Internet addiction as a mental illness

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The 2014 Sundance Film Festival premièred its usual mix of thought-provoking and stereotype-challenging silver screen offerings, but one movie in particular stood out for its morbid uniqueness.

“Love Child” tells the story of a South Korean couple who let their child to starve to death in September 2009 after neglecting her to play the online role-playing game “Prius Online”.

After a 10-hour stint at an internet cafe, the 41-year-old man and his 25-year-old wife went on the run following the death of their infant. The pair were eventually arrested after being at large for several months.

The movie, directed by Valerie Veatch, tells the story of the couple and their addiction to the game which revolved around raising a virtual child. This is the first case where “Internet addiction” was cited as a mental illness defense

Shot over six weeks in South Korea, the film’s producers said they wanted to explore how a virtual world experience could affect a person’s reality and influence the decisions they make in real life.

At the time of the child’s death, South Korean police were quoted as saying the couple had “lost their will to live a normal life” due to their unemployment and the fact their child was born premature.

“They indulged themselves in the online game of raising a virtual character to escape from reality, which led to the death of their real baby,” the officer said.

The father was eventually sentenced to two years in prison, while his wife received a three-year suspended sentence.

According to a 2010 government study quoted by the Wall Street Journal, one in 10 South Koreans play video games. 2.2 million people – 4.4 percent of the population – are said to be addicted to the internet.

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