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South Korea: Women's Ministry Gaming Clampdown Backfires

The South Korean government's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs has come under fire for proposing a law clamping down on the online gaming industry.

The Ministry, which usually goes by the name the ‘Women's Ministry’ among the Korean public, has been criticized for over several years now, for both its tepid reaction on serious women's issues such as sex trafficking and sex crimes, and its over-enthusiasm in nitpicking over relatively trivial matters.

Gaming shutdown

Screen shot of Tera, an online game. Image posted by ID: deux9282 in the Tera World site, South Korea's official Tera fan blog on website Naver.com.

Screen shot of Tera, an online game. Image posted by ID: deux9282 in the Tera World site, South Korea's official Tera fan blog on website Naver.com.

The ‘shutdown system’ that the Ministry proposed on March 18, 2011, prohibits kids younger than 16 from playing computer games between the hours of 12 pm to 6 am. It also forces one percent of game companies’ revenue to be injected to a Ministry fund, which will later be used in preventing gaming addiction.

Public backlash to the law was immediate and fierce. Numerous people, pointing out the Ministry's silence over the case of suicide actress Jang Ja-yeon, expressed deep disappointment and even questioned the reason of its existence.

Enraged net users have filed an online petition, blaming the Ministry's decision as neither justifiable nor effective. The first round of the petition filed via South Korea's most visited public form, Daum Agora, gathered 1,000 signatures in just three days, and it has now started its second round of petition [ko]:

1. 여성부는 명백한 월권 행위를 저지르고 있습니다.

2. 사람들이 장자연 사건때 그렇게 도와달라 외쳤지만 아무것도 하지 않았습니다.

3. 게임문화재단에서 중독예방센터를 짖겠다고 말했는데 그걸 무시하고 자신들의 논리로 강제 진행하고 있습니다.

4. […] 명목은 중독 방지를위해 센터기금이지만 자신들의 재원으로 바꾸워 사용할 수 있게 할려는 목적이 숨어있습니다. 게임업계 매출액의 100분의 1이면 여성 가족부 1년 예산과 맞먹을 정도의 양입니다.

1. The Women's Ministry is clearly abusing its power.

2. People have made desperate calls for help to the Ministry over the Jang Ja-yeon [suicide actress] case, but they have done nothing about it.

3. [Regarding the addiction issue] The Game Culture Foundation had planned to build the addiction prevention facility by themselves [to tackle the issue], but the Ministry totally disregarded this measure and instead enforced its [own] measures, with its own logic.

4.[…] They claim that they will use the fund to prevent [gaming] addiction, but their ulterior motive is to switch the fund to the Ministry budget. The one percent of the game revenue amounts to the annual budget expenses of the Women's Ministry.

The petition added that the ministry's official English name, ‘Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs‘, is a misnomer. The Korean name of the ministry is ‘여성가족부’ and its direct translation would be the ‘Women and Family Ministry’, without any hidden message or context on the gender equality.

The petition went on to ridicule the proposed law by suggesting a penalty tax for liquor and cigarette brands, if addiction to these were such a grave issue as to require heavy donations to the government. A game designer going by the nickname @aeoraji tweeted [ko] on March 28:

@aeoraji: 요새 보면 셧다운이고 1%징수고 뭐고 그냥 여성부를 셧다운 하고 싶은데

@aeoraji: When I look at how things are done around here, I just want to shut down the Women's Ministry, rather than (discuss) the shutdown system or collecting 1 percent of revenue.

Kim Young-jin, (@naha77) who works in the product design field, acknowledged the seriousness of the issue, but criticized the Ministry's problem-solving method [ko]:

@naha77: […]게임중독의 심각성이 틀린 말은 아닙니다. 게임사는 게임을 하는 사람이 중독이 되도록 유도하고 있습니다. 맞는 건 맞다고 합시다. 틀린건 중독 기금을 내라는 여성부입니다. […] 게임 속에는 게임중독을 유도하는 장치가 엄청나게 많습니다. 매일매일 출석체크를 하면 선물을 주는 이벤트도 있는가 하면, 매우 장시간을 투자해야 얻을 수 있는 아이템을 내놓기도 합니다. 이 아이템이 없으면 게임을 하기 불가능해질 정도로 패치를 하기도 하죠. […]법적으로 이런 문제점들을 해결해야지 기금을 내라는 게 잘못된 겁니다.

