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[News Focus] Doubts plague new ‘Cinderella’ law

Rule to limit access to video games likely hard to enforce


The National Assembly passed a controversial bill to ban teenagers from accessing online games midnight last Friday. But parliament is immediately facing criticism about the measure’s effectiveness. The law goes into effect in November.

Critics are raising doubts about effectiveness as user information, such as the age of registered people and online games provided on social networking sites are currently difficult to monitor.

In a bid to fight online game addiction, which is commonly experienced by teenagers who live in one of the world’s most wired countries, the so-called shut down system was passed by 117 out of 210 lawmakers taking part in the plenary session.

A similar bill that intended to prohibit those aged 19 and under from playing online games late at night, however, was voted down.

The system, which will first be applied to online games played on personal computers, bans those under age 16 from logging into games websites between 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.

“The shut down system does not regulate the contents or selling of the online games and I agree that we can’t say the shut down system will be 100 percent effective,” said Rep. Kim Jae-kyung of the Grand National Party.

“But it has a symbolic meaning in that we’re making efforts for our sons and daughters who are experiencing psychological difficulties.”

Some industry insiders and politicians question the effectiveness of the regulation system and how the government plans on setting the exact boundary of online games.

According to GNP lawmaker Kim Song-sik, 95 percent of the teenagers that participated in a recent survey said they would use their parents’ identification information to access online games if they were restricted from playing.

“Children need to be educated. The problem does not just get solved if they are banned from doing it,” he said.

The selection of online games ― as to which games will be included in the to-be-banned-after-midnight list ― will also become an issue, especially with online social games that are available on social networking sites like Facebook.

About 88 million people a month worldwide log onto Zynga’s Cityville, the second highest ranking application on Facebook.

The problem is that it would be difficult to prohibit teenagers under 16 years old from playing such games because anyone could create a Facebook account by inserting their name, email address, gender and birthday. But their user identification does not need to be authorized to determine if it is genuine, indicating that anyone could make an account using fake information.

This means that implementing the shut down system will not only affect the local online game industry, but it may also force the U.S.-based social network operators to exclude Korea from some of its services if it is required by law to obey the new rule, according to industry sources.

“Currently, Apple and Google have deleted the game category for Korean users due to a regulation that mandates them to get the contents pre-authorized,” an industry source told local media. “Korea will be left out once again if the country attempts to apply the shut down system to Facebook and Twitter.”

By Cho Ji-hyun (sharon@heraldcorp.com)
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