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Korean cyber junkies march off to bootcamp

War games not so fun anymore

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Tired of its citizens dropping dead forehead to keyboard after marathon online sessions, the South Korean government has decided to follow China's lead with a tough-love approach, the New York Times noted this week.

It recently opened a government-funded, Chinese-style juvenile boot camp, tailored to the special needs of the internet-addicted. The camp seeks to reeducate these wayward souls on the joys to be had by embracing the, uh, reality-based community.

Therapy for these outcasts has been de rigeur up to now, but the government has apparently decided a stronger approach is in order.

Drill instructors bark orders as the charges, mostly teenage boys, run obstacle courses, and the camp offers concerned parents the surety of 24 hour surveillance. Life at the Jump Up Internet Rescue School also includes horseback riding and aggressive physical training. Late night keg parties and inebriated coeds are not on the regimen, though we suspect such an approach might yield even better results socialising malcontents in hyper-competitive South Korea.

The Times kindly supplied this tender sample of life at J-school:

As a drill instructor barked orders, Chang-hoon and 17 other boys marched through a cold autumn rain to the obstacle course. Wet and shivering, Chang-hoon began climbing the first obstacle, a telephone pole with small metal rungs. At the top, he slowly stood up, legs quaking, arms outstretched for balance. Below, the other boys held a safety rope attached to a harness on his chest.

"Do you have anything to tell your mother?" the drill instructor shouted from below.

"No!" he yelled back.

"Tell your mother you love her!" ordered the instructor.

"I love you, my parents!" he replied.

"Then jump!" ordered the instructor. Chang-hoon squatted and lept to a nearby trapeze, catching it in his hands.

"Fighting!" yelled the other boys, using the English word that in South Korea means the rough equivalent of "Don't give up!"

"It is most important to provide them experience of a lifestyle without the internet," counsellor Lee Yun-hee noted to the Times' correspondent. "Young Koreans don't know what this is like."

Of course, gaming is the primary dragon to be slain at this tuition-free, government-funded experiment in martial socialisation, though cell phone time is also severely limited due to its obvious gateway-drug potential. The tide is against it, however.

The government's drive to make South Korea the most wired country on Earth has had the unintended consequence of creating a generation of net-addled cyber junkies. Gaming is now a way of life in South Korea - professional leagues are wildly popular, and gaming cafes are everywhere, providing youths with places to interact largely free from adult supervision. Governments across Asia have naturally taken a dim view of these dens of adolescent overindulgence.

The pasty detritus of this anti-social culture surfaces in western media only when one of these cyberadolescents games himself into oblivion, or murders a rival for some coveted piece of virtual booty. Funny how much more of a blast war games are online, rather than outside in a cold rain. ®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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