South Korea's Late-Night Gaming Ban for Kids Ruled Constitutional

A young kid at PC bang (Computer parlor) in South Korea, Image by Flickr User Jens-Olaf Walter (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A young kid at Internet cafe PC bang in South Korea. Photo by Flickr user Jens-Olaf Walter (CC BY-NC 2.0)

South Korea's Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of a controversial online gaming regulation, the so-called shutdown bill, that prohibits kids from playing online games at night.

The decision has sparked numerous jokes and mockery online, as well as serious concerns about the ruling's repercussions in the online game industry, students’ rights and net freedom. 

The law, which prohibits kids under age 16 playing online games from midnight to 6 a.m., was introduced in 2011, but was met with severe backlash. Online gaming industry and digital content associations filed a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court questioning the bill's legality.

According to local report [ko], judges determined that the bill was constitutional because “considering online gaming's high popularity, addictiveness and [kids’] overindulgence [in it], it is not an overreaction to regulate gaming for kids under age 16.” They specifically singled out online games, adding, “Online games, as they are based on interactivity on the web, are more additive and easily lead kids to game for long hours.” focused on [ko] the court's definition of kids – “Kids, unlike adults, lack the self-control over how much time is spent gaming” – and wrote that this reflects how society views young people, as merely immature. Other local reports voiced concerns [ko] that this ruling could set a dangerous precedent, tipping the scales in favor for the country's controversial addiction law, which treats online games just like other additive substances and activities such as drugs, alcohol and gambling. 

Many Twitter users tweeted that anyone seriously considering children's health would worry more about the country's notorious study craze, which forces kids to attend private tutoring sessions and cram until late at night.

If the shutdown law was declared constitutional because of the game's addictiveness, then would chicken qualify for regulation?

They say the law was declared constitutional in order to protect kids’ right to sleep. Then you should have shut down all entertainment including soap operas, movies, music and more, which hinder people's sleep. [If this logic continues] they could even consider shutting down my cellphone.

They rule the shutdown law constitutional. Then how come there is no legal restrictions imposed on the Hagwon [after-hours cram schools] which happen within the same time window? They both violate the students’ right to sleep, and both cannot be stopped by students’ will. Why is this being applied differently?

The game shutdown law was ruled constitutional. Although they came up with a legal justification for this decision, I still doubt its effectiveness. Kids who really want to play games will find ways to do so, including using their parents IDs. Funny enough, some people's claim that they should first shut down the Hagwon, private tutoring and late-night classes, for kids sounds more persuasive.

By getting seven out of the nine votes of the constitutional judges, the shutdown was declared constitutional. With this decision, kids under age 16 were declared human beings without free will.

Declaring the game shutdown law constitutional could lead to the restriction of human rights, as it could not only hinder students’ autonomy and creativity, but hobble the cultural content industry. When you throw a ball to the ground, the harder you throw, the higher it bounces back. The authorities should have been aware of the social recoil against this decision.

Blogger Mahler listed [ko] several reasons why the ruling could become a threat to web freedom and online content: 

1) 이를 계기로 본인인증이 확대되면 웹상의 자율성을 침해할 수 있는 여지가 많아진다. 예를 들어 인터넷 접속 자체에 본인 인증이 필요하게 되면 상상하기도 무서운 상황이 된다. 2) 중소기업들은 본인인증 및 차단을 위한 조치(기술/장비)를 취하는 것이 엄청난 부담이다. 대기업 vs 중소기업의 문제에 더해 외국기업 vs 국내기업의 문제도 생긴다.[…] 3) 온라인 게임 못지 않게 오프라인 게임도 중독성이 강하다. [….] 나 게임 그렇게 하고도 유급 안 했다.

1) If this regulation is later expanded to a process of identify verification on the web, it is highly likely that such a situation would lead to the violation of web freedom. For example, when this law transforms into bills that force users to verify their identity whenever they login to the Internet, that would be horrendous. 2) For small and mid-size companies, preparing the logistics for the application of this shutdown law is a huge burden since they have to acquire the technology and devices for ID verification and such. Burdens can be felt differently according to the company's size, as well as the company's nationality. […] Lastly, I personally have never failed a class despite all the gaming I did. 


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.