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Active participation from big game firms needed on gaming disorder issue: lawmaker

Big-name game firms should take a more active role in the discourse surrounding local adoption of the World Health Organization’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11, which classifies gaming disorder as a health condition, Rep. Kim Byoung-gwan of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said Monday.

Prior to joining the National Assembly, Kim was head of the game venture firm Webzen.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Korea Internet Corporations Association in Gangnam, Seoul, Monday, Kim stressed the need for active participation by game companies in hearings at the National Assembly designed to solicit industry feedback.

Kim was joined by Jeong Eui-jun, associate professor of the digital culture department at Konkuk University; Gwak Sung-hwan, game culture team director at the Korea Creative Content Agency; Kim Jin-wook, a reporter who specializes in games; and Park Seong-ho, secretary general of the Korea Internet Corporations Association.

 
Participants discuss the future of the game industry at the Korea Internet Corporations Association in Gangnam, Seoul, Monday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Participants discuss the future of the game industry at the Korea Internet Corporations Association in Gangnam, Seoul, Monday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)


Naver, Kakao, NCSoft, eBay Korea, Facebook Korea, Uber Korea and Pearl Abyss sponsored the panel discussion.

When asked to comment on Kim’s statement, a spokesperson for one of the three major South Korean game companies told The Korea Herald that individual companies might raise their voices when the time is right. But the Korea Association of Game Industry -- known as K-Games -- currently represents their collective voice, the spokesperson said.

K-Games launched a committee on Wednesday last week opposing WHO’s decision to define addiction to video games as a disorder. The committee comprises 90 organizations, which includes the labor unions of game firms Nexon and Smilegate as well as relevant academia and industry representatives.

The burgeoning game industry is not isolated to a specific age group or class, Rep. Kim said, adding that even the more conservative senior generation plays online Go.

“The negative perception toward gaming in Korea and China comes down to a matter of exposure,” Kim said. “In Japan and North America, where people have been exposed to gaming as early as 1940 or at the latest 1980, the public is more relaxed toward game culture.”

Korea, whose gaming industry is only about two decades old, has yet to recognize games as a form of art and culture. Rep. Kim urged that more attention be given to his recent proposal to include games in the culture category. Most recently, comics were accepted as cultural content.

Park Seong-ho from KICA cautioned that negative attitudes toward gaming could easily spill over to other forms of culture and entertainment.

“Just as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder first applied to war veterans but later went on to define restlessness in regular people, gaming disorder could potentially lead to a ban on other cultural content,” Park said.

Framing games as the villain will not solve the real problems, added Jeong Eui-jung from Konkuk University.

“A game is not an addictive substance in itself,” Jeong said. “The reason some people lose control over gaming has to do with other triggers.”

The panel agreed that taking games out of the picture would simply lead obsessed gamers to find a different obsession.

The WHO in May unanimously agreed to define excessive gaming as an official disorder, where a person loses control over other aspects of life as a result of devoting too much time and attention to playing games for at least a year.

The local game industry has since stood up and strongly questioned the scientific basis for pathologizing games.

In Korea, relevant codes and legal guidelines reflecting the WHO decision are expected to take effect in 2026.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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