Police have arrested a South Korean couple whose toddler starved to death while they were raising a virtual child online, authorities said.
The couple fed their 3-month-old daughter once a day between marathon stretches in a local Internet cafe, where they were raising a virtual child in the fantasy role-playing game Prius Online, police told local reporters Friday.
Prius Online is a 3-D game in which players nurture an online companion, Anima, a young girl with mysterious powers who grows and increases her skills as the game progresses.
Police have not identified the 41-year-old father and 25-year-old mother, who lived in Suwon, a suburb south of Seoul. But the father apologized, speaking to reporters.
"I wish that she hadn't got sick and that she will live well in heaven forever. And as the father, I am sorry," he said.
The baby reportedly died five months ago.
South Korea has one of the world's fastest broadband networks. Seoul has won international awards for e-governance. Online gaming teams are sponsored by major conglomerates and 24-hour, high-speed Internet cafes, known as PC Bangs, dot every urban neighborhood.
Police said the couple had lost their jobs and used the game as an escape from reality, especially after the birth of their premature baby.
"They instead played an online game in which they raised a virtual character so as to escape from reality, which led to the death of their real baby," Chung Jin-won, a police officer in Suwon, told Yonhap News Agency.
"South Korea remains a very conservative society so people who fall outside the norm can come under severe stress and pressure," said Michael Breen, the Seoul-based author of "The Koreans."
"The Internet has provided such people with a paradise to escape to and simply get lost in."