The South Korean Supreme Court has upheld an 18-month prison sentence imposed on a South Korean man who refused to attend military service after being drafted (as reported by the Korea Herald and spotted by GamesRadar+). The length of the sentence is deliberate: 18 months of military service is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men under the Military Service Act. The man had refused on the basis of his being "against all war and violence" but his punishment was upheld, at least in part, because he enjoyed PUBG: Battlegrounds.
The man was first indicted in November 2018, which is when he claimed to be a conscientious objector who would not enlist due to his personal stance against violence and war. In South Korea there are very occasional exemptions for cultural icons and elite athletes but otherwise little tolerance towards those who wish to avoid the draft, to the extent that even global megastars like BTS are currently doing their service.
With that context, it's not especially surprising that the court had little sympathy for the man's claims of being a conscientious objector. But what's eyebrow-raising is the logic it uses to get there.
"The defendant has not put any effort into spreading or realizing what he says is his ideological belief, such as working at an NGO related to anti-violence, anti-war, or peace," reads the court's verdict. It further noted that there was no evidence of such behaviour before he was drafted, either. But here we go:
"The defendant admitted that he frequently enjoyed playing the game 'Battlegrounds' which is about killing characters with guns in a virtual reality," reads the judgement. "The video game is different from reality. But the fact that the defendant—who says he is rejecting military service based on his personal opposition to violence and war—enjoys such a game makes the court question whether his conscientious objection is authentic."
There were other factors cited by the court, including that the man claimed the military disregards human rights and issues "rampant unfair orders" to its troops. It said neither of these issues were intrinsic to military training and circumstances varied depending on which service and which era an individual served in.
I suppose the court at least admits games are different from reality, but this nevertheless feels like far too straight a line between enjoyment of violence in entertainment and willingness to commit actual violence. It's perfectly possible to be a conscientious objector and interested in the history and nature of warfare.