CNN reported last week that South Korea has implemented a controversial law called “Shutdown law” or “Cinderella law”, which bans people under the age of 16 to play games online after midnight.

South Korea is infamous for having the best and most addicted gamers in the world. Their addiction in the online world has a heavy and serious toll in the real world, where about 8% of the population between 9 and 39 suffers from internet addiction, according to the National Information Society Agency. This has resulted in degenerated social interaction skills, health issues and even death. This is alarming, especially when the age group with the highest addiction rate is those who are 9 to 12 years old, at 14%.

I’ve seen what game addiction can do to people. I had a university friend who played so much World of Warcraft, that half his face went numb. It can be really dangerous. But, it’s hard to say if banning gaming will really help addiction. It may even fuel it more, where gamers only want more of what they can’t get.

Before I came to China, I had no idea how big the online gaming market is here. Quite simply, it’s huge! Some analysts believe it could hit US$9.2 billion by 2014 with 141 million gamers. That’s why companies like Tencent and Shanda have grown to a colossal size and everyone is trying to create the hit game that will attract the masses of Chinese gamers.

This got me thinking about whether China would ever feel compelled to also block gamers from playing.

In fact, in 2007 the General Administration of Press and Publication in conjunction with seven partnership ministries, including the Ministry of Information Industry, implemented a similar measure. To curb internet addiction, they implemented a “Fatigue System” which automatically lock players out of game play after more than three hours per day. Like Korea, there was widespread public outcry (from gamers of course).

Back in 2007, it appeared the “Fatigue System” had little impact. The problem is that, game developers had to integrate software that would cut gamers off. Why would they do that if, the more people play, the more money they make? Moreover, it is easy for people to use the name and age of someone else to fly under the radar of the software that switches them off. Addicted gamers will always find a way to keep playing and won’t let something inferior stop them.

Internet gaming addiction is really a social problem. If China or Korea, hopes to help addicted people then it should look to more preventative measures and social solutions, rather than defect to laws and software. The big hairy question is – how?