Any South Korean under 16 is now prohibited from playing online games between midnight and 6 a.m. The controversial Youth Protection Revision bill, also known as the Shutdown Law or the Cinderella Law, just went into effect after a failed challenge to its constitutionality. This makes South Korea, the country with the fifth highest penetration of broadband in the world, the first country to implement such a law.

Only networked games are affected, including Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, RuneScape and StarCraft, which arguably started the Korean love for MMOs. These services are now required to block young players during the six proscribed hours. Networked games using mobile phones will be included after two years.

All South Koreans are issued a 13-digit resident registration number that indicates their gender and date of birth, which many websites require users to provide. Anecdotally, young people already are thwarting the law by using a parent or older sibling’s registration number or by migrating to game sites that only ask for an email address.

The law was proposed by the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family following an outcry prompted by several tragic events, most drastically including a teen suicide and a couple whose infant died of neglect, which the government blamed on addiction to video games. The most popular games are played in Internet cafés called “PC bangs” (pictured, above) and enable microtransactions, adding financial costs to the loss of time for studying and other pursuits and the deleterious effect on general well-being cited by authorities.

“Films have a rating system, and drinking and smoking also have age limits. We consulted legal experts and they said a game curfew is not excessive compared to other protective rules targeting youths,” vice-minister Kim Kyo-shik said. “We can’t look on the youths’ pain arising from game addiction – such as family discord, inability to control themselves and maintain normal life – and the nation needs minimum regulations. The game ban is applied only at nighttime to secure children’s right to health, so it is not an excessive regulation.”

Cultural Action, joined by several other individual and youth’s rights advocacy groups, is leading a campaign to revoke the law. “Game addiction is a matter to be solved through education, not forcible law. The revised Youth Protection Law is undemocratic and should be retracted,” Cultural Action said. The group added that the legislation intrudes into families’ rights to their individual lifestyles while not addressing the underlying causes of addictions.

According to the government’s National Information Society Agency, 65 percent of adolescents primarily use the Internet to play games and have no parental supervision regarding their online activities, which it said facilitates game addictions among young people. Its figures state that 8 percent of the population between the ages of 9 to 39 suffers from addiction to the Internet (not just games), a percentage that rises to 14 percent for those between 9 and 12. Accordingly it operates educational campaigns (example poster, right) and Internet addiction counseling centers throughout the nation, and it is set to release free online time limiting software in 2012.

“The mandatory shutdown system … allows the government to rule over families,” said the Korea Association of the Game Industry in a statement. “It’s regrettable how [this group of ministers] has branded game publishers as those with ill intentions like those making drugs.”

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Photo by Flickr user J’Roo/Jez Nicholson, used under Creative Commons license