who killed his 43-year-old mother in Busan, Tuesday, was found to have been addicted to a first person shooter (FPS), a violent combat game where the character uses guns and weapons, according to the police.
"We found that he played computer games all the time except for eating meals or going to the bathroom," a police officer said. "Lee's sister, who found her mother's body, said Lee and his mother often had disputes over playing computer games."
I absolutely believe that violence in video games makes absolutely no difference in behavior.  If violent video games made people violent, then everyone who played violent video games would be violent.  That is the only result you could expect if it were true.  That is just is not the case.

A more likely explanation is that a teenage already prone to violence enjoys playing violent games.  If the violent games did not exist, that kid would still be likely to be violent.  This is provable by the obvious fact that violence existed before violent video games.  People really need to drop this argument.
Lee had gone through counseling several times, but it didn’t work.
It is the third game addiction-related crime this year. In February, a man in his 20s murdered his mother who scolded him for playing computer games and in March, a game-addicted couple starved their three-month-old daughter to death.
According to the statistics of the National Information Society Agency (NIA), the rate of those hooked on the Internet in Korea is 8.5 percent, with the number of addicts at about 1.9 million. The rate is even higher among teenagers at 12.8 percent and children from single parent families, including Lee, are more vulnerable to Internet addiction, at a rate of 16.6 percent.
Almost 10% of the general population in Korea has an internet addiction.  The rate goes up for teenagers.  The rate goes up even more for teenagers from a single parent home.  The reason for this seems obvious.  The less time parents spend with a child, the more likely the child will fill that time playing games online.  If a parent is gone, that means no time with that parent.
Experts said the Internet and game addiction are a sort of disease and should be treated properly as such.
Kang Ung-gu of Seoul National University College of Medicine said teenagers' Internet addiction should be treated in the early stages as it might accompany depression. "In most cases, the addiction comes from multiple causes and we use medication and behavioral therapy," Kang said.
Lee Eun-sil, a researcher at the Internet Addiction Prevention Center of NIA, said, "Internet and Internet game addiction is a serious disease. It needs treatment from experts and should not be considered as just a personal problem. Children who come to the center are the cared for ones. Some parents from broken homes do not even notice their children’s addiction.” 
The government is taking a series of steps to help treat these young game addicts. Experts say that parents need to more actively seek help from consultants or professional institutes that provide various programs designed to treat the problem.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also said the number of teenagers who received counseling for game immersion jumped to 45,476 in 2009 from 3,440 in 2007.
That is a staggering increase over two years.  It is encouraging that the government is taking the issue serious now and attempting to respond to this problem.  However, if 10% of the population has an internet addiction, cannot this be considered an epidemic?  If there are 1,900,000 addicts and the government is only helping 45,000, that has to still be considered an inadequate response.  I expect the number of people the government is helping to continue to dramatically rise.
A 14-year-old a middle school student in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, Yoo, is one of the game addicts who are enrolled in a program to cure the problem, offered by the state-run Korea Youth Counseling Institute.
The boy, who used to play games for more than 10 hours on weekends, said he realized that he had difficulties controlling his temper and could not stop thinking about the online shooting game, “Sudden Attack.” 
“After I realized that I was addicted to the game, I asked for help from my mother. And we’ve decided to join a treatment program,” he said. “I participated in the ‘Rescue School’ program which requires young game addicts to stay for 12 days. It was a great help.”
Lee Yoon-hee, a counselor at the institute, said, “The addicted person’s will is most important in overcoming the problem. Also, parents need to pay greater attention to their kids.”
She said that not all students who joined the program have been successfully treated. “It’s not easy to cure the addiction. Less than 50 percent of participants in the program have been cured.” 
There are several measures to pull youths away from online games. The "fatigue system" makes virtual character grow slowly when teenagers play a game too long. A stronger measure is the "shutdown system," not allowing people under the age of 14 to play games after midnight, which is currently applied to three games as an example.
Other than the NIA’s center, Seoul City runs two “I Will Centers” in Boramae and Changdong, to provide free consultation for youngsters or their parents on Internet addiction.
I think no child under the age of 18 should be allowed to be playing games in an internet cafe (PC Bang) after midnight.  There is just no reason for this to be so.  As for blocking kids from being able to play on their personal computers at home, that should be left to the parents.

Like any disease or addiction, prevention is the best treatment.  A national public discussion needs to happen and parents need to be aware of the dangers of internet addiction.  Staying informed of what a child does on the internet and for how long seems like basic parenting, but it is obvious that many Korean parents are not watching over their children while they are online.

I have already posted this, but I thought Al Jazeera did a good job and it is worth a watch if you are concerned about this issue.


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