Infant starves to death while parents raise virtual child online
I had a real, visceral reaction to this story when I read it. Actual tangible anger. That anyone could let their child die so that they could play a game is simply beyond my comprehension. It is beyond what I can understand about humanity. It is heart-breaking:
Kim Yoo-chul, 41, and his partner Choi Mi-sun, 25, fed their three-month-old baby only on visits home between 12-hour sessions at a neighbourhood internet cafe, where they were raising an avatar daughter in a Second-Life-style game called Prius online, police said.
Leaving their real daughter at their home in a suburb of Seoul to fend for herself, the pair, who were unemployed, spent hours role-playing in the virtual reality game, which allows users to choose a career and friends, granting them offspring as a reward for passing a certain level.
The pair became obsessed with nurturing their virtual daughter, called Anima, but neglected their real daughter, who was not named.
Eventually, the couple returned home after one 12-hour session in September to find the child dead and called police. The pair were arrested on Friday after an autopsy showed that the baby died from prolonged malnutrition.
William Saletan chalks it all up to a war-between-worlds of sorts. The escapism of our online communities is simply too great for some people to handle.
That’s the real horror behind the Korean story: The balance of power between the worlds is shifting. Here and there, virtual reality is gaining the upper hand. The clearest evidence is death. When people consumed by the digital world begin to die and kill in the physical world, flesh is losing its grip. It still defines our deaths, but it no longer defines our lives.
South Korea is a warning of what lies ahead. It’s a digitally networked country in which71 percent of people use the Internet, many of them at 24-hour broadband cafes. At least two Korean men have died of exhaustion after round-the-clock video-game marathons. Another man, nagged by his real-world mother for disappearing into video games, allegedly resolved the dilemma by killing her. The dead baby is just another casualty of this war between the worlds—a war increasingly dominated by the world in which you’re reading this.
Indeed. And one feels almost guilty participating in this virtual world when a story like this surfaces. What other ways could we be spending our time? How may we be neglecting those we love? The average high school student spends five and a half hours a day in front of a screen. This is increasingly true of all age demographics. It’s eerily reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – but in a sense, even more frightening for its lack of anything really sinister. Nobody is out burning books. We’re just creating a world in which they are increasingly irrelevant. And in which family, community, and even our children are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
That being said, I think there are great benefits to increased communication technology. The other day, I wrote:
I think it is the physical distance we have placed between ourselves and our neighbors, families, and friends that has contributed most to our atomization, and which has led directly to the more psychological and spiritual distances we see forming – as our children are raised either in single-parent homes or without any real connections to their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and communities in general. In some sense, then, the communication technologies we have developed allow us to compensate for this distance. Rather than blaming social networking or other communications technology for our increased atomization, perhaps we should view them as a subconscious attempt to remedy something we, as a culture, barely understand about ourselves – as an attempt to bridge the distances between one another.
But how to explain the death of a child?