“Sarang” is the Korean word for “love.”  It is also the name of the 3-month-old baby who died from malnutrition in 2010 while her parents were out on a 10 hour online gaming binge.  The couple, a Mr. and Ms. Kim, spent 6-12 hours every day playing the online game Prius which, ironically, involves raising a virtual child named Anima.  Unfortunately, Anima took precedent over Sarang, their real-world baby. 

“The couple didn’t realize that the baby will starve to death.  Therefore, they had no intent to murder their baby and the child died of neglect,” said public defender Ji-Hoon Lee.  On that basis they were charged with involuntary manslaughter rather than murder.  Their sentence—1 year in prison for the father and no jail time for the mother (who was revealed to be pregnant once again)—was lenient.  The sentence could have been for up to 5 years, but the court acknowledged the couple’s addiction to online gaming and “decided to pass a less severe punishment to the couple,” said Lee, “Because they have been confined to this virtual world for so long, they were incapable of distinguishing between the virtual and the real...They had become emotionless because of online gaming addiction.” Ultimately, they were protected as mentally ill criminals under Korean law.

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“They were so happy lost in this game together,” stated an employee of the internet café, PC Room that the couple frequented. 

The trial, the first to involve internet addiction in the defense, set a global precedent by identifying internet addiction with other addictions like drugs, alcohol, and gambling. 

Director Valerie Veach

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Directed by Valerie Veatch (HBO’s “Me @the Zoo”) and executive produced by T-Mobile CEO John Legere, HBO’s new documentary Love Child details Sarang’s death and its implications on the growing threat of internet addiction in a world where the line between reality and the virtual is increasingly blurred.  In fact, the APA is considering adding internet addiction to its diagnostic manual. 

Veatch strikingly juxtaposes footage from the fantasy game, Prius, that Mr. and Ms. Kim played and interviews with those involved in the case, including detective Young Jin-Park, public defender Ji-Hoon Lee, game developer Kim Tagon, journalist Andrew Salmon, the psychiatrist who was consulted during the trial, and an employee of the Internet café where the couple played. 

The documentary is striking, not only in its subject matter—the story of Sarang’s death is horrifying!—but also in the depth of Veatch’s research.  I hadn’t realized the degree to which internet addictions can be a serious problem (I guess they're more than binge-watching on Netflix)!  There are even internet-addiction clinics that use aversion therapy to attempt to solve the problem.  An employee at PC Room sums up my reaction perfectly “After the trial, I asked my doctor if I too was an online addict.  He laughed and said ‘How does a fish know if it’s in water?’”  I guess we’re all a little addicted.  I just hope that none of us gets to the same point as Mr. and Ms. Kim.  The couple has stated that they will never play games again. 

 “Love Child” will be debuting on HBO on Monday July 28th.  Be sure to tune in! 

Images courtesy of HBO.