Every year or two it crops up again: stories of internet addiction. The latest program to shine a spotlight on those afflicted and the clinics that try to treat them is SBS's Dateline, and it's being broadcast nationally tomorrow night.
Addiction is a serious problem, and it should be treated as such. But gaming is a serious industry too, and it would be bloody nice if the mainstream media appreciated that distinction.
The pitch is straightforward. It's a story about the rise of internet addiction in South Korea, a country where one in ten teenagers is addicted to the virtual realm of the internet. One neurophysicist at Seoul's Gangnam Eulji Hospital said around 90% of addiction cases in South Korea were related to online gaming, and the government introduced a law a few years ago to prevent those younger than 16 from accessing gaming sites from midnight to 6:00 AM.
It's a problem. A very real, very serious one with life-changing consequences if not treated. Let's not beat around the bush on that.
But an addiction to the internet and an addiction to games is not precisely one and the same.
For more context, here's the trailer for Dateline's program tomorrow night.
"It's rehab for gamers," the promo says.
No, it's not.
It's called the Internet Dream Village and it was established by the South Korean government to tackle the rise of addiction cases to the internet and smartphones. Online gaming is understandably a part of that — this is the country lovingly referred to as the Mecca of esports, after all — but it's not rehab for gamers per se.
The village is four hours from Seoul and doesn't have any internet or Wi-Fi. Those sent to the camp are usually done so because they've been spending 14, 16, 18 hours absorbed by their phones, entranced by some MMO or addicted to some other facet of the online world.
Most of the activities at the camp are social: going outdoors, exercising, eating meals together — and, as you'd expect — games. Lots of them. Card games. Table tennis. Board games. Just not online games.
"Korea has more children who lose their ability to control their internet use compared to other countries. Our aim is to help the young to rebuild their ability to control their own lives so they can grow properly," Yun Yok, a consulting professor for the Dream Village, told the BBC's Click last year.
And there's the rub. The problem is these people have no self-control over the internet, over their exposure to the online world. Their problem isn't with games so much as it is interacting with the physical and virtual space in a balanced way. There is no balance, really.
But what the Dream Village isn't is a rehab for gamers. Gaming isn't the problem, and as a lifelong gamer I feel pretty aggrieved that Dateline are promoting it as such.
Nevertheless, I'll be watching tomorrow night to see how the show pans out. Hopefully the line between video games, games in general and internet addiction will be drawn a little more clearly.