Illustration by Erik Carter.
People call StarCraft a video game that has turned around the face of every aspect. Before the time it appeared, many “blockbuster” like Tetris or Super Mario Bros. until Diablo shook the world. But when Blizzard launched a real-time strategy game in this futuristic setting, a new concept emerged – a giant awakened, realizing its true potential.
At that time, Korea was not considered a land of technological development. Blizzard doesn’t even consider localizing his game for this region. Even so, StarCraft still lives well in “foreign land”: out of 11 million copies sold worldwide, up to 4.5 million Koreans own the cult title. Korean media called StarCraft “a game of the masses”.
The success of StarCraft led to another boom: PC game shops, known locally as “PC bangs”. Like the net shop in Vietnam, PC bangs allow gamers to play for less than 1 USD / hour. Old “playboy” venues such as billiard rooms, comic book shops disappear, replaced by state PCs serving StarCraft gamers of all ages. In 1998, there were about 100 shops in South Korea, until 2001, the figure reached 23,000. Economists call this “Starcnomics”, putting the word “StarCraft” and “economics” together.
Already 35 years old and still attached to professional esports, Edgar Choi commented that StarCraft and PC state culture are directly connected with Korean youth, who are constrained by the economy and the pressure to success in school and class. “Young people do not have many places to go back and forth, but sitting at home, their parents will force them to study”.
When the StarCraft gamer was large enough, they reunited as a community, and another phenomenon exploded: e-sport. Small prizes began to be available at PC bang, with “simple” initial prizes such as free play time or the right to dread with neighbors. In 1991, when a children’s cartoon channel showed StarCraft, organized competitions began to appear. By 2004, a final was held at Haeundae beach in Busan that attracted more than 100,000 people to watch.
Crowds of events come with the opportunity to earn both money and fame. Large corporations started to pay attention to new markets and poured capital, then gradually appeared professional gaming teams that received extremely high salaries; For example, StarCraft’s Lim Yo-hwan – Michael Jordan is more famous than domestic movie stars. Edgar Choi, who calls himself a “medium player”, is sometimes recognized by the taxi driver his face many times on TV.
However, beyond the aura of the gaming industry, there are disturbing elements.
In a hospital just outside Seoul, psychologist Lee Hae-kook witnessed what complications the StarCraft had. He did not follow the popularity of StarCraft from time to time, but looked at the symptoms associated with “overdose” gaming.
Many ominous reports come from countries like Japan, China and Germany, but the event that shook the world came from the cradle of esports. In October 2002, a 24-year-old young man died in a state PC after 86 hours of continuous play. This was the first gaming death to be discovered. In 2005, a 28-year-old man from Daegu city collapsed in a chair after 50 hours of playing StarCraft. A few months later, a similar traumatic event took place in Incheon City.
“Young people play the game so much that their basic functions gradually wear out, people start going to the hospital for more examination.“, Said Lee, who works at St. Mary’s Hospital at the Catholic University of Korea. He wondered if this was just a temporary passion, or could it turn into a new addictive element?
The Korean government asked the same question. In 2002, another psychologist put a worrying estimate: about 20% to 40% of Korean teenagers showed signs of game addiction, such as showing aggression to their parents or losing their ability to manage their time. space. In 2005, the Seoul government opened internet addiction and video game centers, allowing participants to mingle with nature to forget about computer screens.
According to Lee, video games are getting more and more attractive, with elements designed to “Players sit back as long as possible”. In 1998, Nexon invented a “free-to-play” model, which allowed players to freely play the game but spend money to truly experience all the elements that the game brought. The Pandora box opened, and other game companies followed Nexon, creating games with incentives to recharge, with a mechanism similar to gambling. Expert Lee sees another common ground in his patients, it is the debt that is flooded.
In 2011, after years of witnessing the harmful effects of excessive gaming, Mr. Lee said that video games were really addictive and that the disease could be cured; It is the factor that makes children sleep deprived and learning bad. That same year, the government passed the Shutdown Law, which prohibited children under 16 from participating in online games between 12 pm – 6 am; To date, this law is still valid.
In 2012, Mr. Lee shook hands with a new lawmaker named Shin Eui-jin – she had wanted to control game addiction since the beginning of her career. With the experience of a former child psychologist, Ms. Shin and many other colleagues only name “four evil” in Korean society: gambling, alcohol, drugs and … electric games death. Ms. Shin accused the game that was the cause of school violence and many crimes in society.
Mr. Lee stated that gaming might be more addictive than drugs, and when asked about removing “gaming” from the list of addictive elements, he made a controversial statement. “I’d rather leave drugs out”. Later, he intended to correct that the above quote was quoted without context, “I mean, we should have a legal system to prevent and cure problems that cover more than substance abuse.”.
