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Shutdown Law: Will It Disappear into History?

On July 2nd, a petition against Minecraft being R-rated was raised on the presidential office’s website. Behind this situation lies a Korean policy known as the Shutdown Law. Since there have been continuous discussions regarding the effectiveness of this law, some people are wondering how the Shutdown Law will be addressed at the National Assembly in September. therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will introduce the basic notion, discussions, and prospects regarding the law.

Introduction of the Shutdown Law

The Shutdown Law, which is also known as the Forced Shutdown Law, is an act that restricts teenagers who are under 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6 a.m. It was first introduced in 2011 to protect teenagers from the harmful consequences of game addiction and excessive immersion, thus preventing conflicts with parents as well as health issues such as sleep deprivation. The Ministry of Gender and Equality and Family took charge of the system, which was applied uniformly to all teenagers under 16. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also implemented the Selective Shutdown Law in 2012, which allows parents or legal representatives to restrict teenagers from playing games during a specific time. The difference is that the time can be self-regulated at home, not forced by the Ministry. While these two laws work together, the following contents will focus on the Forced Shutdown Law. The range of games that should apply to the Shutdown Law is updated every two years through arrangements between the Ministers from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. It is applied to online Personal Computer (PC) games, but not console games or mobile games. Since the law was first enforced, controversies over its effectiveness have been constantly raised. Many people criticize that it violates fundamental rights by regulating playing time. In line with this criticism, amendments were proposed several times but were not passed.

Discussions Starting Again in 2021

As Minecraft games become R-rated in Korea, the Shutdown Law has been embroiled in controversy. Previously, people could play games through Mojang accounts and Xbox Live accounts. Microsoft, however, announced that they would integrate the Mojang accounts into those of Xbox Live due to security problems. However, as Xbox Live is under the Shutdown Law, young people under 19 are prohibited to play the game. Therefore, the Shutdown Law is becoming controversial again.

Is It Effective for Teenagers?

Discussions are underway as to whether the restrictions actually protect teenagers’ sleep and health from overindulgence in games. Yet, public opinion is leaning towards the consensus that the law is ineffective for teenagers. The law was based on the premise that games disturb teenagers from sleeping, but according to the research by the National Assembly’s Special Committee on the 4th Industrial Revolution in 2019, teenagers’ average sleep time increased by only one minute and 30 seconds after the enforcement of the law. Also, the survey from the National Youth Policy Institute shows that studying was the primary reason for teenagers’ lack of sleep, while playing games, which has previously been considered as the leading factor, ranked 5th. According to Inews24, Cho Mun-seok, a Professor from the Department of Public Administration at Hansung University, said that the existing studies are not enough to prove the correlation between playing games and a severe lack of sleep. This indicates that playing games is not an important factor that causes lack of sleep.

Minecraft Games (minecraft.net)

How It Affects the Game Industry

Discussions also focus on how the Shutdown Law influenced the game industry. It is said that the game industry became polarized because of overwhelming regulations. According to The JoongAng Economist, a developer from a small to medium sized game company had to modify many systems to meet the criteria of the Shutdown Law. The gap between the large and small-medium sized companies has widened because developers of small games couldn’t afford the cost. Just as Minecraft did, some foreign companies chose to allow only adults to play their games rather than to revise the systems. Now, 10 years later after the introduction of the Shutdown Law, it seems that the law itself did not substantially hinder the growth of the game industry since many companies have moved on to mobile games. Nevertheless, it stills exerts influence on people by evoking negative labeling effects toward the game industry and constantly reinforcing negative connotations.

The Future of the Shutdown Law

The Minecraft incident served as a momentum to speed up discussions about the law. A forum was held, and bills to amend the law were prepared one after the other. So, what will happen to the Shutdown Law? There are some possible options: abolishing the Shutdown Law, retaining the Selective Shutdown Law, and excluding e-sport youth players from the regulation. Among these, it is likely that the Forced Shutdown Law will be abolished, with refinements of the Selective Shutdown Law to follow. While it is possible to end only as a heated debate just like with past attempts, active ongoing discussions indicate the possibility of bills passing the national assembly. The discussions also show that changes are happening throughout society with an attempt to throw away negative recognition of the game industry. The game industry is once again in the spotlight due to controversies surrounding the Shutdown Law, which can lead to in-depth discussions about other game regulations and further help prepare the ways for the industry to create positive consequences.

The National Assembly Building (yna.co.kr)

백지은  ji0618love@g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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