SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A law under consideration in South Korea's parliament has sparked vociferous debate by grouping popular online games such as "StarCraft" with gambling, drugs and alcohol as an anti-social addiction the government should do more to stamp out.
The bill is winning support from parents, religious groups and doctors but has alarmed the Internet industry and enraged gamers. The legislation includes provisions to limit advertising while a separate bill would take 1 percent of the gaming industry's revenue to create a fund to curb addiction.
The uproar over the legislation highlights conflicting social and economic priorities in technology-soaked South Korea. Internet entrepreneurs are prized as a source of innovation in an economy dominated by gray conglomerates, but conservative lawmakers and many parents say online obsessions are taking a growing toll on schooling, families and workplaces.
"We need to create a clean Korea free from the four addictions," Hwang Woo-yea, a top lawmaker in the ruling party, said in a recent speech.
The legislative assault, backed by 14 ruling party lawmakers, is the latest phase in South Korea's version of American culture wars. Professional gamers in South Korea can gain wealth and status akin to sports stars but as a pastime it is framed by critics as threat to family and the social order.
Headline grabbing incidents such as the starvation death of the infant daughter of online gamers have fueled a moral panic. A law passed in 2011 that bans gaming between midnight and dawn for anyone under age 16 is being appealed at South Korea's Constitutional Court.
"There is a huge prejudice that gaming is harmful," said Lee Byung-chan, an attorney involved in the Constitutional Court case. "Games are as harmful as alcohol, drugs and gambling, that's the prejudice," Lee said.
Game companies have taken exception to being lumped together with drugs and other vices. They say the bill is a death sentence for their industry.
"The 100,000 people employed in the game industry are not drug makers," Korea Internet and Digital Entertainment Association, which represents game companies, said in a statement.
Nourished by South Korea's rapid adoption of broadband Internet and the ubiquity of cyber cafes, online gaming has become a significant export industry. In 2012, "MapleStory" and other online game titles earned more cash from abroad for South Korea than the YouTube sensation "Gangnam Style," K-pop music, movies and other cultural exports combined.