Skip

Virtual Insanity
March 12, 2010 6:48 AM   Subscribe

A South Korean couple meet online, make a real baby and neglect her -- to the point of starvation -- while raising a virtual child.

Slate's William Saletan sees this as part of a bigger change, "The balance of power between the worlds is shifting. Here and there, virtual reality is gaining the upper hand."
posted by cedar (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This seems like an icy, too-pointed allegorical genre short story from the late 1980s or something. Life imitates art, as they say.
posted by Electrius at 6:52 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last month, a 24-year-old man collapsed and died in an Internet cafe in the southwestern city of Kwangju after playing computer games for 86 hours straight.

Anecdotes like this seem to appear with regularity any time the subject is SKorea + Internet. Either people drop dead in Korean internet cafes with alarming regularity, or the story has reached apocryphal levels.
posted by contessa at 6:56 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Addiction isn't about the things we do but the things we do not do.

"Experts said the couple appeared to have lost track of reality."

It's hard for me to believe this was the case unless there were rather more potent narcotics involved. I think they knew about reality and just didn't want to deal with it. There have always been people like this.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:58 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


...icy, too-pointed allegorical genre short story...

Does anyone know who Haruki Murakami's literary agent is? I, too, would like to score a gig writing reality itself.
posted by griphus at 6:59 AM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Considering the Korean MMO industry is based around creating the most addictive virtual Skinner boxes they can to milk a steady profit out of players, I'm not surprised to hear stories of addicts who go overboard. It's unusual and sensational enough that we remember even a handful of isolated cases.

As sad as it is, it really doesn't surprise me. I doubt this is going to become some epidemic, but it can sure be pitched as one until people are no longer surprised. Some people simply can't control themselves.
posted by Saydur at 7:09 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Levity of the situation aside for a moment, this looks like nothing but yet another Lineage 2 clone with different updated graphics. Nothing like Second Life. I can see how AOL News would miss that, but come on. Out of all the possibilities there, they get addicted to a second-rate knockoff?
posted by Saydur at 7:26 AM on March 12, 2010


Slate's William Saletan sees this as part of a bigger change, "The balance of power between the worlds is shifting. Here and there, virtual reality is gaining the upper hand."

Oh dear god. First of all, if anyone had any doubts that Saletan is an idiot, this should dispel them. "Virtual reality is gaining the upper hand?" More like the virtual baby probably took a lot less effort to actually "raise" then the real one.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on March 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Unless a horrific zombie baby crawled across the ceiling at any point, I'm not impressed.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other news, sick people are sick.
posted by Slothrup at 7:40 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, okay. So they were in an cybercafe and ignored their baby that way. They were irresponsible, and they could have been doing anything.

(also, why didn't they just buy their own computers?)
posted by delmoi at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2010


I don't see how the couple's nationality has anything to do with this story - child neglect happens everywhere, and so does the sort of weirdness being discussed in this story.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last month, a 24-year-old man collapsed and died in an Internet cafe...

While it may be that these things are getting more common, it does seem to be fast becoming the 21st century version of the "bus plunge" story.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, that quote from Saletan is just breathtakingly hyperbolic. Sadly, it's not too suprising that a silly statement like that shows up in Slate.
posted by pziemba at 7:43 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if there's anything to be really drawn out from this limit case of internet addiction other than the utter tragedy of the fact of the real baby's death.

For a long time I resisted the sentiment of "live your life", if only because it was easily conflated with "get a life" (with all its implications) by other intentions. The comments on the Slate piece seem to touch on how the former can easily slip down to the latter. In truth it's likely somewhere in the excluded middle: go dabble in some WoW, but don't forget to take care of yourself and your loved ones. I'd probably say it tends towards much more leniency to being online and working in an Internet presence that Saletan thinks, though.
posted by zer0render at 7:50 AM on March 12, 2010


Has child protective services taken the virtual baby from them... cause that's no kind of environment for a virtual baby.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nationality plays a role in the story because in korean culture, online addiction is more than a "social nuisance." It's caused multiple deaths in the past. It not like in America where you seldom hear the "online addiction lead to murder or death" every month.

This asian news site broke the news earlier and includes more examples of this type of deadly online addiction in korea. I.e. some young man killed his mother because he had kept nagging him about playing video games and promptly returned to playing them.
posted by meta.mark at 8:06 AM on March 12, 2010


"The couple seemed to have lost their will to live a normal life because they didn't have jobs and gave birth to a premature baby," police officer Chung Jin-Won told Yonhap.

That sounds closer to the mark than Saletan's the-internet-is-eating-our-communal-soul theory, although I'm not sure anything can make the story less horrific.

I had a boyfriend once who dealt with some kind of slow-burn nervous breakdown by escaping to the comforting world inside his N64. By the end of that, he was three months behind on the rent, the phone and heating had been cut off, and the fridge was empty, but damn was he good at Perfect Dark. People just lose it that way sometimes, 24-hour broadband cafes or not.

As for Saletan, he at least has precedent. Here's the 1796 equivalent (quoted in this article):

"Women, of every age, of every condition, contract and retain a taste for novels [...T]he depravity is universal. My sight is every-where offended by these foolish, yet dangerous, books. I find them on the toilette of fashion, and in the work-bag of the sempstress; in the hands of the lady, who lounges on the sofa, and of the lady, who sits at the counter. From the mis- tresses of nobles they descend to the mistresses of snuff-shops – from the belles who read them in town, to the chits who spell them in the country. I have actually seen mothers, in miserable garrets, crying for the imaginary distress of an heroine, while their children were crying for bread: and the mistress of a family losing hours over a novel in the parlour, while her maids, in emulation of the example, were similarly employed in the kitchen."
posted by Catseye at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2010 [34 favorites]


Levity of the situation aside for a moment, this looks like nothing but yet another Lineage 2 clone with different updated graphics. Nothing like Second Life. I can see how AOL News would miss that, but come on.

