Interview: Valerie Veatch, director of ‘Love Child’

A short while ago I caught “Love Child” – a documentary about a couple whose first child died when they neglected her while playing marathon video game sessions at a nearby Internet cafe. To say that the doc is “moving” would be an understatement. “Love Child” is shot in a surreal way that automatically recalls the better Terrence Malick movies, or perhaps the “This American Life” TV show. Care not for those references? Watch the trailer below. I can promise you it’s all that good.

I was lucky enough to interview Valerie Veatch, who was a swell interviewer. Check out the website for “Love Child” here to see when the doc will be played near you.

How did you hear about this case?
I was in Rome when the case circulated the international news media. It was all over Italian papers it caught my attention as a moment where the physical world and the virtual world coincide in a very dramatic way … I thought that there must be more to the story.

Could describe what happened from their point of view?
The couple were highly engaged in a guild in the online game – playing with other team members. Their time in this online world was spent earning points they would cash out for money to keep playing the game and support their lifestyle. The game they were playing has a “pet” feature called “Anima” (a small creature that aids the player in battle with spells and potions) and the hours required to generate enough money in the game eventually led them to game all evening (after putting their daughter Sarang down). They didn’t have a community around them to physically check in on their child and after a while the all night gaming sessions led Sarang’s malnourishment.

While there is blame on the parents end, does the blame fall elsewhere, too?
I have a hard time seeing this story in the paradigm of “blame.” To me this is a moment in the technological evolution when the mind engages in a virtual space as vividly as real world and the mechanisms by which we experience each reality don’t allow cohabitation – sitting in front of a computer screen for hours leads to heart failure and the neglect of ones life. The couple were bound to play in the Internet Cafe at a traditional gaming console, it would have been a radically different situation if they had played on a mobile devise (which weren’t available in 2010 for the gaming platform they were on). As gaming environments become more immersive and more integrated with the physicality of our daily lives this kind of tragedy might not occur.

Should American parents be worried?
The factors that have led to the kind of immensely immersive online gaming world in Korea can – and are – being replicated here in the US (high speed internet, large immersive displays etc.). It is essential that we develop a technological environment that integrates positive social and physical health for individuals. I’m totally a techno-utopian, we cannot reject networked technologies or digital devices, rather we can develop an understanding of what the Internet really is and how to use it effectively to create a better world.

How are the parents dealing with it today?
The parents of Sarang no longer game and are raising a new daughter. It is essential they remain anonymous for their livelihood, he is a bus driver and she stays at home with their new daughter named Autumn (like the season).