As you might be aware, North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war. As a result, South Korean men are obligated to spend two years in military service. This requirement can be waived if one has a religious or personal objection to war, violence, or simply holding a weapon — i.e., professing to be a pacifist — thus exempting one from military service. In February, men who professed such beliefs but were jailed nonetheless were released, following a decision by the Korean Supreme Court in November.
What does all this have to do with video games? Yonhap News Agency is reporting that 11 of these “conscientious objectors” are having their gaming history examined to determine if they regularly partake of violent video games, thus nullifying their stated personal beliefs and potentially landing them back in prison for dodging their state-mandated military service.
Eight games were specifically targeted as being “violent” by the Ulsan prosecutor’s office and excluding their players from a military service exemption via reasons of pacifism: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Sudden Attack, Special Force, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Overwatch, Diablo, League of Legends and StarCraft.
An official from the prosecutor’s office stated that they don’t intend to take measures against people who played such games “once or twice” but “if the objectors are found to have violent traits based on the length and number of times they have played the games, it can be used as evidence to dismiss their claims.”
The government’s actions are, unsurprisingly, being challenged by a number of opposing viewpoints. First, there’s the issue of privacy that comes with digging into people’s gaming history, which might be difficult to obtain, “as gaming firms only saves players’ data for around six months,” Yonhap reported.
Then there’s the and all-too-often-talked-about-in-other-countries supposed link between playing violent video games and having a desire to commit acts of violence. Even if one believes that to be true, some of the games selected for scrutiny seem questionable. “Realistic” shooters like Call of Duty or PUBG are understandable, but League of Legends and StarCraft? That sounds to me like simply the government adding them to the list just because they’re likely to entrap people due to their overwhelming popularity.
Even if we take those games’ cartoonish semi-violence seriously, it will be difficult to prove that playing such games represents a deviation from one’s personal beliefs. Most of us are against violence, on some basic level, but that doesn’t mean we won’t play games where killing is commonplace. Or, if you pursue a same-sex or adulterous relationship in a game, does that make you desirous of the same things in real life?
It seems unlikely that these cases will go anywhere, and that’s good news for gamers in any country. We’re long past the days when trials by fire would be commonplace, so let’s not start having trials by Steam.