About In 2010, the death from malnutrition of South Korean infant Sarang became an international news story when the circumstances were revealed: The parents had neglected her for an online fantasy game. Their subsequent trial, in the first case involving Internet addiction, established a global precedent in a world where virtual is the new reality.
Directed by Valerie Veatch (HBO’s “Me @the Zoo”) and executive produced by T-Mobile CEO John Legere, LOVE CHILD explores this growing problem, weaving a tale of personal tragedy together with social commentary. Shining a light on how new technology can have unforeseen dire consequences.
A reported two million people suffer from gaming addiction in South Korea, in part because of the government’s heavy investment in a broadband Internet infrastructure that is arguably one of the world’s most advanced, and has turned Seoul into the “digital capital of the world.” South Korea’s Internet economy is worth $7.9 billion, and makes up 7% of the country’s gross domestic product. Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would classify Internet and online gaming addiction as a mitigating factor in criminal prosecutions, along with addiction to gambling, drugs and alcohol.
Director Valerie Veatch juxtaposes footage of Prius, the 3-D fantasy game the parents played daily, with observations by experts and those directly involved in the case, including lead detective Young Jin-Park, public defender Ji-Hoon Lee, Nexxon game developer Kim Tagon, British journalist Andrew Salmon, the psychiatrist consulted during the trial and an employee of the Internet café (“PC room”) the couple frequented.
When South Korean police were contacted by a couple whose three-month-old daughter, Sarang (“Love” in Korean), had died, they were immediately suspicious. Born prematurely, she “was just lying straight” when they found her, claimed her parents. However, detective Young Jin-Park recalls that “it was obvious she had starved to death.” Upon further investigation, police learned that the parents, who met online, spent six to 12 hours a day in a PC room playing Prius, leaving their daughter at home alone and hungry. In fact, the couple’s main source of income was “Gold Mining,” or trading points in the game for cash.
In Prius, the couple cared for Anima, a child-like mini-avatar earned after completing a number of quests, whose “personality changes based on interactions it has with the player.” Journalist Andrew Salmon, who followed the case from the start, notes the irony “that [the couple] was raising an un-live child while essentially abandoning their own.”