Love Child: The Tragic Cost of Game Addiction

A baby girl was born prematurely, weighing 6.4 pounds. Three months later she died of malnutrition, weighing just 5.5 pounds. The father says, “I will be guilty until the day I die.”

But this wasn’t a case of simple neglect or the result of extreme poverty; the young girl’s death was related to her parents’ addiction to an online game. This story from South Korea forms the central story of Love Child, a  documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The notion of video game addiction may receive some criticism from armchair commentators, but the unflinching reality of the story makes it hard to deny the potential of the issue.

Internet and Video Game Addiction

In the latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, “Internet use disorder” was recommended as a condition in need of further study. This means two things: first, there is limited empirical evidence to support the diagnosis; and second, there is substantial reason to believe that it’s a genuine condition. The research on the issue is ongoing, and it’s undeniable that video game addiction largely falls into the same category.

Korea’s Unique Gaming Addiction Problem

In Korea, online gaming is a much bigger deal than it is in the United States. High-speed broadband is more widespread in Korea and a larger percentage of Koreans have access to broadband than Americans. There are even whole TV networks dedicated to online gaming in Korea. In Seoul, there are gaming cafes called “PC bangs” on every block. While the country has enjoyed relative success in tackling the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, it is argued that video games have “filled the void” that the lack of traditional addictions leaves, providing players with the escapism many seek through substance abuse. The prevalence of gaming addiction has led the government to consider treating video games in a similar way to gambling, alcohol and cigarettes.

The Tragedy of Video Game Addiction

Shining a light on the tragic death of the baby girl—undoubtedly the most shocking story about the consequences of video game addiction—the movie explores the issue by talking to the game’s developers, the family themselves, their lawyers and the detective assigned to the case. The details of the story make the problems associated with excessive gaming clear, such as the fact that the online game in question was centered on raising a virtual child, and will undoubtedly make the story stick in the minds of the audience. In the court case, the couple used their video game addiction as part of their legal defense and their approach was broadly successful, potentially setting up a legal precedent in the country.

There are many advantages to the high-profile documentary exploring the issue, but the most immediately obvious is the effect it will have on viewers. After sharing the couple’s misery at their loss and shaking heads in disbelief at how any parent could allow an infant to die of malnutrition while spending marathon overnight sessions at gaming cafés, it seems unlikely anyone could still doubt the severity of the problem by the time the credits roll.

Will Similar Problems Grip the U.S.?

In terms of online gaming, Korea is considered to be ahead of the U.S., and this may be a sign of things to come for those across the Pacific. Perhaps Americans will continue to use substances for the escapism provided by online games in Korea, but pretending that the issue will never arise would be a mistake. Online games have developed traction and video game addiction appears to be an emerging problem; today’s Korea could very well be tomorrow’s America.

Understanding the Problem

From both a public and expert perspective, the most important action to take is to develop a deeper understanding of the issue of video game addiction. Researchers will continue to investigate with studies, but there are many things ordinary citizens should keep in mind. It’s becoming more and more obvious that video game addiction is a real issue, and like drug or alcohol addiction, we shouldn’t stigmatize those suffering from it as being wholly responsible for their situation or somehow not deserving support.

Stories about drug or alcohol addicts ruining their lives to support their addiction drive home the severity of those issues and the portrayal of online gaming addiction in “Love Child” should do the same thing. Allowing an infant to starve is not the action of psychologically healthy parents; it’s an unavoidable sign that they’re in need of help.

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