Korean Gaming Addiction Facility Using German Sci-Fi Novel To Aid In Recovery

By McCarton Ackerman 09/25/15

A VICE News report uncovered a strange approach to treating video game addiction.

Michael Ende's Momo
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If a science-fiction author can create an entire religion in the form of Scientology, can a German sci-fi novel serve as a guidebook for helping people overcoming gaming addiction?

Dr. Lee Tae Kyung, the creator of a South Korean rehab clinic for gaming addiction called "Happy Off to Recovery Autonomy," or HORA, uses the 1970s' book by Michael Ende called Momo as the template for his patients.

The novel depicts a dystopian future in which sinister paranormal creatures called Men in Grey have convinced humans to give up leisure and socializing in order to save time. His treatment program is even named after Master Hora, the administer of time who helps the child protagonist Momo defeat the Men in Grey.

"When we participate in a video game, the time in the game is faster than real time," he explained. "Gamers do not feel the passing of time in the real world. Because of that, their sleep schedule is disturbed and they forget their schedules—even what they have to do for the future."

His inpatient program requires no electronic device use for a month, group counseling and a structured schedule each day. Reading and musical instruments are used as a way to break the patients’ gaming fixation and help them develop healthier interests.

“I played computer games because I had no will to achieve other things,” said 24-year-old Kim Sang-ho, a former patient whose online game binges lasted up to 27 hours. “If I think about the criteria for alcoholism and substitute gaming for alcohol, it seems correct to say I'm addicted.”

But unlike other forms of addiction, Kyung does not advocate total abstinence from gaming. Kim still games post-treatment, but he said it’s now limited to no more than two hours per day and the obsession has been lifted.

The issue of gaming addiction continues to remain dicey. South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family reports that 14% of adolescents in the country have an Internet or smartphone addiction. However, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not recognize gaming as a legitimate addiction.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.