Fri, Sep 02, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Diehard S Korean gamers battle to the death

ONLINE OBSESSION Game addiction has become a big problem in the country, where millions devote hours -- and even days -- to playing games on the Internet


South Korean office worker Yun Jong-gu plays an online computer game at an Internet cafe after work in Seoul yesterday. More than 70 percent of South Korea's population of 48 million uses the Internet, and the country has the highest per-capita rate of broadband connections in the world.


Keyboard and mouse in hand, he battled until nearly his last breath.

The death of Lee, a 28-year-old man identified only by his last name who passed away early last month after nearly 50 straight hours of playing online computer games, has South Korea concerned about the health of the millions of gamers in the world's most wired country.

Many of South Korea's 17 million gamers regularly stroll into Internet cafes, the 1,000 won-per-hour (US$1) hangout popular among young South Koreans, and camp out in front of monitors to play for hours -- and even sometimes days or longer.

"I've seen people who play games for months, just briefly going home for a change of clothing, taking care of all their eating and sleeping here," said Jun Mung-gyu, 27, who runs an Internet cafe in southeastern Seoul.

More than 70 percent of South Korea's population of 48 million uses the Internet, and the country has the highest per-capita rate of broadband connections in the world. With all that access has come the rising problem of Internet addiction.

The number of counseling sessions for game addiction quadrupled last year from the previous year, a government agency said last week. There were 8,978 cases of counseling for game addition last year, compared with 2,243 cases in 2003, according to data released by the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion.

This year, there have already been 7,649 counseling sessions in the first seven months.

"The rise is mostly due to increased awareness of game addiction," said agency official Jang Woo-min. "More people are becoming aware of the importance of healthy and productive usage of computers."

Gamers camped out at Internet cafes typically live on instant cup noodles and cigarettes, barely sleeping and seldom washing. Lee wasn't the first to die of such causes in this game-crazed nation: In 2002, a man expired in Kwangju after 86 hours of marathon gaming, among others.

Lee collapsed Aug. 5 in Daegu after having eaten minimally and not sleeping, and died a few hours after being transported to a hospital. Doctors presume Lee died of heart failure, although no autopsy was performed.

Internet cafe proprietor Jun himself isn't far removed from his game-addict days. Just a year ago, Jun found himself playing up to 15 hours of online role-playing games a day, which gave him constant headaches and cramps in his neck and shoulders.

"You have no life, you only focus on gaming, putting off all things like getting a haircut," recalled Jun, who said he felt obligated to return to the games every morning when he woke up.

Jun eventually was able to pull himself out of the addiction a few months ago as work began to occupy more of his time. That wasn't the case for the deceased gamer Lee, whose addiction led him to often miss work and got him fired from his job.

Physicians working with professional e-sports teams recommend gamers rest 10 minutes with their eyes closed after every five matches, and never play in the same posture for more than two hours.

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