How South Korea’s Video Games Addiction is Destroying its Future


In one of the world’s most wired nations on Earth, e-sports South Korea’s national pastime has turned into a national crisis, with at least 680,000 children aged between 10 and 19 now addicted to online gaming. They say children are the future of a country, but with nearly 1 in 10 children (that’s 10% though VICE estimates it can be as high as 50%) spending 7 to 20 hours a day playing video games, the future of South Korea is all but lost.

The Obsession

StarCraft, a game released by Blizzard Entertainment in 1998, is a mainstay of the country’s professional gaming leagues (the South Korean gaming market is worth $9.16 billion). Lee Young-ho, a StarCraft player for KT Rolster the South Korean professional StarCraft: Brood War and StarCraft II team is one of the ‘professionals’ who are destroying their lives and their bodies playing online games like Starcraft and League of Legends.


After repetitive strain of gaming for over 10 years injured and deformed Lee’s muscles, KT Rolster paid for his surgery to save his illustrious career as a ‘sportsman’. Lee calls the half an inch wide post-operative scar stretched from just above the elbow and up over his right shoulder a badge of honor. Kang Doh Kyung, Lee’s coach, tells BBC:

They’re athletes, and injuries happen… I believe that e-sport has plenty of potential [to be regarded as a proper sport], although perhaps not as much as physical games. E-sports is in the process of becoming a mental sport like chess… When people immerse themselves in something and become addicted to it, then they cross the line. Our bodies might be very tired or in poor condition. These things happen not only while playing games. Even when people work out, some people can have a heart attack.”

When BBC News reporter Dave Lee visited KT Rolster’s Starcraft and League of Legends’ players’ training rooms, he saw healthy and happy gamers training hard to be Lee. While they seemed well looked-after to Dave, the same gamers suffer career-ending chronic injuries just like athletes and drop like flies due to constant pointing and clicking.

The Casualty

In 2005, a 28-year-old gamer collapsed and died from organ failure after playing for 50 hours straight. In 2010, a married couple from Suwon was charged with negligent homicide and sentenced to two years in prison for starving their three-month-old daughter to death while they raised a virtual child in an online game. The same year, a 22-year-old player was arrested for killing his mother who nagged him for spending too much time gaming; after committing the murder he went to a nearby Internet cafe to continue with his obsession. In 2011, a 21-year-old online gaming addict was found dead in his home in Inchon, apparently. The list is endless…

After young gamers started suffering from sleep deprivation, mood swings, and seizures, the government passed the “Cinderella Act” or the “Shutdown Law” late 2011, to prevent children under the age of 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6 a.m.

Though, even after five years, nothing has changed. Millions of non-professionals kids, teens, and adolescents are turning into zombies just like professional gamers: by spending up to 18 hours a day inside tiny cubicles at PC Bangs South Korean Internet cafes with high-end gaming PCs. In an interview to VICE in 2015, a teenage boy admitted to spending on average 88 hours per week playing video games.


The Prospect

Jun Byung-hun, a South Korean National Assembly member and the head of the country’s e-sports governance body (KeSPA), says moderation is the key:

“In Korea, games are the barometer of the generation gap. Parents view games as distractions from studying, while children see them as an important part of their social existence. The best way to avoid addiction is for families to play games together.”

But is gaming an issue, or is gaming addiction a manifestation of deeper issues? In South Korea, schooling is very demanding. A 2011 study found that teenage students were spending more than 2 hours every day after school playing video games. When the young minds see players like Jung Myung-hoon and Yo Hwan-lim earn close to $400,000 a year battling it out in professional StarCraft leagues watched by millions of fans on two of Korea’s major TV channels, they are bound to go astray.


“A small percentage of adolescents who drop out of school and haunt the Internet cafes because of an Internet addiction problem do not get attention from anybody, which can be a serious threat to the society in the future,” says Jung-Hye Kwon, a professor of psychology at Korea University.

Hoping to combat addiction and treat the growing number of teenagers who’ve lost themselves to online gaming, the government has set up rehabilitation centers across the country. South Korea is also debating the impending Game Addiction Law, which aims to classify video games as an addictive substance, similar to drugs and alcohol.

However, with professional gaming or e-Sports being a multi-million dollar industry in Korea, the bigger question is: Will the game companies allow any law that brands their product as addictive or any effort that brings their profits down to see the light of the day?

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  1. If you take it like, a lot of sports are bad. I guess you guys have no problem with box, rugby, hockey or racing(F1). The difference is:
    -eSports are mental and reaction sports
    -its a great way to relax
    -you can play with friends
    -you can’t broke the rules like in soccer for example
    -its competitive
    Everything in the world have his danger, I know its bad to play 20/24h, but even in sports, I saw people who died because of the effort. Its good to make sport, I know, but the parents didn’t haved the oportunity to play games, and they still think gaming its bad just because its different. In everything you should think about the good thing.

    • One big difference is that 680.000 young people in sotuh korea fo example are ADDICTED to it. That is the problem that is being adressed here. I agree with you on some things tho. But with everything , yeah, you gotta do /have everything in moderation.

    • You should really rethink before you post.

      First of all, sports actually create muscle/improve your health and give you more energy in your daily life, video games do not.

      You can “broke” the rules, it’s called scripting/boosting and it is very rampant, they have this thing called refs in sports.

      It’s not because it’s “bad”, it’s actually PROVEN scientifically to be poor for your health, more people die from complications bc of computers, compared to sport deaths.

      Please research your thoughts before you misinform others. Thank you.

  2. Honestly I think this is a load of crap. Everything is good when well balanced. I’m not supporting spending every waking moment playing games, or ANY other thing for that matter.
    Vegetables are healthy, you don’t spend all day eating veggies, that kills you.
    Yoga is healthy? you don’t spend all day doing fuckin yoga.
    Whatever you do, whatever is believed to be healthy, it’s only so when done in moderation.
    You should know better than generalizing shit like that. Some days i play ~13h, others i don’t even touch my console or PC. It depends on my time and how much patience I have for playing.
    Regardless, it was actually proven that gaming 1 or 2 hours a day can actually help improve your mind’s capability to make quicker, better and more accurate decisions.
    I guess this is to be expected though. That “endless list” has 10? 50? 100s? 1000s of players? There are billions of players in the world who are perfectly fine, healthy and lead normal lives!
    But of course, you do the same corrupt thing your group was created to fight.. Fuck everyone with bullshit media because of a few rare cases.
    Fuck you!

    • You can’t really argue clever against that this many people having a gaming addiction isn’t good for the future of a country. WIch is the problem being adressed/discussed in this article.

  3. “Lee Young-ho, a StarCraft player for KT Rolster — the South Korean professional StarCraft: Brood War and StarCraft II team — is one of the ‘professionals’ who are destroying their lives and their bodies playing online games like Starcraft and League of Legends.”
    Lol he has made 10x more than you on something he likes to do, shitface.


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