Internet addiction can be tragic |

Internet addiction can be tragic

Alan Maguire, The Park Record

In 2010, a South Korean couple was arrested, making international headlines. The couple would engage in long online-gaming sessions at Internet cafés, returning home from one session to find their three-month-old daughter starved to death.

"Love Child" is an entry in this year’s World Documentary Competition category at the Sundance Film Festival and it grapples with that couple’s story, but also the related gaming and Internet culture in South Korea.

"People are shocked." That’s the most common reaction people have when director Valerie Veatch has conversations about the Korean couple. But, she says, the film attempts to "turn the shock into understanding."

South Korea is known for its superior access to high-speed Internet and that’s why the film’s producer, David Foox, isn’t surprised that it’s the setting for the tragic couple’s story.

"It’s definitely the advanced technological state of the nation. They have had high-speed Internet for so much longer than we [in the United States] have had high-speed Internet, and on a much larger scale," he says.

The immersive-ness of popular and addictive Korean games is incorporated into "Love Child" though actual gaming footage.

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How serious a problem is Internet and online gaming addiction in South Korea? It’s now being classified and regulated more like alcohol and tobacco, Foox says.

"Nobody likes the regulation," Veatch says. "Like, after midnight, if you’re under a certain age, you can’t log on [to online games], and you have to log on with your government ID."

"Depending on your age is how long you can play," Foox explains. "And once midnight strikes — they call it the Cinderella law — because at midnight your ID no longer works and your game is turned off. But as with all regulation there’s always a way around and, you know, you could always use your grandmother’s ID. She can play all night."

The country’s leading role in technology also means it often sets public policy and legal precedents when it comes to technology policy elsewhere in the world.

"Like cell phones," Veatch says, "what the government can look at, how they can access it, what the policy relationship is between cell phone companies and government — all of that policy came from Korea. So a lot of tech policy is written in Korea, translated in the U.S. and kind of taken up here."

"The context of the story," Veatch explains, involves "the socioeconomic development of Korea, the industry in Korea and how that impacts the cycle of user technology, gaming, early-adoption – they’re calling it gaming addiction or gaming over-immersion — there’s a lot of words they’re using for it.

"We had all kinds of peripheral stories that we thought were interesting," Veatch says about making the documentary. "I think the point of the film is two-fold. One is that there’s no distinct difference between the virtual world and the real world in terms of how the mind perceives experiences."

"The second thing is that the virtual space is designed by us and is a reflection of our endeavors as a society and is therefore fallible, as humanity is, and so, examining how these devices are designed and how we’re provoked to interact with each other through them, games or whatever, is I think the point of the film too."

Veatch and Foox are no strangers to Sundance – their first feature documentary, "Me at the Zoo," screened at the film festival two years ago. This time around, they added a challenge with the bilingual nature of the film.

"I think, on one hand that poses a challenge," Foox says. "There’s a lot of Korean and a lot of English — but also the storytelling had to be bilingual, had to feel right to a Korean audience and then feel right to a U.S. audience.

"I think we did it!"

"Love Child" is one of 12 titles in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Competition and is screening:

  • Friday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City
  • Saturday, Jan. 18, at 11:59 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City
  • Sunday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. at the Redstone Cinema 2, Park City
  • Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 12:15 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City
  • Friday, Jan. 24, at 3 p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City