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Video game curfew for South Korean teens to be more permissive by end of 2021

Decade-old policy starting to look silly amid myriad of online late-night vices available to them

South Korea is lightening up on a 2011 law that blocked video game access from midnight until 6 am for players under the age of 16 in an effort to curb adolescent gaming addiction.

The announcement was made by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Wednesday. The country aims to abolish the law, known as the Youth Protection Revision Act, by the end of the 2021.

The nightly shutdown was supposed to target PC gaming but ended up also affecting consoles ... Minecraft become an R-rated game in South Korea

“By respecting the youth's right to self-determination and the right to education at home, the plan supports the establishment of a healthy game and leisure culture of youth in an autonomous way,” said a Ministry of Gender Equality and Family statement translated from Korean.

The ministry added the policy had been reexamined in consideration of the fact that other advanced countries leave self-regulating of gaming to individuals and families.

Critics of the law, often referred to as the “Shutdown Law” or “Cinderella Law,” accused the government of overreach and operating in an arena that should be controlled by parents.

Others pointed out that minors could simply use an alternative log-on, for example, one created with their parent personal information. Industry groups like The Korea Association of the Game Industry were also unhappy at feeling branded as having ill-intent or being made to look like drug dealers.

Under the law, companies who weren’t compliant faced up to 10 million won ($8,500) in fines and up to two years in jail.

When the law came into effect a decade ago, it faced a few challenges. For one, the nightly shutdown was supposed to target PC gaming but ended up also affecting consoles, according to reports, and due to practicality, Sony's PlayStation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live restricted adult accounts and Minecraft become an R-rated game in South Korea.

As time went on, mobile games increased in popularity, as did content streaming, social media, and other entertainment platforms, and the gaming restriction, among oodles of nonrestricted applications and content, started to look a little silly.

In 2012, the government instituted a “choice system” whereas per-game permits allowed individualized hour designation outside of the standard 6 am to midnight range.

The new policy will reassign the choice system application process to the Culture Ministry’s Game Culture Foundation and widen who can apply for such permits on a minor’s behalf to include legal guardians, teachers or social workers, thus making them easier to obtain.

'Spiritual opium'

South Korea may have been the first country to institute video game curfews, but if China didn’t beat South Korea to it, the Middle Kingdom certainly outdid the country on strictness and rhetoric. China’s policy bans under-18s from gaming from 10 pm til 8 am and limits weekday game time to just an hour and a half. Weekends and holidays get you 3 hours. One’s hardly going to win gaming competitions on that.

China-state media has even referred to gaming as “spiritual opium” and taken other curbing measures, like requiring gamers to use their real names. Videogame maker Tencent even added facial recognition to its services to enforce the time limits.

As for Korea, the lessening of restriction comes with a strengthening of outreach programs that address gaming culture and media literacy, inclusive of content for adults on youth gaming addiction. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family also said they will offer rehab services to youth displaying excessive video game tendencies. ®

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