July 5, 2010

To Overcome Violence in Cyberspace

International Conference on Violence in Media and Entertainment: Challenges and Opportunities

To Overcome Violence in Cyberspace:
A Case Study of Online Game and Violence in South Korea

By Young-Cheol CHEON


Cyberspace has brought about a third revolution in the history of civilization. It has transferred from the manufacturing-orientation of industrial society to the information - and knowledge-orientation of the third revolution. Then, what is relationship between violence and Cyberspace? For an ethics in Cyberspace communication we need to investigate the issues of violence in this area of communication.
In this research, I will especially focus on violence in online games, which is a form of Cyberspace communication, in reference to the Korean situation.

1. A Communication Value on Cyberspace Communication

The term Cyberspace was firstly used by William Gibson in 1984 in his book Neuromancer. Although we cannot simply define the notion of Cyberspace, it can be regarded as the virtual communicative space created by digital technologies (Hamelink, 2000).
Cyberspace communication refers to a wide range of communication in Cyberspace through various tools such as e-mail, chat, instant messages, blogs, Web pages, mobile phones, online games and the like.

What is a communication value to analyze Cyberspace communication? What is an ethical guideline for communication in Cyberspace?

I suggest a communication value named ‘communication for life’. This is based on ecumenical discussions on theology of life and Asian traditional perspectives on life and communication such as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Tonghak (Cheon Young-Cheol, 2010).

First of all, communication for life is to overcome anthropocentrism in communication. So far, concern about communication is only human centered communication. But communication for life is to create community with all living beings in the universe as well as human beings. Human beings are companions of all things in the universe and we are interconnected with all other forms of life. When humans become one with all living beings, there are no barriers to communicate between humans and nature.

Secondly, communication for life is to live together with all living beings. Humans and other living beings in the universe do not exist in isolation but exists co-dependently. Thus, the role of communication is important to link with all living beings. Communication for life is strengthening the harmonious relationship between human and nature in order to bring cosmic harmony and peace.

Thus, all communication that fosters values such as harmonious relationships, peace, justice, participation, coexistence and mutual living is communication for life. By contrast, all communication which fosters values such as confrontation, violence, injustice, exclusion, isolation, and domination is communication for death. The main goal of communication for life is to overcome communication for death and to bring conviviality to the human society and also the entire cosmos.

In short, Cyberspace communication which fosters violence is a communication for death. Communication for life is to overcome violence and to bring peace in Cyberspace.

2. Overviews of Cyberspace Communication and Violence

What are types of violence in Cyberspace? There are structural violence, military violence and cultural violence in Cyberspace.

First, structural violence (Galtung, 1990), both economic and social, is growing with the present rapid growth of Cyberspace communication. For instance, the development of Cyberspace communication formed a powerful tool in the neo-liberal globalization process. This has resulted in the domination of global markets by transnational corporations.

Second, Cyberspace communication is changing the nature of war. In other words, Cyberspace has become the next battlefield (Stone, 2001). Without driving tanks or flying jets, for instance, frontline soldiers could attack their targets using a computer system. Cyber-warfare attacks by other countries on military infrastructure, government and communications system and financial system are a growing threat (Tisdall, 2010).

Third, according to Galtung, ‘cultural violence’ can be defined as any aspect of a culture used to legitimize direct or structural violence (Galtung, 1990). In this sense, Cyberspace communication which fosters violence is ‘cultural violence’.

3. Violence in Online Games

3.1 Characteristics of Online Games

Online games refer to computer games in which many people can participate at the same time through online communication networks (Kim et al., 2002).

There are two important characteristics distinct from traditional video games.

First, players gain access to the game directly through a server, and the server can update games directly on a real-time basis.

Second, in contrast to traditional video games, online games have the ability to interact with other players (Lu and Wang, 2008). Players can interact not only with the games but also with other players. Players can play with or against other players, Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and monsters/enemies.

Online games have become immensely popular worldwide in recent years with the rapid expansion of the internet. Among the various types of online games, the dominant genre is the ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games’ (MMORPGs) in which thousands of players interact with one another in Cyberspace over the internet (Ng and Wiemer-Hastings, 2005). Some of most popular MMORPG today are Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WOW), NCSoft’s Lineage and AION. While traditional videogames end at some point or become repetitive and boring, the MMORPGs’ social interaction features and continuous updates with new game contents make the games’ challenges seem endless (Ng and Wiemer-Hastings, 2005).

3.2 General Situation of Online Games in Korea

South Korea (henceforth Korea) has one of the highest rates of broadband penetration in the world. Korea ranked at the top among OECD nations in terms of the percentage of all households with broadband access from 2004 to 2007. As the result, Korea has the availability of cheap and fast internet connections in most households. A third of Korean Internet users regularly enjoy broadband entertainment such as online games, videos on demand and movies on demand. Korea has the world's highest rate of video on demand and movie on demand downloads.

Such a strong IT infrastructure in Korea played a critical role in creating derived demand for online games. For example, a MMORPG Lineage, which was launched by NCSoft in February 1998, was the first generation of MMORPG online games that took advantage of high-speed internet connection (Huhh, 2008).

In Korea, online game is the most preferred game platform. For instance, Korea’s game market for 2007 was valued at KRW 5,143.6 billion (USD 5.54 billion). In particular, online games captured a market share of 43.5 percent and accounted for 75.1 percent or three fourths of the total game production and distribution industry market of five game platforms (KGIA, 2008).

3.3 Problematics in Online Games

What are the problematics in online games? What is relationship between online games and violence?

First, the contents of the online games mainly consist of violence and cruelness of war itself and never really focus on conclusive peace. In other words, game programmers don’t have to be interested in peace, they only have to stimulate gamers by violence of war.
In addition, with the development of IT technologies, online games have become more and more instinctive and aggressive with 3D visual images and techniques. Since online gamers can interact with other players, gamers of online battle directly identify themselves with the character who kills other people. Gamers who want to be winners are compelled to be more and more aggressive and impulsive by the programming of war games. Thus they totally concentrate on the fatalities of virtual images of war. For example, generally, Korean MMORPGs have placed too much emphasis on fighting and killing among players.

Second, addiction is widely associated with alcohol and drug abuse but recently it has started to include gambling, internet use and game addiction. Game addiction is strongly associated with online games. For example, in August 2005, a 28-year-old Korean man died – not by committing suicide, but after playing an online game at an internet cafĂ© for 50 hours straight without eating or sleeping (BBC News, 2005). As the country has the largest market of internet-based MMORPGs in the world, Korean online gamers may be more exposed to the risk of addiction compared to those of other countries (Young, 2010). According to governmental report, some 2 million people are classified "Internet addicts" in Korea, a nation of 49 million (Yoon, 2010).

Online games, especially MMORPGs, are persistent worlds. They continue to exist whether players are in them or not. Characters who log out of a world simply enter a state of suspended animation and reappear in the same place again when they log back in. No one freezes his games into a ‘save’ status when they depart, the way they do in a traditional video games (Young, 2009).

Moreover, online game addition is also associated with violent content. It seems that online game addicts are addicted to violence because the main content of the online games are associated with violent situations.


There are various types of violence in Cyberspace such as structural violence, military violence and cultural violence. In particular, online games are strongly affected by violent culture. The contents of the online games mainly consist of violence and they cause game addiction.

Thus, we have to establish and develop an alternative ethical guideline for communication in Cyberspace. As a communication value, communication for life is fostering peace instead of violence in Cyberspace. It is to support people to live together in peace through Cyberspace communication.


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Hamelink, C.J. (2000) The Ethics of Cyberspace. London: Sage Publications.

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