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South Korea presidential candidates consider changing law that restricts when kids can play video games

South Korea Shutdown Law
Gamers in South Korea have new hope for the end of the Shutdown Law in the next presidential term.

Gamers in South Korea have new hope for the end of the Shutdown Law in the next presidential term.

Four out of the five South Korean presidential candidates from major political parties have included “easing regulations on gaming” as a platform, with one of them promising a “full revision of the Shutdown Law” as a campaign promise, reports GameMeca’s Kim Mee-hee.

South Korea’s Digital Economy Council sent questions to each candidate regarding “digital policies” ahead of next Tuesday’s presidential election. The recorded and published responses included the Democratic Party’s Moon Jae-in, the People’s Party’s Ahn Chul-soo, the Bareun Party’s Yoo Seung-min, and the Justice Party’s Shim Sang-jeong.

The Shutdown Law, the poster child of gaming regulation by the government in Korea, passed in 2011 and outlawed any children 16 or younger from playing any game from 13 major gaming corporations from midnight to 6 a.m. With the grand majority of online games in Korea necessitating the verification of personal information — including the player’s date of birth — gamers criticized the law for actively blocking the way of prospective professionals. The law has even led to tales of players using their parents’ information to play games during the outlawed times.

Yoo said “the various regulations on gaming including the Shutdown Law must be revised” for the rapidly competitive digital content industry, and Shim said the use of “Public Key Certificates, over-censoring online posts, the invasive information collection of phone records and user information by intelligence agencies, and examples like the Shutdown Law” are an invasion of privacy, while also getting in the way of free speech and cultural accessibility.

The focus on the revision of gaming regulation in the presidential elections is getting a lot of attention from the Korean gaming industry, which has been tirelessly appealing for an outright repeal of policies like the Shutdown Law. The heavy regulation of gaming is argued to bolster the perception that gaming should be controlled like addictive substances, such as alcohol and drugs, which creates a platform of negative prejudice against the industry and those who wish to become professional gamers. Industry experts such as professor Wi Jeong-hyeon of Choong-Ang University reportedly described the past 10 years as the “dark ages of the gaming industry,” by The Korean economic Daily, before putting his support behind candidate Moon.

The negative perception towards gaming is a topic of discussion among pro gamers in Korea, especially Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the world’s best League of Legends player. Faker has used his status and mainstream reach on multiple occasions in order to attempt to change the perception of gaming in Korea, and he has been quoted multiple times saying he finds it a personal quest to do so.

“I want to show that esports is a healthy sport and is internationally competitive,” Faker said last July. He echoed that sentiment in January, when he told Sports Chosun: “I think this is also my job to correct” the negative perception of gamers.

League of Legends is seen as the best platform to change perceptions as of late, specifically because of its worldwide appeal and Korea’s strong international performances. South Korea hosted the League of Legends World Championship in 2014, and its teams have won four championships, including three by Faker’s team, SK Telecom T1. The recent hike in world championship winnings has also grabbed the attention of parents and outsiders, seemingly giving it a stronger sense of legitimacy.

There appears to be some steady changes in parental perception of professional gaming. In a recent KeSPA-hosted League of Legends tryout, which invited 40 Master tier players to perform in front of the staff members of nine gaming organizations who have played in Korea’s professional league, 10 parents were also present to show their support for their children. Often the largest wall between a player and a professional, it’s possible a change of gaming regulation could allow more parents to be more open minded about their children’s wishes to become pro gamers.

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