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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 00:32 GMT
South Korea's gaming addicts
Young South Korean men taking part in gaming competition, Seoul
South Korea is a world leader in online gaming

South Korea is one of the most wired societies in the world.

More than half the population has access to the internet, and there are more than 25,000 cyber cafes - known here as PC Bangs - which are open 24 hours a day across the country.

The country is a global leader when it comes to number of people who can access broadband, or high speed internet services, with the number of broadband subscribers exceeding 10 million.

It is a paradise for online gamers, who come from all over the world to play in South Korea.

Kim Kyung-jae, who died after playing non-stop computer games for three days
Kim Kyung-jae died after playing non-stop for 86 hours
The government has been behind efforts to promote South Korea as an IT and cyber leader. But the more negative impacts of over-reliance on the web have only been recently acknowledged and are starting to be addressed.

An extreme case of internet obsession hit the news headlines last month when 24-year-old Kim Kyung-jae collapsed and died after playing computer games at an internet cafe in the south-western city of Kwangju.

He had been playing virtually non-stop for 86 hours.

"The only breaks he had where when he briefly stopped to buy cigarettes and use the toilet," said Detective Hong Gun-hee, the investigating officer.

"These days, there aren't many places where young people can go.

"PC bangs are open 24 hours a day - and there is every potential that another case like this could happen again."

Web addicts

Mr Kim did not have a full time job. His mother, Choi Yong-soon, is still trying to make sense of his death.

"I told him not to spend so much time on the internet", she explained. "He just said 'yes mum', but kept on playing.

If I went home at five, I'd play until two in the morning

Ki Kyoung-soo
"There's something wrong with the system - how can it be that young people can play games day and night.

"There should be better controls so things like this don't happen."

But efforts are already under way to try to tackle the growing problem of internet addiction - with more than a third of web users thought to be at risk of dependency.

Some on-line counselling services have been launched and in April, the first government-funded organisation - the Centre for Internet Addiction Prevention and Counselling - began operating.

"We diagnose internet addiction as a compulsive disorder like pathological gambling or eating disorder," said Lee Sujin, a psychologist and researcher at the centre.

"Youngsters who become obsessed by the internet have (experienced) failure at school. They have less interaction with their family and friends and get lonelier."

The centre is carrying out research work on cyber addiction. Addicts typically spend more than four hours a day of non-work-related time on the internet.

But experts say the definition of an addict is less to do with the number of hours spent online, but more about the central role computers and the internet can play in someone's life.

Symptoms include:

  • Preoccupation with the internet
  • The inability to perform normal tasks in everyday life
  • Losing control over yourself
  • The disruption of daily routines and lifestyles
  • Feeling nervous and anxious when not online

    At a recent counselling session at Sangmyung Vocational High School in north-eastern Seoul, organised by the Centre for Internet Addiction Prevention, six teenage boys were discussing their life goals.

    They drew pictures of what they would like to do when they leave school. Visualising their dreams can help addicts wake up to reality and reduce time spent at the computer, counsellors believe.

    Moderation needed

    Ki Kyoung-soo, 17, admitted he typically spent half a day on the internet, but said he wanted to cut down.

    "If I went home at five, I'd play until two in the morning," he said. "In the holidays, I'd play until five in the morning - 12 straight hours.

    "I had trouble sleeping. When I was in bed, I would stay awake, just wanting to play games again."

    Counsellor Lhee Hurn-gyu, who holds weekly sessions, said he did not advocate a complete ban on internet usage.

    "The internet is something we live with and we need to use," he said. "What we are trying to do here is to control and reduce the time that people spend on the internet."

    But the spell of cyberspace and its fantasy world can be hard to break. For many, the hardest decision they may have to make is when to turn the computer off for another day.

    Click to watch Caroline Gluck's report

    See also:

    13 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
    26 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
    20 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
    06 May 00 | Science/Nature
    17 Mar 02 | Health
    26 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
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