The Shutdown Act was passed quickly, but Congress rejected Ms. Shin’s proposal. Although medical expert Lee insisted that game addiction was real, many parties claimed there was no evidence to support what Lee and Ms. Shin presented. The new law, which considers video games as dangerous as alcohol and drugs, was not passed and overshadowed over the years.
Until recently …
On May 25, 2019, a member of the World Health Organization acknowledged the existence of a “gaming disorder”, defined as “pattern shows persistent or recurring gaming”, Accompanied by a host of uncontrolled and depraved behaviors. This is only the second globally recognized addictive behavior, aside from gambling that has been confirmed since 1990.
This concept, accompanied by a book redefining how to identify global illness ICD-11, will officially take effect in 2022, along with a series of changes to the things we are used to. For example, stroke will be a problem in the nervous system rather than in circulation; or “gender identity disorder” will be “genderally inappropriate”, not considered mental disorder anymore.
For years, researchers wanted to find the impact of video games, in order to gain evidence of linking the game with its addictive potential and violence but failed. Many people’s views that it is a groundless idea that someone may be addicted to a certain behavior, rather than being addicted to the substance (such as alcohol or drugs). Many people believe that the definition of “game addiction” has no use in practice.
For people like psychologist Lee, the WHO decision is similar to the claim that game addiction is real. The basis for WHO to make this judgment is the judgment of a group of psychologists; reports from this group, which are held annually from 2014 to 2017, highlight the benefits that government intervention in the gaming industry brings, in addition to the “Noticeable progress”In preventing, treating and studying the aspect of gaming addiction.
But not everyone agrees with the above reports. According to a newly published study, up to 91 out of 614 game addiction research results from 2013-2017 came from South Korea, making the country’s researchers the largest contributor. The study author, Professor Yoon Tae-jin from Yonsei University, said that the majority of the studies were too general, considering “gaming” as a separate category without pointing out specific game or certain genre. Most studies have a tendency to capture hats: immediately assume that game addiction is real, and there is no attempt to prove the existence of game addiction by scientific means.
Many believe that Asian countries, such as South Korea, which are more sensitive to game addiction than Western countries, are too serious about WHO’s claim to bring game addiction into ICD-11. In August 2016, psychologist Christopher Ferguson proposed that WHO should not add game addiction to ICD-11, saying that a final claim could not be made. Geoffrey Reed, one of the ICD-11 project participants, said many Asian countries urged WHO to recognize game addiction as a serious problem; however, an email later came from Vladimir Poznyak, who works at the WHO substance abuse committee, denying earlier remarks about the political pressure affecting the WHO decision to release ICD-11. .
Surprisingly, the WHO decision has opened up more controversy, but not the issue. Even within the government there was disagreement: Last May, the Korean culture minister refused to attend a consultation meeting proposed by the health minister, so the decision to redefine “Game addiction” delayed indefinitely. Lee Nak-yeon, the Prime Minister of South Korea must hold a hearing to make a final decision on the question “Is Korea adopting ICD-11”.
The WHO decision raises controversies from many sides, making headlines in both the intellectual community and global gaming forums, with one of the biggest questions:
Is a psychological disorder or a defense mechanism of the brain helping players to ease psychological damage?
When I went to see him in the office, I realized that expert Lee was extremely upset. This 50-year-old psychologist is thin and pale. The clumsy, unprofessional attitude does not give people the impression that Mr. Lee is leading a large-scale propaganda campaign. The controversial statement about “game addiction” makes Lee Hae-kook expert become the “enemy” of the gaming community.
At the beginning of the talk, he complained about fake news created by game journalists, to distort his views and obscure a growing public health crisis. “Arguing over whether to call [việc nghiện game] being sick or not is really a waste of time”He said. Specialist Lee said that the medical authority has spoken, what else is there to argue?
To visually describe the danger that game addiction poses, Mr. Lee tells about a patient who just came to him, an unemployed young man aged 25: his older sister dragged him to treatment after finding out. $ 18,000 debt that young people borrowed to buy in-game items. As a teenager, he played games for 2-3 hours a day and was not interested in studying. According to Mr. Lee, as an adult, he “spend 10 hours online every day, 5 hours playing games and 5 hours watching YouTube”.
I asked Mr. Lee about the treatment, thinking it would be very complicated psychological tests. But surprisingly, expert Lee diagnosed that these signs of addiction would gradually turn into hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, a combination of problems that are hard to notice, hyperactive. Excessive and impulsive behavior. Besides, Mr. Lee also found that he had symptoms of depression, so when he was given the medicine to treat this psychological disease, the young man made some progress.
