He played for 72 hours straight: South Korea wrestles with video game addiction

His bedroom door was always locked, and when his grandmother stood on the veranda and peered through his window, he was invariably engrossed in an on-screen gunfight.

He eventually began disappearing to play at internet cafes. Night after night, she would search for him, and he would try to evade her.

Now he is 21 and unemployed. In June at his grandfather’s funeral, he played games on his phone.

“There wasn’t a day he’d go without playing,” said his grandmother, who raised him and felt so ashamed by his situation that she would speak only on condition that her family not be named. “Games ruined the child.”

The debate intensified in May after the World Health Organization officially added “internet gaming disorder” to the 2022 edition of its International Classification of Diseases, which sets global standards for diagnosis.

In 2011, the country passed the so-called Cinderella Law requiring games to include automatic shutdown for children 15 or younger after midnight. Most teens quickly found work-arounds using VPN connections or signing on as their parents.

Two years later, a lawmaker proposed legislation classifying games alongside alcohol, drugs and gambling as major addictions to be battled by society. The proposal was debated for years before fizzling.

Many of the video games he played featured the opportunity to buy “loot boxes,” which contain randomized prizes.

It wasn’t much of leap into another addiction that he readily acknowledges: gambling.

He began dabbling in illegal offshore sports betting websites. In recent years, he resorted to petty fraud to get gambling cash — like selling his motorcycle to multiple people online.

He was arrested in July on fraud charges related to his gambling debts and is currently in jail awaiting trial.