New Film Explores Gaming Addiction Behind Tragic Infant Death

By Victoria Kim 07/23/14

The documentary 'Love Child' explores the tragic and unnecessary death of child neglect in South Korea brought on by gaming addiction.

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In 2009, a South Korean couple was arrested for allowing their infant daughter to starve to death while they fed their addiction to online gaming. The three-month-old Sarang, Korean for “love,” died of malnutrition while her mother and father cared for a virtual child in 6- to 12-hour online binges.

The case raised a new legal precedent: Could online gaming be grouped with gambling, drugs, and drinking as an addiction that impairs a person’s judgment enough to make such a fatal mistake? The couple confessed to charges of involuntary manslaughter. With addiction as a defense, the court reduced the prosecution’s requested five-year sentence to a two-year sentence for the father, Kim Jae-Beom. The mother, pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time of the trial, did not serve time but received a three-year suspended sentence.

Five years have passed since the tragedy, but the questions it raised about our relationship with the Internet are more relevant than ever. The documentary “Love Child” documents the 2010 trial by talking to those involved in the case, game developers, professors, as well as the couple and their family.

The documentary, which debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on HBO on July 28, seeks an explanation for such horrific negligence in a country where an estimated two million people are addicted to video games. “The virtual space isn’t going away, but the way we use it and what we are accomplishing by spending time in this space will transform as we understand how to design technologies that support our human-ness and our social institutions, like family,” director Valerie Veatch told The Daily Beast.

In the 1990s, the South Korean government poured funding into building the best broadband infrastructure in the world. But gaming addiction has become a serious problem, resulting in a growing number of clinics and new legislation such as outlawing children under 16 from gaming between midnight and 6 a.m.

“There is not a one-stop answer to ‘Internet addiction,’ instead I think it is a dialogue between users, technology companies, and infrastructure policy bodies that will help us understand how to sustain our human attributes as we have increasingly meaningful experiences in virtual spaces,” said Veatch.

In the film, the couple’s lawyer promised that they learned their lesson and have sworn off gaming to focus on caring for their real-life baby.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr