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South Korea Continues To Criminalize Behavior Around Online Gaming At The Behest Of Video Game Industry

While we've spent some time here talking about the emergence of eSports and online gaming generally, it's safe to say that South Korea was one of the trailblazers in this space. This has led to a remarkable ecosystem in the country for online gaming and competitive gaming. But it's also led to South Korea introducing some fairly problematic laws at the request of the gaming industry. For instance, criminalizing cheating in online gaming is very much a thing in South Korea, though this is actually done by making it illegal to break a game's ToS, which nobody reads.

Now, however, South Korea is going a much more targeted and direct route by criminalizing "boosting", the practice of experienced players of a particular game contracting their services to help less-able gamers to climb the level ranks.

An amendment has passed in Korea’s National Assembly that could charge players found guilty of boosting with a two-year suspended prison sentence and a fine up to $18,000 (20 million won), according to Korean news site Inven.

The law, an amendment to the Game Industry Promotion Act, was first proposed in June 2017. Working with game developers in the country, the government will target boosters and boosting companies that charge for rank inflation across a number of games, including Overwatch and League of Legends.

This is yet another one of those situations where it's important to fight off the initial normal reaction, which is typically to decide that anything that negatively impacts those cheating within online games is just fine. There is such a thing as overkill, in other words, and assessing five-figure fines for the crime of playing an online game for somebody else so the game thinks he or she is better at it then they actually are should certainly fall into that category.

This isn't to say that boosting isn't a problem for these online ecosystems of course.

Boosting is a problem in games that rank players by skill; artificially inflating one’s rank disrupts the normal flow of play. The business of boosting is complex and far-reaching. A number of Overwatch League players have been punished for past boosting in the league’s first season. Philadelphia Fusion player Kim “Sado” Su-min was suspended for 30 games for the practice, while Son “OGE” Min-seok sat out four gamesfor boosting. Blizzard continues to issue large scale bans against boosters nearly every month.

The problem is that these developers are outsourcing the enforcement of their own platforms to the South Korean government, often to the tune of large sum fines and potential jail time. Does nobody else remember when we were kids and couldn't pass a level in a game, so we handed the controller to an older sibling to get past it for us? That's essentially what this is, with the big difference being that doing so effects the experience and rankings of everyone else playing as well. That's certainly annoying, and no doubt a problem.

But worthy of this kind of litigation? It's hard to make sense of that argument.

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