SEOUL, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Online game addiction has taken a toll on South Korean society, resulting in a string of appalling crimes that often involved youngsters.
A middle school student scolded for excessive gaming killed his mother then committed suicide last year; a high school student jumped to his death after having had conflicts with parents over his gaming habits earlier this year some of tragic incidents that showed the dark side of one of the world's most electronically-connected societies.
The rate of Internet addiction among elementary and high school students stood at 12.4 percent last year, more than twice that of adults, according to a report released by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.
The streets of Seoul are dotted with Internet cafes, called PC bangs, where youngsters spend hours on end playing online games.
Hence, as part of its efforts to battle online game addictions among teenagers, South Korea introduced a law that prohibits those aged under 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6 a.m.
The so-called shutdown law finally came into force on November 20 after having caused so much uproar over its effectiveness.
The law mainly targets PC online games as well as consoles with online features. It allows a two-year grace period for smartphone and tablet PC games before reconsidering if they should be included, as online game addictions on those platforms are not considered as serious problem.
However, this law remains highly controversial with doubts remaining over its competence to prevent youngsters from becoming web addicts.
Those who oppose the law argue that having such curfew system is not reasonable in a democratic society, as it violates youngsters' rights to self-determination and the pursuit of happiness.
"Not once did the government take youngsters' opinions into consideration when making this law. It deprives the youngsters of their right to self-determination, that is to say, they have no right to decide whether they will play games or sleep at night," said Jung So-yeon, an activist from a Seoul-based civic organization, Cultural Action.
She also said the government created the law without understanding the circumstances in which games have become an integral part of youth culture.
"If the government raises objections against the act of playing games, it will lead to regulations and control of the culture exercised by most teens. Indeed, many teens play games, and what we need to do is to study ways to better understand this online gaming culture among teens. This will help games serve as a good cultural content for teens," said Jung.
She criticized the law for having too many loopholes and too many exemptions to cure game addictions among teens, calling it a "coercive and violent act" that will only hamper the country's web development.
Critics of the law agree with the futility of the new system, since young kids will easily circumvent the government's censorship by using their parents' identities. The age verification process in South Korea is mostly done by confirming one's social security number, which contains a person's date of birth, and it is not difficult for most kids to attain their parents' social security numbers.
However, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs, which proposed the shutdown law, said the implementation of the system is of great significance and dismissed criticism about the law having little impact, if any.
"South Korea took the lead in adopting such system in the world. And since it is in the early stage of the implementation, it is more appropriate to gradually expand the scope of the law after considering its application possibility and efficiency, rather than applying it widely from the beginning," said Kim Sung- byuk, a director at the Ministry.
He said that the genuine purpose of this law is to protect teenagers'basic rights.
"Teenagers must sleep or rest at night to grow healthy and to be away from the complexity of society. It is the time of the day when children need to take a rest while preparing for their social roles next day," said Kim.
Children under the direct influence of the shutdown system had varied reactions. 13-year-old Kim Jung-soo said he doesn't like the new system because it will take away his only enjoyment.
"I will not be able to play games that I want because this system restricts playing time. I will have nothing to do when I get bored, so I want this system to be removed," said Kim.
There were others who supported the shutdown system because it would help students find ways to spend their night time doing something more valuable, instead of playing games.
"I think the shutdown system is good because it prohibits playing games at night, and that we can do other things like going to bed early or studying further," said 15-year-old Huh Seul-chan.