When asked what made these diagnoses “gaming disorders”, not ADHD and depression, Lee explained that “Excessive gaming can cause ADHD-like symptoms”.
The questions back and forth around the big disagreement appeared before the WHO’s claim: Is excessive gaming a separate disorder, or does this behavior only cause many other symptoms? Current studies confirm that people with “gaming disorders” (according to WHO) are more likely to suffer from ADHD and depression, but neuroscientists and psychiatrists who do not. concurred with Lee’s claim – arguing that the correlation between the two factors is not necessarily causal. In 2017, a debate erupted, participants disagreeing with the WHO decision to affirm the existence of a “gaming disorder,” and they believed that this behavior should be interpreted as Self-defense mechanism against the psychological problems of the individual.
Lee argues that there is no need to argue about wasting time, while the WHO says so.
In the eyes of Korean gamers, Mr. Lee’s campaign for the community showed that the legitimacy of the game addiction stems from the fact that experts do not understand the confusion in public opinion. The attempt to associate violent crimes with the game – a statement dismissed by criminologists – left Lee hated by the gaming community. Not to mention that Mr. Lee compared video games to drugs.
In 2018, after quitting his job at one of South Korea’s biggest gaming companies, the 41-year-old designer opened his own YouTube channel, where he raised his views on incidents surrounding legalizing game addiction. He criticized the companies that made the game “disguised as slot machines” – things that make gamers entangled in debts of tens of thousands of dollars, besides he raised questions related to the shortcomings of researchers, when it is not possible to specify which games have a gambling engine – addictive elements that are recognized and games that require players to solve problems creatively.
“The effects created for the player psychology of some games and games are much more complex than things like alcohol. But to judge game addiction without clearly defining the type of game? It was ridiculousKim said.
Kim sees the use of video games as a kind of pathology as an act of using the authority to bully others into the youth, an autocratic attitude that has existed for a long time. He recalled the incident taking place at the orphanage, where the caretakers gave the children ADHD medicine prescribed by the doctor, with the diagnosis “So immersed in smartphones”. Kim believes the same way people look at “video game disorders”.
“It sounds like the way doctors approach a problem is to simply cut away a very basic human urge. With me, the decision [của WHO] This is similar to the fact that they think there is no problem prescribing [rối loạn tâm lý] for children with learning delays”, Mr. Kim commented.
Korean design experts want more debate, opening new perspectives on the experience of young people. He pointed out the connection between the problem in the game industry and the authoritarian parents or the pressure on the school chair.
It is true that Korea has become one of the most powerful economies in Asia, which does not mean that Korean youth have richer social life. Young Koreans are constrained by a harsh education system, pushed into fierce competition. Even expert Lee Hae-kook himself must admit that gaming is one of the few pleasures of modern Korean youth. This sad note is probably also the only thing in common between expert Lee and those who do not agree.
No matter how bad the game shows up, no one can dislodge its position in popular culture. The global gaming market was valued at US $ 152 billion in 2019, and the gaming community has over 2.5 billion members. Esports is worth more than $ 1 billion, is expected to double by 2022 and people are considering making e-sport a sport at the Olympics.
Looking at Edgar Choi, the former StarCraft player could clearly see how wide the e-sport path was. He has just retired from the role of head coach of GenG, a Korean esports organization known worldwide. From May 2018 until 5/2020, Mr. Choi led the young League of Legends players.
Looking at the headquarters of GenG located in Gangnam district, from the gane playing room, the gym to the first-class kitchen with full of food and waiters, we can clearly see the huge investment in the fledgling industry. star. In Korea – the cradle of esports in the world, pro gamers are gradually becoming one of the career paths that many people pursue. “Only 10% of trainees become professional“Mr. Choi remarked, adding that”in the old times, he could not imagine that [việc chơi game] could become an industry like it is now”.
For Mr. Choi, an adult who has also been a billion-dollar industry since the early days, he is still a toddler, the idea of ”game addiction” feels old-fashioned. Choi wants to guide her children away from the world of extreme sports, and to train them to play healthier gaming habits.
He is more worried about smartphones than the most advanced entertainment. According to him, children today cling to smartphones that watch YouTube, join social networks, read comics and play “free-to-play” games. When the WHO began to support the claims that “game addiction is also a psychological disorder”, the Korean government began taking actions aimed at daily smartphone usage.
Perhaps the generation that grew up with StarCraft has begun to notice an invisible shadow lurking in the future of their children, similar to the way their ancestors perceived the temptations of their time to draw themselves and the generation. next.