Addiction To Fantasy Worlds

As reported in the Guardian, Internet addiction is driving South Koreans into realms of fantasy:

According to the government, about 2 million South Koreans – nearly one in 10 online users – are addicted to the internet. Many spend every waking moment immersed in role-playing games, in which players form alliances to guide their characters through mythical worlds, collecting extra powers and other items as they go.

“I’ve been playing this for about two years and won’t stop until I get to the end,” Ji, a 27-year-old mobile content developer, says as beads of sweat form on his brow. “In my line of work I spend a lot of time in front of a computer, so this is where I feel most comfortable.” But he denies that his obsession could be turning into an addiction. “It’s my way of relieving stress. I could drink or go to the cinema, but this is how I want to spend my spare time. I don’t have a girlfriend, and I’m not likely to meet one here.”

The government has responded to juvenile web addiction by spending millions of dollars on counselling centres and awareness classes for children. From September, gamers aged under 18 will be unable to access 19 popular online titles, such as Maple Story and Dragon Nest, from midnight to 8am. Those who play outside the curfew will find their characters growing weaker the longer they play.

Now, however, the government must reconcile its support for online activity with the emergence of an older generation of web addicts. While the number of teenage addicts has fallen from more than 1 million to 938,000 in the past two years, those in their 20s and 30s have risen to 975,000, with the unemployed and university students considered at greatest risk.

Read the rest of the article. It’s quite simply staggering. As we, in the West, digitalise ourselves further, can we expect similar results?

It’s a shame this doesn’t happen for fantasy literature on quite this scale, but there’s something interesting in this – I mean, clearly there is a mindset here that suggests huge numbers of people are open to immersion in secondary worlds. Whenever anyone talks about genre “finally” going mainstream, I think of things like this article, or the vast numbers of copies Lord of the Rings sold, or the queues outside of Twilight films.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. Hmm, I wonder then if the addiction is to the internet specifically or to removal from reality.
    It would be interesting to study whether the brain responds in the same way to fantasy novels as it does to second life or WOW. Or has someone done that already?

  2. It’s escapism (although not purely). Society changes at what feels like an ever increasing pace and individuals feel lost. I’m not sure it’s any worse now than it was in, say, the 60s, each generation brings new ideas, yesterday’s radicals become today’s conservatives.

    History will probably look back at the last 10 years as a dark time, a time of fear, surveillance, of greed and poverty. Little wonder people would like to take that wardrobe to Narnia, where our lives can mean more than just “getting by”. We aspire to great things, yet all too often real-life gets in the way.

    Fantasy allows us to escape, it allows us to hold a mirror up to our own world and try and understand it, and in the case of RPGs allows us to be someone else.

  3. After my seminar the other day, I was talking to my academic advisor (who is also a lecturer) and he mentioned that he had had a student come to him to tell him he couldn’t do his philosophy degree anymore because of WoW.

  4. Adele – probably a bit of both, but I would like to see a little more investigation into the psychology of escapism.

    Adrian – I think history has been like that for longer than the last ten years… But there’s certainly a lot more access to escapism now. Or maybe not (there has always been access to stories). What I think games do is allow a much more accessible and deeper level of engagement with secondary worlds.

    Paul – now, how long until you bow out of academia because you’re addicted to blogging about genre… 😛

  5. Prof Keith Oakley is researching the psychology of fiction (http://www.onfiction.ca/), which is a linked topic, I suppose.

    I was interested in reading the other day about ‘outsider art’ – and people who create paracosms. I read a biography of Branwell Bronte (brother of the Bronte sisters) a few years ago and was interested to learn he spent much of his life creating and writing about his paracosm ‘Angria’. Are they really any different to what Tolkein, or any epic fantasy writer, or roleplayer, creates?

    It is one of those things which is really intriguing … why do we spend so much time and energy creating or immersing ourselves in fiction? Being me, I’m always swayed by an evo/bio explanation … There was an interesting article in SEED magazine about something vaguely related recently which suggested entertainment systems (and I suppose we can included fictional worlds) are fitness-faking systems: they make us think we’re biologically fitter than we are (if we read about being strong, we think we are strong; if we read about finding a mate, we feel like we’re found one). (If you’re interested: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/why_we_havent_met_any_aliens/)

    Anyway … going way off topic! Sorry 🙂

  6. Did you hear about the woman who divorced her husband because he cheated on her in Second Life? http://www.metro.co.uk/news/402338-second-life-sex-causes-divorce

    Funny how you never see obese avatars on Second Life…

  7. I’d take your point even further, Adrian. IMO, it’s not simply escapism, but also needing to belong. Why else is it important to play online with others (whom you may or may not know), and not simply play WarcraftIII all day over and over again?

    It’s one of the reasons I feel it’s easier to stay away from WoW, despite being intrigued (well, knowing it’ll only end with police breaking down the door because someone thinks I’m dead after two weeks of getting fully sucked into the world), than from a simple not online game: I don’t feel it has much more to offer to me personally than WarcraftIII.

    As to the question whether we’ll end up with the same problematic numbers? I don’t believe so, I think the main problem is one that’s historically and culturally defined: these fast-growing, booming Asian economies are being punished for skipping or hurrying through the steps of social and cultural development the Western world slowly went through, sort of doing overnight what Europe did in two centuries. I remember seeing a documentary, somewhere in the 90s, about a Japanese phenomenon where students and young working folk burnt out and kept sitting in their rooms, playing games all day. Which is pretty much what WoW addiction in Korea looks like. I don’t think our Western young people are, or ever can be, as wedged in by socially and culturally generated stress and expectations that the only way out is hide in escapism. They’ll more likely find some way to annoy the older generation and that’s that.

  8. Good topic Mark, and interesting link, Rachel.

    This is a big question: Are games like WoW taking people closer to reading fantasy lit or farther away?

    On the one hand, if RPGs are any indication, we see that for the most part, online games have replaced old-fashioned pleasures like sitting around a table with your friends and rolling dice.

    Similarly, more boys and men are playing WoW than reading Michael Moorcock, et al.

    This is the problem with novels. They’re a solitary experience rather than a social one (WoW). They require more mental effort and endurance than simply turning on your computer to hack-n-slash. They require long attention spans, unless every form of popular entertainment.

    What’s ironic is that fantasy has taken over the world, but now there’s a flight away from the roots of fantasy into fantastic realms that entertain us even more efficiently than words and chapters.

    Fight the power. Be a Luddite. Write or read a book.