I think the media likes to focus on the whole "virtual world" issue, with the assumption that these online games attract users by creating the most complex and realistic virtual worlds, and that those worlds are so advanced that people can get lost in them. What they tend to miss is that it's actually the game mechanics that hook players, so that MMOs like WoW and similar games are much more popular than more free-form sandboxes like Second Life.

A lot of people spent way too much time pumping quarters into Pac Man machines because it was fun to play, nearly impossible to complete, and had a list of high scores to show who had played the best. It didn't matter that the virtual world involved was just an abstract maze and some cute blocky characters, because it had game mechanics that kept people playing. Casinos have been using the same kinds of psychological tricks for a lot longer to create reward systems that keep people gambling. It's not really about the world the game is played in (virtual or otherwise), it's about how the game works and what people get out of playing it.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:11 AM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Heard about this a few days ago. An acquaintance made the comment: "Coming Soon: Virtual Earth!"
posted by symbollocks at 8:23 AM on March 12, 2010


What they tend to miss is that it's actually the game mechanics that hook players, so that MMOs like WoW and similar games are much more popular than more free-form sandboxes like Second Life.

Completely true. I was more making an offhand comment that they weren't even playing a game with innovative new mechanics, just a rehash of what was already out there. Sandbox games with social activity as the main draw tend to retain that slice of reality. Sure, I've seen people who spend eight or twelve hours a day on those games too, but they always seem to retain minimal functionality.

There's a reason I call those gameplay-focused MMOs Skinner boxes. They're amazingly well crafted to keep people at a dull minimal level of interest that's just enough to push the lever one more time and drop just a bit more currency on getting some new shiny reward. Not much more than that, it would be bad business if everyone went overboard and got addicted.
posted by Saydur at 8:27 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Damn, that sounds like a great game. How do I play? It's free and online, but I don't read Korean. And here's some video, and here's some English links: preview, wiki, and how to register to play.

It looks pretty WoW-clonish. The twist is "emotional gameplay". Some of the combat video has you dragging a child around while you fight fire breathing giants or whatever, maybe levelling up your human-shaped pet ("anima") is the hook? That's one way to teach parenting skills.
posted by Nelson at 8:56 AM on March 12, 2010


There have always been neglectful parents -- the venue which they chose to escape their responsibilities is irrelevant -- they could have been in a bar or a casino, their motives and the consequences would have been the same. This is just yet another Big, Scary Monster called the Internet story that twists selective facts to fit a theory...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow... Makes me think that 1000mb broadband might not be such a good thing if we ever manage to roll it out over here...
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link to the paper, Catseye! I find moral panics very interesting and that paper was a great resource.
posted by Idle Curiosity at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember reading about Korean kids also having to go to rehab for addictions to World of Warcraft, Quake, and Counterstrike. The digital world taken to groteque excess is right in front of our eyes.
posted by reenum at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2010


Considering the Korean MMO industry is based around creating the most addictive virtual Skinner boxes...

I read this and wondered how it works in parallel with what I assume (based on knowing Japan and talking with Koreans) is a relatively undeveloped licensure/occupational future for people who study psychology. There are students who study this, and they end up somewhere... Just thinking, anyway.
posted by whatzit at 9:52 AM on March 12, 2010


I remember reading about Korean kids also having to go to rehab for addictions to World of Warcraft, Quake, and Counterstrike. The digital world taken to groteque excess is right in front of our eyes.

Luckily for folks in North America, crystal meth use is much easier for kids to access.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:56 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe our society should actively shift to being run that way... Children, after birth immediately go to the "care facility"... where "employees" will raise a child, in accordance with the instructions and inputs that "biological parents" input into a Virtual game... The FDA & FCC could jointly regulate; to make sure that TQM efficiency and level of quality were reached. Head the problem off at the pass...
I already came up with a slogan for the first company to hop into the industry --

"Raise you child with RaiseyourChildFarm... it's just easier."

Yeah, acting like "Korea" has a problem... yeah, that's not accurate... we have the same problem all over. (as pointed out above; sometimes it takes the form of Meth, sometimes salt-monsters, sometimes videogames... the delivery method may vary... the effects, the concept and the end result stay the same.)
posted by infinite intimation at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2010


They must have been using virtual contraceptives as well.
posted by sswiller at 10:27 AM on March 12, 2010


The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:46 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Child neglect is a big problem in the US too. So is gaming addiction -- ask my college roommate who was expelled after playing WoW 30-40 hours a week for nearly a year (he eventually recovered).

But I'm not sure this would have made the same sort of headlines had it happened in the US. The couple would have been gaming at home, which isn't as obvious to friends and neighbors. And, if the couple were black/hispanic/poor, we would have blamed the death on the parents' socioeconomic class, not their form of recreation.
posted by miyabo at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2010


Reading that Saletan piece was like overdosing on a glucosey combination of Robert Putnam, David Brooks, Norman Vincent Peale, and your favorite local "I write everything in terse declarative sentences to make sure you're getting my profound point" newspaper feature columnist.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2010


This is not "the internet is bad" as the story indicates. This is "broken people do stupid things and fuck up a lot and have totally screwed up priorities." Saletan is just another luddite writer who thinks he understands things that he doesn't, and grafts his failure to grasp meaning onto a story.
posted by mephron at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2010


Oh yeah, those crazy South Koreans.

Wait, what? It happens anywhere you say? NEVER.

It's certainly not indicative of deeper psychological issues.

Now excuse me, I need to go weep and hug my daughter.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:39 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older A Practical Guide to Musical Composition   |   The Botox Method Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post