Essay: South Korean Gaming Schools From Movie Digital Nation

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Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier

The PBS Frontline documentary Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier raises many important issues on the ways that computers and all forms of modern digital media are changing human societies and cultures. The film examines a comprehensive range of the effects of computer technology on education and learning, family and social relationships, work and recreation, and even the conduct of modern warfare. On one hand, the new technological revolution provides myriad benefits to human societies and individuals; on the other hand, it also presents legitimate concerns about various detrimental ways that it affects human life, endeavors, and relationships.

Undoubtedly, computer technology already plays a valuable role in contemporary society in general and in education and learning in particular: it facilitates and expedites academic research and communication and apparently has various useful applications in cognitive learning and even cognitive psychotherapy, such as with respect to treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans. However, research on multitasking at Stanford University and at UCLA on cognitive imaging during specific tasks suggests that there is also a valid concern about the ways that contemporary patterns of the use of digital technology is detrimental to learning and, more generally, to the quality of all efforts when individuals are unable to focus on specific tasks one at a time.

Possibly, some of the most disturbing potential negative consequences associated with contemporary use of digital media have to do with computer gaming addiction. In that regard, the film examines the lives of Korean children in a society where computer gaming has become a virtual obsession that greatly worries many of their parents.

Internet Gaming Addiction in South Korea

The documentary examines the social phenomenon in South Korea whereby computer gaming has become a national obsession among children and young adults. The documentary depicts some of the thousands of computer cafes that line city blocks in the country where Korean children (especially) spend hour after hour staring at screens while playing computer games non-stop. According to the narrator, several individuals have even died in Korea after sitting in front of screens for as long as 50 hours without sleep or adequate nutrition and hydration. While much less serious, the documentary reports that many Korean teenagers admit to having suffered extensive physical harm from their excessive computer gaming; those consequences include various muscalo-skeletal problems of the hands, wrists, neck, and back as well as eye problems caused by prolonged staring at a computer monitor.

The documentary follows one Korean teenager to his home to film his typical home life and to interview his distraught mother. He remains largely silent and uncommunicative with her as they share dinner and returns to his computer gaming screen the instant he finishes his meal. According to his mother, he is completely addicted to and obsessed with his computer games. She agonizes over the fact that whereas he used to be in the top half of his class in school, since computer gaming has taken over his life, his performance is now so low that he is at the bottom of his class.

The problem is so bad in South Korea that a new industry has emerged: rehabilitation camp programs designed specifically to help young people in similar situations overcome their computer gaming addictions and reconnect with aspects of life outside of the various digital media. The documentary follows the teenager profiled earlier as he is enrolled by his mother at such a camp program for a two-week stay. During that period, he and his fellow program participants have absolutely no access to any form of digital media or computers of any kind; they participate in traditional forms of recreation and games such as those that occupied young people for millennia before they discovered computers and digital media. While he seems content to participate, in an interview shortly before the conclusion of his two-week stay, he says that he thought about very little else throughout his participation besides the computer games he was missing and he simply longed for home, presumably, so that he could get right back to his previous addictive participation in computer gaming.

Social and Psychological Consequences of Excessive Computer Use

There are also other concerns in relation to computer gaming. For example, one subject-matter expert interviewed extensively for the documentary, Sherry Turkle, an MIT Psychology professor, has studied the phenomena associated with "multi-user dimension" (MUD) virtual environments for more than a decade. She recognizes serious potential for psychological dysfunction in that regard (Turkle, 1995; Turkle, 1999), particularly in connection with over-reliance on cyber-identities by those individuals who may already have some difficulty relating to people in person or who suffer from various types of social anxieties (Turkle, 1995). Given various aspects of Asian cultures with respect to family relations, the bases of self-esteem, and social mores, it may very well be the case that the manner in which computer gaming has flourished in South Korea is also a function of social dynamics in that particular society (Healey, 2009; Henslin, 2006).

On one hand, Turkle (1994; 1999) acknowledges that there are uses and applications of MUD environments that do not necessarily pose any problem, such as where the user engages in them strictly recreationally and in a manner that does not absorb so much time, attention, and focus from real life relationships and concerns that such use interferes with real life outside of the virtual environment. On the other hand, Turkle explains in the documentary that excessive use of computers and digital media in general may significantly reduce various elements of cognitive functions that are essential to learning.

Those concerns are echoed in the documentary by Stanford professor Clifford Nass and by physician Gary Small at UCLA. Specifically, Nass has studied the degree to which multitasking affects the accuracy and quality of individual task assignments; he reports that "mutitaskers" typically do "nothing" very well and also typically overestimate their ability to accomplish those tasks. Likewise, Dr. Small demonstrates through the use of diagnostic brain imaging technology how much computer-based multiple tasking causes overlapping neurological involvement that likely interferes with comprehension and learning.

Objective Perspective

At the far end of the spectrum, other writers, such as David Gelernter (1991) predicted (incorrectly) that computers would never change human life or society substantially but would only result in relatively superficial changes in the way we did things that we already do. Possibly one of the most helpful and broadest analyses provided by the documentary came from a somewhat unlikely source: Marc Prensky, CEO of Games2Train, a company whose business relies directly on the increased reliance on computer-generated virtual environments.

Prensky explains that computers provide many extremely valuable services and that they may actually change human societies much less than they change the way that we do some of the same things that we have done traditionally without computers. He points out that the introduction of other technologies in earlier eras, such as telephones, televisions, and automobiles, also triggered grave concerns about their detrimental effects on human life and society at the time, which is certainly true (Evans, 2004). He suggests that there is comparatively little significance to whether people read hard copy books or online books and whether students learn through traditional methods or online.

Conclusion

As in the case of automobiles, televisions, and telephones, there are individuals who use them excessively and irresponsibly, but they represent the minority when one considers the many millions who use them productively and appropriately. Likewise, computers have certainly demonstrated their potential for misuse and for excessive, even addictive behavior. However, even in Korea, if one were to compare the many other essential uses of computers and other digital media technologies in education, research, medicine, government and business administration, and both essential and routine communications, it is likely… [END OF PREVIEW]

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South Korean Gaming Schools From Movie Digital Nation.  (2011, February 14).  Retrieved September 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/south-korean-gaming-schools-movie-digital/8115

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