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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
S Korean dies after games session
Screenshot of Starcraft: Ghost developed by Blizzard
Online gaming is treated like a sport in South Korea
A South Korean man has died after reportedly playing an online computer game for 50 hours with few breaks.

The 28-year-old man collapsed after playing the game Starcraft at an internet cafe in the city of Taegu, according to South Korean authorities.

The man had not slept properly, and had eaten very little during his marathon session, said police.

Multi-player gaming in South Korea is extremely popular thanks to its fast and widespread broadband network.

Games are televised and professional players are treated, as well as paid, like sports stars.

Professional gamers there attract huge sums in sponsorship and can make more than $100,000 a year.

They are the types of games that completely engross the player. They are not games that you can play for 20 minutes and stop
Professor Mark Griffiths
The man, identified by his family name, Lee, started playing Starcraft on 3 August. He only paused playing to go to the toilet and for short periods of sleep, said the police.

"We presume the cause of death was heart failure stemming from exhaustion," a Taegu provincial police official told the Reuters news agency.

He was taken to hospital following his collapse, but died shortly after, according to the police. It is not known whether he suffered from any previous health conditions.

They added that he had recently been fired from his job because he kept missing work to play computer games.

Small minority

Online computer games are some of the most popular and largest growth areas in interactive entertainment.

Players can easily get immersed and feel compelled to play for hours at a stretch, particuarly in massively multiplayer online role playing games - MMORPGs - in which thousands of gamers play and interact in shared fantasy or science fiction worlds.

Reports of gamers spending 10 to 15 hours a day in front of video games, such as the highly popular World of Warcraft and EverQuest, are becoming more frequent. Experts say gamers should take regular screen breaks.

Psychologist Professor Mark Griffiths, author of several in-depth studies into online gaming and gambling addiction, told the BBC News website that, according to his research, playing excessively was not problematic in any shape or form for the majority of gamers.

He said: "It does seem to be the case that online gaming addiction for a small minority is a real phenomenon and people suffer the same symptoms as traditional addictions.

Screenshot of EverQuest
MMORPGs are social and immersive so require long periods of play
"But the good news is that it is a small minority."

In one detailed survey of 540 gamers, Professor Griffith and his team found that there were four playing more than 80 hours a week, which is considered "excessive".

He explained many people liked to play MMORPGs for long periods of time because of the social aspect of the games.

"They are the types of games that completely engross the player. They are not games that you can play for 20 minutes and stop.

"If you are going to take it seriously, you have to spend time doing it," he said.

But he warned there was a difference between "healthy enthusiasm" and "unhealthy addiction." People who sacrificed jobs, partners and loved ones were considered "extreme players".

Unlike help for traditional addictions, such as gambling, there is very little help for computer game addiction, he said.

"It is not taken seriously yet - it is the same for internet addiction," he said.

He advised anyone worried about gaming addictions should contact their local GP and get referred to a psychologist.

More than 15 million people, or 30% of the population, are registered for online gaming in South Korea. The country also host the annual World Cyber Games.

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