@naha77: […] Gaming addiction is indeed a serious issue. And it is true that the game companies spawn game addicts. We cannot deny the facts. What’s wrong, though, is the Women's Ministry forcing companies to pay for the addiction fund. […] There are numerous tools in the gaming world which lead people to addiction. There are promotional events which give presents to people for just logging in everyday. Sometimes they give out valuable game items which require long periods of time to get and in some cases, it is almost impossible to enjoy a game without this item. […] We should solve this problem with legal measures (on the game companies) not by forcing them to donate to the fund.

Blogger Haje wrote [ko] that young people will circumvent the Ministry's censorship by using their parents’ identities. The age verification process in Korea is mostly done by checking one's social security number, which contains a person's date of birth.

저는 개인적으로 전혀 쓸모없는 법이라고 생각됩니다. 오히려 실행된다면 저희나라의 게임산업발전에 지대한 악영향을 주겠지요. 우선 실행된다치면 부모님 주민등록번호로 아이디를 만들면 땡입니다. 그리고 게임못한다고 컴퓨터 끌꺼같습니까? 인터넷만 되면 할수있는게 무궁무진한데 지금 정부는 착각하고있습니다. 왜 게임을 사회악으로 몰아가는걸까요. 문제는 청소년들이 접하는 인터넷환경 자체라는 사실조차 모르는걸까요?

I personally think the (proposed) law is absolutely useless. Once it is applied, it would be critically harmful for the future of Korean game development. When this law is enforced, the kids will make a new ID with their parents’ social security numbers. And will they turn off their computers when we block the games? No. There are numerous things the kids can do with internet connections. The government is totally misunderstanding the situation. Why are they demonizing gaming? Do they have really no idea that the Internet environment itself is the source of the problem?

Ministry woes

It seems the harder the Ministry tries, the unpopular it gets. After it censored several songs’ lyrics for being obscene and offensive to women, ludicrous theories have sprang up regarding its operations.

One rumor claimed that the Ministry has tried to ban a particular snack brand because of the snack's resemblance to female sexual organs, whilst others claim that it has tried to block the game Tetris, as it reminds people of ‘penetration’ of a sexual nature.

The practical measures the Ministry had introduced have backfired as well. Steps such as paid ‘menstruation leave’ and other health benefits have started to impact female candidates in the corporate world, and even women themselves have slowly turned against the steps.

Hong Ji-Hye (@hotjihye), a female college student in her senior year tweeted [ko]:

@hotjihye: 여성부나, 각 대학들의 총 여학생회는 남녀 차별을 해소하는 것이 아니라 인정하고 고착화 하는 것 같다. 남학생회는 없는데 여학생회는있고 남성부는 없는데 여성부는 있다는 것은 여자가 차별당하고 있으니 우리끼리 뭉치자 로 밖에안들리는데..

@hotjihye: The Women's Ministry and the Women’s Student Council in each university is not dissolving the inequality between two sexes at all. They rather embrace and fix the concept [of inequality]. There are neither ‘men’s’ student committees nor ‘men's’ ministries. The fact that there is a such thing as the Women's Ministry reflects that women are tacitly accepting the situation where they are being discriminated against and thereby [women feel a] need to gather themselves together.

South Korean women are largely well-educated and actively engaged in the economy. Local statistics shows that the overall labor participation of women has increased by 49.2 percent in 2010. Yet a United Nations report in 2009 ranked South Korean gender eqaulity among the lowest in the developed world, 61st out of 109 countries on the gender empowerment measure (GEM).

Reflecting a majority of public opinion, net user xiky writes [ko] that even though people are fully aware that South Korean women are still underprivileged and suffer from inequality, it is also evident that there has been significant improvement in women’s status in the country.

The blogger stressed that the achievement was made possible by individual woman's efforts and people's shift in conception, rather than the Ministry's policies or intervention.

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