The first few minutes of HBO’s Love Child wastes no time setting the stage for tragedy. The film’s center, a young South Korean couple, are painted like monsters; jobless, cold, their matter-of-fact responses seemingly without care regarding the life they lost. But it’s in the second act that the film smartly moves away from another anti-video game diatribe and shows a deeper corrosion that’s truly to blame. Focusing on the growing epidemic in South Korea, there are still more than enough nods to Western culture that foreshadow this tragic story becoming a pattern.
The film grounds itself in the 2010 case of a South Korean couple, who met through playing an MMO (massively-multiplayer online game), let their infant child die from starvation while they were in the middle of a 10-hour gaming marathon at a popular Internet cafe. In the ensuing trial and conviction, the public dissects the case and file them away as more victims of video game addiction. If the film stopped there, its bias would be apparent and its morals all but meaningless.
The bigger picture isn’t necessarily on the topic of video game addiction, but an examination of how the combination of gaming, culture, and financial pressures can prove deadly. When the Korean government opted to make a substantial investment into establishing a strong Internet infrastructure in the 1990s and 2000s, the ripples across their local – and subsequently, their international -identities shepherded the nation into a cyber-devouring culture. The mother and father, as it is explained, are the kinds of people that fall behind the digital curve.
They were struggling to get by financially, and without knowledge on how to care for a child, they stumbled through their life until they found the growing trend of “gold farming” for various online games in exchange for a small living. Sessions could last anywhere between 8 to 16 hours, and it all takes place in a Korean gaming cafe, in which people pay for blocks of time to use one of their computers.
While credit must be given to the film for allotting proper time to give this incident a proper context, it struggles to bring home the human element where this story’s heart is supposed to really be. It’s clear that Love Child isn’t looking to point fingers or find the real culprit for the death of this poor child (they remind us too frequently that it’s the parents’ fault, and we know that), but it fails to have an end-game argument or bringing any kind of resolution to the points it brings up. Yes, South Korea has begun showing patterns of Internet addiction, but what impact has the government had with the new laws to combat against it? What solutions, if any, are pondered by experts or researchers to find a way to rehabilitate the victims?
Ultimately, Love Child is a decent feature-length foray to better explain this problem to a largely ignorant public, but it serves more to bring up this debate yet again without adding anything new to the table to review. Through this sad story of two people looking to just survive their world the best they can, we are left with the same conclusion that most non-gamers make about MMOs – that if you can’t hack it in your own world, you can try it in a fake one.