South Korea was in shock today after police arrested a couple Wednesday for child neglect that allegedly caused their 3-month-old daughter to starve to death. The husband, 41, and wife, 25, were addicted to online games, spending up to 12 hours every night at Internet cafes, police said.
Known only as the Kims because their first names are protected under Korean privacy law, the couple met in 2008 on an Internet chat Web site. Throughout their marriage and birth of their baby daughter in June 2009, the couple, both unemployed, lived with the wife's parents. The Kims spent most of their time playing Internet games at local cafes called "PC bangs," even during the wife's pregnancy, officials said.
An estimated 30,000 PC bangs are spread throughout the country, open 24 hours. The dimly-lit Internet parlors practically sit on every street corner equipped with high-speed broadband, packed with young loyal gamers, and often polluted with cigarette smoke. Roughly half the Korean population plays online games regularly, according to the Korean Game Industry Agency, which is partly sponsored by the government.
"They called in last September to report that they found their daughter dead after coming back home in the morning," Det. Chung Jin-Won of the Suwon Seobu Police Station said. "They had spent 12 hours, all night at a PC bang."
An autopsy by the National Institute of Scientific Investigation concluded that their daughter's death resulted from malnourishment. The Kims also confessed to police that they had been feeding rotten, powdered milk and had often spanked their crying baby.
Neglecting their daughter, who was born prematurely, the parents were instead preoccupied with raising a "virtual daughter" through an online game called "PRIUS,"' police authorities said. The multi-role-playing game allows players to choose a job, interact with others in the virtual world and even earn an extra avatar or a sub-character to nurture once they reach a certain level.
Game addiction has become a serious concern in South Korea. Frequent news of addicted gamers dropping dead from exhaustion, growing number of students skipping school and teenagers showing abnormally violent behavior have prompted the state to start searching for solutions.
The government has built a network of hundreds of counseling centers throughout the country and sponsored treatment programs at major hospitals. Boot camps for addicted kids are offered during summer and winter school breaks.
The phenomenon has yet to be medically researched and defined but experts such as Dr. Kim Sang Eun say it is a brain disease. "There's no certain clinical indicator to define 'game addiction' but our study shows that brain PET [scan] images of suspected online game addicts are very similar to that of a cocaine addict," Kim of Seoul National University Bundang Hospital said.
Kim warned that Koreans are especially vulnerable to the dangers of Internet addiction, living in the most wired nation in the world, with 95 percent of all households having a broadband connection.
Online games are also easily accessible via 3G technology that enables wireless connection on mobile phones. The number of mobile phones has already surpassed more than 100 percent of population.