Korean tragedy examines online addiction

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Dave Jaffer - [email protected]
Korean tragedy examines online addiction
Love Child tells the story of a South Korean couple whose addiction to online gaming led to their child's death. Photo: HBO

In the first of our reviews from the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX), the largest documentary film festival in Scandinavia, new arts and culture writer Dave Jaffer gives his take on 'Love Child'.


“What is real? How do you define real?” 
In 'The Matrix', Morpheus speaks these words to Neo in an effort to articulate the difference between perceived reality and actual reality. 'The Matrix' is a work of fiction, but to those suffering from so-called internet addiction the line between the two may be frighteningly thin.
Valerie Veatch’s 'Love Child' delves into the rather post-millennial problem of online gaming addiction in South Korea. Her film is framed by an act of negligence that caused the death of a Korean infant in 2010; three-month-old Sarang was left alone while her parents gamed for hours on end in the middle of the night. She died of malnutrition, weighing less than she did at birth.
The portrait Veatch paints is both judgmental and sympathetic. At its outset, the film is about the couple, a pair seemingly divorced from reality, and about their complicity in their daughter’s death. Snippets of interviews with a police detective and with journalist Andrew Salmon tell of a pair unready and unable to be parents, about two people who somehow fell through society’s cracks only to find each other inside of a fantasy world—the massively popular multiplayer online role-playing game Prius. 

Ironically, one of the goals of Prius is to raise an Anima, a child character. You can’t be good at the game, which the parents were, without successfully raising your Anima.
About halfway in, the film veers. It becomes less about the cast of characters surrounding Sarang’s death (the parents, the police, the public defender who took the case out of sympathy for the couple) and more about the concept of online gaming addiction. Doctors and therapists weigh in; gamers weigh in; game developers, who admit proudly that they aim to create an intense emotional connection between the gamers and the characters, weigh in; Salmon, who has large, sweeping ideas about South Korean culture, weighs in. 
What the viewer is left with is the idea that South Korea, in investing heavily in creating a world-class internet in the 1990s, unwittingly threw a digital yoke around the necks of its populace. The argument in part is that because Korean culture is by nature (this is Salmon’s hypothesis) communal, gaming cafés where people spend six, eight, and ten hours at a time playing around in a virtual world, will create some addicts. 
As an unapologetic lover and staunch defender of all things internet, I find fault with the notion that high-speed, easily accessible internet could ever be a bad thing, but that’s not what this film is contending. Rather, it’s exploring the concept of being addicted to online gaming in the same manner as one might be addicted to a substance, and about how chemically, there may be little difference between online gaming addicts and, say, methamphetamine addicts.
While 'Love Child' touches on some heartbreaking and important things and themes, the film itself feels overlong. Some of its repetition—like the fact that “Sarang” means “love”—is meant to reinforce thematic ideas, but at times it seems like nothing more than repetition for repetition’s sake, repeated. Still, it’s a worthwhile examination into a case and an issue that is only going to become more culturally relevant in the future.
Dave JafferDave Jaffer is The Local's arts and culture writer. He has contributed to countless publications, including Hour, Spinner, Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and Exclaim! Cyberstalk him on Twitter at @combatdavey


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