New Documentary ‘Love Child’ Examines the Game-Addicted Korean Couple Who Starved Their Child to Death
In 2010, a 3-month-old baby named Sarang died of malnutrition while her parents were out of the house. The two were at a local Internet cafe, binge-playing a game called Prius Online, in which they were tasked with raising a virtual child.
The couple, who met online through the game, fled out of fear but were eventually captured by the local authorities and tried for the murder of their child. After a series of mental-health tests and interviews, the court ultimately ruled that they were not guilty of murdering their child, because they couldn’t distinguish the virtual world from reality. Each received a very short jail sentence for negligent homicide.
The international news media leapt onto the story, expressing both fascination and disgust with the tragedy. That included director Valerie Veatch, who set out to understand the modern-day cultural and technological influences that caused Sarang’s death.
The result, a documentary called Love Child, debuts on HBO this week. I spoke with Veatch about Internet addiction, the uniquely tech-driven culture of Korea, and where the couple are now. Highlights from our chat:
What piqued your interest in this story?
On a subtle intuitive level, I was always kind of creeped out by the way that everyone just started using their smartphones. I felt like people around me had weird phone addictions, like Facebook and Grindr and all of these apps that are designed to suck you in and produce a certain level of user behavior.
Then in 2010 I was in Rome, and BBC International was running a story about the Sarang case. It stuck out in my head because it felt like a poignant moment, where the virtual world is distinctly and acutely represented as a factor in the real world. The collapse between those two spaces felt like it would be a really interesting story to try and tell. In the process of telling it, I could explore the themes and aspects of the way technology is impacting our society.
Love Child touches on South Korea’s super-high-tech infrastructure and how it’s become a big part of the country’s culture. Do you think this incident could’ve only happened there?
There have been several instances of parenthood or traditional family structure being interrupted by gaming or Internet overuse all around the world. This isn’t unique to Korea. This issue is so focused in Korea because they have the fastest broadband infrastructure. They’ve had the fastest Internet for about 15 or 20 years, and all the companies that are making these interface devices — like flatscreens and smart TVs and smartphones — are all in Korea.
I think a lot of people feel like, Oh they’re just sitting in a room staring at a screen, how sad. In reality, they’re having a highly social experience. In Korea, there’s a love for hanging out in a big group. That cultural factor makes it so that sitting in a gaming console and hanging out with your friends online isn’t necessarily weird. More people can be together in one space, and it’s actually kind of wonderful.