Addicted gamers cash in
The best gamers are adored, loved and envied. Some South Korean teenagers are already making thousands of dollars each month by playing computer games.
Broadcast live 24 hours by national television networks, computer gaming is not regarded as a geeky pastime. In South Korea, the most wired society in the world, it is a real sport, with its athletes, coaches, sponsors and fans.
Young Wha Jin says he used to play football, but once he tried stretching his muscles in cyber space, he knew that’s what he really wanted.
Now he plays Starcraft – an intergalactic war game popular with almost every computer literate South Korean. He says he wants to make it to the top league.
Like other gamers in his team, he practices at least ten hours a day.
So when, you might ask, does he go to school? That’s the question Young Wha Jin and other players like to avoid.
Young Wha Jin tells us that even though he gets the lowest grades at school, his teachers and parents support him.
Sponsored by major electronic corporations, top players are on million-dollar contracts, in a country where the average annual income is just $16,000. His coach, Kim Dun Gua, says that it’s not only the money, it’s the game itself that attracts.
“Once I played it for 36 hours non-stop, and then just fell asleep. This was physically difficult, but I couldn’t stop, it was so fascinating. And after I woke up, I spent another 30 hours playing again,” Kim Dun Gua said.
Now he says, he tries not to play so much and advises his trainees to take breaks during practice. But in a country where one-third of the population are gamers and 24-hour cyber cafes are everywhere, many don’t know how to stop. Some are looking at it as a source of income while others use it to escape from reality into a fantasy world.
“In some cases, computer addicts start having problems communicating with their parents, then leaving home, and, in the most serious cases, they die of a heart attack,” says psycologyst Youngsam Koh, head of internet addiction counselling centre KADO.
Such a fate befell 28-year-old Lee Seung Seop, who died of heart failure after playing Starcraft for 50 hours non-stop.
A gamer’s heart rate often matches that of a basketball player. That’s around 160 beats per minute. Couple that with both hands working the mouse and keyboard at speeds of up to 500 clicks per minute and you’ve got a real work out.
But unlike other sports, the spell created by the alternative world of the games may be hard to break. For many game addicts the hardest decision to make is when to turn the computer off and return from cyberspace to the real world.