The controversial “shutdown law” in South Korea will be repealed, removing the curfew that prevents underage users from accessing online games late at night ten years after it was enacted.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as well as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, announced the decision on Wednesday, stating that the shutdown law will be repealed in order to respect youths’ rights and encourage home education.
According to the Culture Ministry, seven game companies have used the choice system for 40 games at a rate ranging from 1% to 28%.
Previously, gamers had to request a permit for each game; now, the Game Culture Foundation, which is part of the Culture Ministry, will handle the entire application process. Legal guardians, teachers, or social workers can apply for permits on behalf of children who do not have parents.
Future policies, they said, will place a greater emphasis on providing children and parents with more flexibility and control rather than imposing forcible, unilateral measures.
The “shutdown system,” which prohibits children under the age of 16 from playing online computer games between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., was implemented to encourage children to get enough sleep and protect their health as game addiction became a social issue. However, its effectiveness has been questioned repeatedly, with accusations that it excessively restricts young people’s choices, as well as protests from game developers.
The main reason for the repeal is the shift in the gaming environment, which favors mobile games over computer games. In addition, a variety of late-night media platforms have emerged for teenagers.
“Game platforms have become diverse, with many children now playing mobile games which are not subject to the curfew, so the effectiveness of the system has decreased,” said the education, culture, and family ministries in a joint press release. “Also children’s internet use is mainly for watching video clips or using social media rather than playing games.”
Most advanced countries, the government said, do not have such regulations and instead leave the decision to the individual or their parents.
“Contrary to the initial goal of protecting children, the state unilaterally limited game use and this could infringe on children’s right to self-determination.”
The government has stated that the actual abolition will take time due to the need to amend the relevant laws.
Although the shutdown system is being phased out, there is still a system in place that allows minors under the age of 18 or parents to set a time limit for game play.
In a meeting with relevant ministers, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said, “In the changing media environment, the ability of children to decide for themselves and protect themselves has become more important than anything.”
“We will work with related ministries to systematically support media and game-use education at schools, homes and in society so that young people can develop these abilities, and continue to make efforts to create a sound gaming environment and various leisure activities for children,” Yoo added.
To that end, the education ministry will provide parents, guardians, and teachers with game-use guidance education so that they can better understand games.
The Korea Association of the Game Industry applauded the rule’s abolition.
“The shutdown system has choked the nation’s game industry for a long time despite continuous criticism over its ineffectiveness, infringement on children’s rights and weakening of the industry’s competitiveness,” it stated.
“We’ll make efforts for parents to know better about child protection systems already available in each game.”