07/24/2014 at 10:40 AM EDT
Plenty has been made of South Korea's fixation with online culture, most visible in the marathon sessions of games like Starcraft.
But a new HBO documentary is focusing on a different aspect of the country's gaming culture: The death of one couple's 3-month-old baby from malnutrition in 2009 while they played an online game in six-to-12-hour binges.
The horrible irony of the story? The game they were playing involved caring for a virtual child.
Kim Jae-beom and his wife Kim Yun-jeong were arrested and charged for their neglect, and the couple's real-life child, Sarang, provides the name for the HBO documentary, Love Child
, airing July 28. (Sarang means "love" in Korean.)
The game the pair was playing, Prius, rewarded them with a mini-avatar named Anima – disturbingly, the character is killed in one of the game's higher levels and can be revived by cashing in earned points. The pair would often play the game for hours in a gaming cafe, selling the virtual money they amassed for real funds, a practice that was their primary source of income.
The couple confessed to charges of involuntary manslaughter during their first hearing. "I think of our baby in heaven," Jae-beom said. "I will be guilty until the day I die."
"The virtual space isn't going away," the film's director, Valerie Veatch, told The Daily Beast
. "But the way we use it and what we are accomplishing by spending time in this space will transform as we understand how to design technologies that support our human-ness and our social institutions, like family."
Citing addiction to gaming as a defense, the court gave Jae-beom a lessened sentence – he served two years behind bars. His wife, who at the time of their trial was pregnant with their second child, received a three-year suspended sentence.
The pair have sworn never to play video games again.