In the online computer game “Lineage,” 12-year-old South Korean Lim is a hero, earning fame and fortune in a fantasy world where a flashing blade and well-timed spell can keep him out of trouble.



In the real world, however, Lim’s love affair with the fantasy game saw him fall foul of the law after he stole $16,000 from his father and ran away to feed a passion for online gaming.


“The boy told us he wanted to play games to his heart’s content, so he decided to leave home,” said police officer Jung Sang-won, who tracked down Lim in Pusan, South Korea’s main port city, last month.



The 12-year-old — police have identified him only by his family name — was discovered at an Internet cafe, known in South Korea as a PC Baang.



Lim’s case highlights some of the growing social problems that have emerged with South Korea’s drive to capitalize on a powerful broadband network and expanding online game market, now estimated to be worth almost 500 billion won ($420 million) a year.



The game fanatic’s whereabouts were discovered when he cashed some of his father’s checks at a bank in Pusan and tried to transfer the equivalent of $300 to a fellow gamer in exchange for cyber gaming items.



Successful players can earn huge sums of money by collecting virtual items like magic potions or enchanted swords in multi-player games such as Lineage and then selling them for real cash to other players.



Concerns over growing illicit trade in cyber items, as well as health fears over the length of time young people spend on games, have driven the government to draft regulations to cope with the darker side of South Korea’s appetite for online gaming.



WIRED FOR GAMES



About 70 percent of South Korea’s 48 million people have access to the Internet, with 11 million using high-speed services, the world’s highest broadband penetration rate.



NCsoft Corp (036570.KS: Quote, Profile, Research) , the company behind Lineage, generated revenue of about 111 billion won in the first nine months of the year, earning 22 billion won in net profit.
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