Why South Korea is Considering a Gaming Curfew

My friend Florence Chee, who does smart-people theory about communications, mentioned on her twitter feed that there’s buzz in the air again about South Korea’s slow, loping movement toward a gaming curfew.

The article she linked notes that it’s not just “extreme cases” (of the same kind that were routinely used to demonize Dungeons & Dragons back in the 1980s — guys kills his mom for being scolded to stop playing and then kills himself, for example) that justify the move, but also the more moderate example of kids who simply play all night, and therefore can’t concentrate when they get to school the next day.

“A lot of kids play games all night long and have trouble studying at school and going about their normal lives during daytime. We believe the law is necessary to ensure their health and a right to sleep.”

Of course, if the government actually gave a shit about people’s sleep and health, they’d do stuff like:

  • strengthen and enforce noise and light pollution regulations throughout the country
  • enforce curfews that were supposedly enforced on hakwons (cram schools)
  • enforce laws that govern overtime work for the sake of the health and child-supervisory ability of working parents

The last point is a partial answer to the question posed by the author at the end of the article:

My question is… why aren’t parents putting limits on the amount of time their children spend in front of a monitor?

There are other elements, of course, like how many people seem to be convinced (from discussions I’ve heard over the years) that schools and educators, not families and parents, are the institutions and people who help nurture the ethical and social aspects of human character.

Of course they are, when so many kids see their parents so little.

Personally, though, it’s hard for me to not see something ulterior here. The control of the internet is one of the major goals, an ongoing project of the Korean government and one of the few things the whole political spectrum seems willing to agree about.

As Eric Fish notes in a paper linked not long ago here, the hope for overthrowing this increasingly illiberal approach to the Net is in younger people who will be less willing to tolerate their online lives being controlled and watched by the govenrment. That is, unless those kids grow up used to the idea that the government is watching and dictating their online lives where it’s most keenly felt.

Maybe they’re overplaying their hand, and this will build even greater resentment. Or maybe the people who’re pushing for this legislation realizes that if you get ’em while they’re young, they won’t know anything else.

And that is a chilling thought.

UPDATE: Oh, of course, the other thing? Gaming is fun… but mostly to young people.

Find something that is fun to middle-aged Korean men, and you’ll see it available with no limits on every second streetcorner in Korea (or in some neighbhorhoods, ever corner, full stop): soju, cigarettes, sex-for-money, pork barbecue.

Find something that isn’t fun to middle-aged men, and you’ll see it much less available. Find something that is very engagingly fun, and potentially subversive (like live music, say) and you’ll find it utterly marginalized, or controlled in some way.

Welcome to the Korean Internet.

(To be fair, porn is controlled this way… but, as with smoking, while the rationale given is for the protection of children, I’m dubious. Porn is (potentially) free; sex-for-money is better for the economy. Wow. Depressing thought, but having read even just half of Sex Among Allies by Katharine H. S. Moon, I know enough to know this is exactly how the facilitation of Korean prostitution to American soldiers was justified throughout the dictatorships.)

(To be even more fair, I think that even among middle-aged mens’ idea of fun, there are strictures and controls. I don’t think anyone’s supposed to have too much fun in Korean life. It’s something like how modern North Americans imagine those stylized, perhaps-exaggerated Puritans lived back in the old days. Someone smiling is obviously up to no good, and all that.)

2 thoughts on “Why South Korea is Considering a Gaming Curfew

  1. The move to create a ‘curfew’ would fit the pattern of new Korean laws: enacting legislation, make little or no reference to enforcement, and make any actual punishment so benign that it simply doesn’t serve as a deterrent. I think back to the laws supposedly passed regarding littering.

    1. Yeah, good example.

      And there is of course no way to ensure kids won’t use their parents’ or older siblings’ passwords and IDs… I’m told the inability to ensure this is why shops that sell alcohol in their brick & mortar locations cannot deliver the stuff… which is scary but believable. How much of the Net requires sign-ins? When you ask for ID for every damned thing, sooner or later the value of ID security will degrade.

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