By Park Si-soo
Technology brings an ever-more sense of reality to video games. Some people, especially those who are in the young impressionable age group, are addicted to this virtual world where they can get away with murder. In some extreme cases, these addicts act out on their deadly impulses. But still there are few legal measures to keep them at bay.
Experts treat game addiction like alcoholism or drug use, saying that treatment can help addicts clean up their act but they remain prone to relapses.
Last Wednesday, a 22-year-old man was arrested for killing his mother for telling him not to play games.
According to Yangju Police, the suspect by the name of Oh stabbed his mother several times while she was taking a nap.
He was quoted as saying, "I was enraged at her constant nagging." A police officer said that, after he killed his mother, Oh watched TV in a living room for hours and played an Internet-based game at a game arcade near his home using his mother's credit card.
Last Tuesday, a 32-year-old man collapsed at a game arcade. He was taken to hospital but died of multiple organ failure. Police said the man named Sohn spent five days and nights for playing an online game at the arcade. An attendant at the arcade told police that Sohn only ate instant noodles during the period.
Video game addiction is not something new these days. It has emerged as a major social headache since high-speed Internet services became widely available in the early 2000s.
Recent research by Dr. Kim Sang-eun at Seoul National University Hospital in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, showed more than 170,000 teenagers aged between 9 and 19 or 2.3 percent of those in the age range were addicted to video games and needed medical treatment.
Kim said in the report that the brains of those that suffer from being addicted to games showed quite the same activation formats as those addicted to drugs and alcohol, indicating game-addicted people should be subject to intensive rehabilitation.
The growing number of games featuring violence including street fights, shootings and stabbings is more problematic, critics say.
A 2008 study of 1,361 primary school students showed that nearly one fifth of those surveyed, or 263, were "thrilled" when exposed to such violence.
In pictures they drew as part of therapy, the teenagers described parents scolding their excessive gaming as their primary "enemy" whom they should overcome.
Some of them even sketched their parents crippled, reflecting their grudges, said Kwon Jang-hee, a senior psychiatrist who led the study.
"Mentally-immature children can confuse their role in games with reality, meaning they can act in reality as if they were in the game as a character," Kwon said.
"This confusion is a key culprit behind violent acts children commit against their parents when they face any interruption in their gaming."
Police said the man accused of killing his nagging mother was a heavy player of violent games.
Game addiction is a curable disease, experts explain, but it can recur anytime when treatment is no longer offered and the person lacks self-control.
For instance, a 36-year-old man recently found himself re-addicted to computer games after experiencing the same thing as the teenager, he said on the condition of anonymity.
"I resumed playing games to vent stress from the workplace. But today I have found myself going too far," he said. "I spent the three-day Lunar New Year holiday at a game arcade. I felt euphoria playing games, though I ate no special delicacies for the holiday."
Dr. Chung Young-chul at the Severance Hospital in northern Seoul advised those addicted to spend more time doing outdoor activities.
"They need something engrossing to make them forget their desire to play video games," the psychiatrist said. "Having helping from their parents or friends makes it easier and quicker for patients to overcome the problem."
In 2005, Rep. Kim Hee-hung of the governing Grand National Party proposed a bill about comprehensive measures for those addicted to games, but it is still pending at the Assembly with little progress being made.