The government announced this week that children aged 15 or under will be allowed to play online games after midnight, if they have their parents’ approval. This will only expose our children to greater risk of computer game addiction.
Currently, online game operators are banned from providing services to those aged 15 or under from midnight to 6 a.m. The curfew, called “nighttime shutdown,” has been in force since 2011 and has proven effective in curbing youth game addiction.
The announcement was made jointly by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which deals with youth policy, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which regulates the gaming industry.
Officials said they made the decision because “some” parents and the gaming industry kept requesting that the government ease the rule. In other words, they were changing the rule as part of the government’s deregulation drive.
They insisted that it would be proper to have the industry and parents control children’s gaming hours to ensure healthy use of computer games. They added that a survey last year found that about 30 percent of youths in the age group were already playing games after midnight using their parents’ IDs.
What they did not say is how many of the parents knew that their children were using their IDs to violate the law and keep playing computer games when they should be in bed.
It is difficult for children to self-regulate themselves when it comes to Internet and gaming addiction. A recent survey found nearly 12 percent of those aged 19 or under are addicted to the Internet. Many of them are frequent, longtime players of online games and they fail to abandon the addictive habit as they grow older.
Officials are mistaken if they believe that parents will welcome the change. Few parents, except for those who want their children to become professional gamers, would be happy to see their children sitting in front of the monitor until the early morning, with their bleary eyes set on the moving images on the monitor.
Along with the relaxation of the nighttime shutdown, the government also said that it would give offenders a second chance to comply with the current curfew and avoid punishment, which carries up to two years in prison or 10 million won in fines. This is another wrong step taken only for the sake of deregulation.
A bigger cause for concern is that officials indicated that they would not carry through with the plan to adopt the same nighttime shutdown system for mobile games, which was to take effect next May.
All these announcements came just two days before President Park Geun-hye presided over a meeting in which she checked the progress of her government’s much-touted deregulation campaign.
There are bad regulations and good regulations. There are also regulations that should be strengthened, like those on online games, tobacco and alcohol.
It is fortunate that the relaxation of the nighttime shutdown requires revision to the Youth Protection Law, which is why officials said it could take effect next year at the earliest. This means they have enough time to revoke the decision.