Online Escapism: No Substitute for Real Community

Mark Earley | Prison Fellowship Ministries | Updated: Jun 08, 2011

Online Escapism: No Substitute for Real Community

The irony could not possibly be crueler. A South Korean couple let their 3-month-old baby starve to death at home while they spent all their time at Internet cafes—raising a virtual child.

The British Telegraph reports, "Leaving their real daughter at their home in a suburb of Seoul to fend for herself, the pair, who were unemployed, spent hours role-playing in [a] virtual reality game, which allows users to choose a career and friends, granting them offspring as a reward for passing a certain level."

Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-Sun would go home once a day to give their real baby powdered milk, and then go back to lavish care and attention on their online child. The virtual daughter was named Anima; the real daughter was never given a name.

Finally, they came home one day after a 12-hour session to find their baby dead. They were arrested after an autopsy showed that the unnamed little girl had died of prolonged malnutrition.

Tragically, on the other hand, the virtual girl is probably doing just fine.

Like me, you're probably feeling a little sick to your stomach and outraged, and wondering what on earth could possess parents to do such a crazy thing. It's tempting to write them off as just plain crazy, or some kind of extreme example of Internet addiction or other mental illness. But the disturbing fact is that every one of us who has ever indulged in any kind of prolonged escape from reality carries the seeds of this kind of addiction inside us.

William Saletan puts it this way in the online magazine, Slate: "Look in the mirror. Every time you answer your cell phone in traffic, squander your work day on YouTube, text a colleague during dinner, or turn on the TV to escape your kids, you're leaving this world. You're neglecting the people around you, sometimes at the risk of killing them."

Saletan explains that gaming websites aren't just games, they're worlds—and those worlds "are becoming ever more compelling." When real life gets to be too much to take, we can now log on to a world where everything goes smoothly and circumstances are easy to control. So we become more and more susceptible to being lured out of the real world into the artificial ones.

And this latest story isn't the only example of the tragic results of that kind of escapism. Saletan notes, "At least two Korean men have died of exhaustion after round-the-clock video-game marathons. Another man, nagged by his real-world mother, allegedly resolved the dilemma by killing her. The dead baby is just another casualty of this war between the worlds."

Virtual community is no substitute for real community—the kind of community we're called on to help create in our families, churches, and neighborhoods.

These examples just show how dangerous it can be when we forget that responsibility. If it's true that we're facing a war of the worlds, Christians must take a stand for real life and real community. Reality may be messy and uncontrollable, but it's a priceless gift given to us by our Creator—and so much more fulfilling than any fake world, or fake family, ever could be.

Note: This commentary delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Original publication date: March 17, 2010.

Online Escapism: No Substitute for Real Community