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Love Child (2014)

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Love Child, an HBO documentary set in South Korea, explores the impact of a headline-grabbing 2010 case in which an infant, Kim Sa-rang, died from neglect while her parents gamed at a local Internet café. (Ironically, the couple was raising a virtual child within the role-playing game they were addicted to.) The parents avoided serious jail time when their lawyer claimed in court that they were addicted to online gaming. They “were incapable of distinguishing between the virtual and the real” he says in the film.

“The story, to me, represented a distinct moment in human history where the divide between the real world and the virtual world collapsed,” Veatch told SciFri. Easy Internet access—due to an aggressive governmental campaign in the ‘90s to extend broadband access—is perhaps one reason why more and more South Koreans are living in a “mixed reality,” as one interviewee in the film describes it.

Sa-rang’s parents met inside of a game, and it’s also where they made money. “The internal economies [of these games] are real,” Veatch told SciFri. “You get to a dungeon! You meet a dragon! You need a sword! If you pay 20 cents to upgrade your sword, you can advance in the game.” Advanced players can make money selling items they’ve earned in games (such as swords) to less advanced players, a practice Koreans call “gold farming.”

Watching Love Child is an unnerving experience. Could this be a common scenario in the United States in 20 years? But for a filmmaker drawn to such a heartbreaking story, Veatch is surprisingly optimistic about our technological future. “It’s a problem today but it won’t always be a problem,” she said, citing efforts by the South Korean gaming industry to use games to also treat health problems. “I’m a total techno-utopian.”