In March 2010, a South Korean couple was arrested for the death of their three-month-old daughter, Sarang, which means “love” in Korean. Autopsy revealed that she was severely underweight, dropping from her birth weight at 6.4 pounds to 5.5, and died of malnutrition. While tragic on its own, the story expands to an ironic twist: the couple neglected their real-life child to take care of a digital one in a video game.
Police revealed that Sarang had slowly starved because her parents, both unemployed and living in poverty, would leave her along for up to six to 12 hours while visiting a nearby internet cafe to play a massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game called Prius, now retitled Arcane Saga Online. The basic concept of the game is that your character has a small companion called an Anima. Depending on how your build your relationship with your Anima determines her personality and strength. The stronger the bond, the better chance you have in a fight.
The criminal investigation and trial ultimately shed light on a particular mental illness many are subject to, but was never considered in this situation until then: both parents were suffering a crippling case of video game addiction. Upon this revelation, the couple weren’t made to go to prison; however, the father did volunteer himself for incarceration as an act of contrition.
This story stands front and center as a prime example in director Valerie Veatch’s documentary Love Child, which explores the South Korea’s cultural implications impacted by having the one of the most expansive broadband internet infrastructures in the world. The question now is whether or not video game addiction should be seen as a genuine malady and “as a mitigating factor in crimes” akin to psychological problems and substance abuse.
“South Korea’s Internet economy is worth $7.9 billion, and makes up 7% of the country’s gross domestic product. Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would classify Internet and online gaming addiction as a mitigating factor in criminal prosecutions, along with addiction to gambling, drugs and alcohol. […] A psychiatrist consulted in the case explains that it all came down to one question: ‘Is the brain of a patient with game addiction the same as the brain of the patient with substance addictions?’ — Love Child synopsis, HBO