How could two parents let their child die while playing video games? Can video game addiction really bring out the worst in people? A look back at a drama that turned the whole world upside down and raised important questions.
love story in korea
Dramas and sordid stories that made headlines, there have been a whole slew of them in the gaming world. “6 months later, he actually stabs the one who stabbed him in Counter Strike”, “A teenager kills his mother for a confiscated video game”, “Taiwanese player dies after 72 hours of non-stop play”… But there is one that has reached the heights of sordidness, causing the death of a poor baby… And yet nothing initially foreshadowed such a tragedy.
Our story even started rather well, a true little fairy tale of modern times placed under the sign of digital love. We are in South Korea more than ten years ago. Thousands of gamers have made their local cybercafé their second home, spending long hours there to practice a competitive game or have a good time on an MMORPG. Among them are Jae-beom and Yun-jeong. It is online that their paths cross to never leave each other. He is a taxi driver, she works at the factory, but despite their different lifestyles, they share a common passion: video games.
Over the games, the two Koreans get to know each other, to appreciate each other, so much so that they decide to take the plunge and meet in real life. It’s a real game! A beautiful love story was born. Jae-beom and Yun-jeong move to Suwon City together. If this name is perhaps familiar to you, it is because it is the city nicknamed Samsung City and one of the country’s most important “smart cities” (very tech-savvy). Suffice to say that for our two lovebirds, it is the absolute dream. Players by day, lovers in transit by night, they go hand in hand and write, page after page, their own story.
In 2009, a great chapter opens: Kim Yun-jeong becomes pregnant. Although somewhat distraught, the two Koreans welcome this news with joy. “Our little girl will be the fruit of true love”they say to themselves, no doubt, “our true love!” It is perhaps for this very poetic reason that he decides to name their little girl Sa-rang (from the Korean 사랑 sarang which means love). Very cute isn’t it? But behind this beautiful story hides a much darker reality, and the young Sa-rang will quickly and tragically pay the price.
Prius Online activated, baby forgotten
Jae-beom and Yun-jeong’s story isn’t much of a fairy tale after all. The two young people certainly seem to love each other, but unfortunately we cannot live on love and fresh water. A banal proverb that quickly becomes a dark reality when our two newlyweds lose their jobs. So without a source of income, they decide to turn their hobby into a job thanks to the gold farming.
The idea is simple: play as long as possible to collect as much money as possible. in-game and resell it for real money. An activity that can be very lucrative but also very time-consuming. But that does not scare our two lovebirds. So they roll up their sleeves and take over the local cybercafé. Each day, they spent 6 to 12 hours on Prius Online, an MMORPG then very popular in the country.
Later renamed Arcane Saga Online, Prius Online is not really an MMORPG like all the others. It offers a rather unusual game system, since it is based on three characters. And among them, there is the Anima, this endearing little companion that you can nurture and develop, like a small child. Between two sessions of farmJae-beom and Yun-jeong therefore take the opportunity to increase their bond with this little creature and see it flourish serenely. When it dies in-game, they even use some of their hard-earned currency to bring it back to life and take care of it even better. Good parents, aren’t they? Unfortunately no. Because in all this story, they forgot a very small detail: their own child…
In March 2010, the police were called to the couple’s home. Sang Yoon Han is part of the team and will probably remember all his life from this day. She discovers a dilapidated apartment where chaos reigns. In the middle of the waste, on what was his cradle, the inert body of a baby can be guessed, hidden under a white sheet. Sa-rang died at the age of three months of malnutrition…
Jae-beom and Yun-jeong are of course brought to justice. But the verdict delivered may unfortunately seem very lenient to you. For starving her baby, Jae-beom gets two short years in prison. Yun-jeong, pregnant at the time of the judgment, is sentenced to three years in prison, suspended and won’t go to jail. However, the two lovers risked much more (up to five years in prison). So how could they receive such a lenient judgment? Well, do you know about video game addiction?
An extreme case of video game addiction?
Besides its dramatic side, this story has set a real precedent in Korea and around the world. It quickly made headlines, with newspapers around the world pointing the finger at those disconnected parents who forgot their child because they were addicted to video games. And there is one that this treatment of the case has arranged well: the lawyer of Jae-beom and Yun-jeong. By focusing his entire defense on video game addiction, he managed to obtain leniency from the court. Sa-rang’s story has thus become “revealing” of a whole evil. But the problem with this kind of “revealing” is that it mainly reveals what we want to see. The documentary released four years later on the subject is proof of this.
If the story may have escaped you in 2009/2010, it may have been Valerie Veatch’s documentary, made in 2014, that put you up to speed. Aired on HBO, LoveChild made the choice to angle precisely on this point, strangely leaving the more personal side of the affair on the sidelines. Moreover, this documentary has in a certain way contributed to clearing the parents, shifting the responsibility for this tragic event to Korean politics or the video game industry. This choice has left more than one skeptic, even quite annoyed. Because in hindsight, this addiction to video games that is brandished as an explanation for the worst behavior hides much deeper problems.
No medical follow-up during childbirth, no sense of responsibility or danger… From conception to childbirth, or even until the death of the little one, the disconnection of parents is such that it cannot be blamed solely on video games. Add to that the loss of their jobs and the economic distress that, according to the investigators, cut off the couple’s desire to live in the real world, and you get a more complex situation than it looks. As pointed out NerdAlert shortly after the release of the documentary, this so-called addiction to video games could only be a symptom of much deeper problems, barely touched upon by those who have dealt with the case.
Especially since brandishing addiction to video games as a great evil of modern times is not really relevant, or at least subject to debate. Today, the term addiction to video games is not unanimously recognized. While you may have heard that the WHO recently recognized this contemporary disorder, the truth is actually more complicated than that. There is no scientific consensus on the subject and everyone has their own arguments. As much to tell you that a whole article would not be enough to try to expose each of them and to propose an enlightened presentation. But since recently the subject came back on the table following a video by Fabien Olicard, we leave you with Celia Hordent’s answer, which gives a little insight into the complexity of the subject.
Thread 1/4: Let’s start with the outrageous title. No, Fortnite does not destroy brains (or any game for that matter). JVs are above all an art form created by passionate people. I wrote this book to take stock of the state of research: https://t.co/n9wKgVG9BG
— Celia Hodent (@CeliaHodent) August 31, 2022
The Sa-Rang affair is a very sad story, as there are unfortunately many. A case of the same ilk has also been unveiled more recently in the United States. Can video games really be held responsible for these tragic events? If there is an answer to this question, it is most certainly far from Manichean…