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Competitive Gaming in Korea

This entry was created by a student in Stanford's Rhetoric of Gaming class. For more about the class and the assignment, click here.

My project will examine what factors in Korea caused the Korean gaming culture to develop so much differently than the United States gaming culture. I will examine political, economic, and social factors as well as the games and gaming companies themselves.

The article I am choosing to examine for this post was written in 2005, but still holds complete relevance today and provides great insight into the development of Koran gaming culture. One incredibly insightful and interesting argument made by this article would be the economic reasoning the author gives for Korea gaming culture developing as it has. The author states that effects from World War II, including strict trade restrictions with Japan, caused South Korea’s economy to plummet, making “early generations of Japanese game consoles prohibitively expensive for Korean gamers”. As the game industry exploded (in a positive sense) in the 1990’s, Japan and most of the western culture absorbed consoles from Nintendo and SEGA, whereas the less fortunate Koreans were held to the only gaming platform that they had access to, which was the PC. Korea was simultaneously attempting to be an incredibly high-tech country and invested much of its research, develop, and money into amazingly fast internet connections. According to the article, “60% of households [in Korea were] boasting a broadband connection, compared to just 17% in the UK”. For those not fortunate enough to have this high-speed internet in their homes, or for those who wished to explore the social side of gaming, the new business of internet cafes, known as ‘PC baangs’, was expanding at an astonishing rate. All these economic factors make it clear as why PC gaming became the main style of gaming in Korea.
The article also explains some of the political and social factors that would also contribute to this trend. With very strict regulations from the government, the people of South Korea were lacking an outlet for their creativity and self-expression. Gaming provided a perfect opportunity for this self-expression, as the government was supporting development of a high-tech culture and thus had no opposition to this interest in gaming. Due to this, video game playing became the equivalent of sports in the United States. In the United States you turn on the T.V. and can find a good amount of channels dedicated to sports analysis and sports games. In Korea, this same number of channels is dedicated to professional Starcraft. We have one major league for each big sport in the United States. According to the article, Korea has five major leagues for professional Starcraft alone. Korean Starcraft professionals are the equivalent of rock stars and people will camp out days before an event to watch top class players battle against each other. PC baangs became social hang outs, a common place for people to meet social peers and well as interested members of the opposite sex. The gaming culture became so huge that gaming was the main social activity.
The article also provides an interesting analysis about why Starcraft became so much larger than MMORPGs or other real time strategy games. With the lack of money, game companies in Korea did not have the ability to create many games that had time and funding to become good quality. People still played some of the poorly made MMO games, but the article explains that they were merely glorified chat rooms. Blizzard, the company that created Starcraft and many other extremely popular games, is based in Irvine, California. As opposed to South Korea, the United States, especially California, was not having economic problems during this early 1990’s period. Blizzard had the resources to create a game that encapsulated the perfect setup for a country-consuming game. They were able to produce a bug-free, incredibly well balanced, competitive game that became (and still is) the “national sport” of Korea.
This article not only provides a ton of amazing information for my topic, it also allows me to gain a direction for the rest of my research. The article can be found at http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/12/11/korea/.

Comments

I think you have a great article to help you throughout your research paper. I feel this would be a good topic to write about. The topics you explained will be a great thesis statement later on in your research paper.

You've chosen a great source that addresses your thesis well. I think your source will offer great analysis and will give you great ideas for your research. All in all, I think you have a lot of good ideas and you've found a source that supports those ideas.

Hello Kyle. I believe you have an excellent source, with large amounts of spectacular information. However I get almost no sense of what your topic is from this post alone. I can tell that it deals with the Korean video game culture and economy, but it's difficult to discern exactly what argument you are trying to make.

Hi.As an international student from Korea, I really enjoyed reading your post. I can see great analysis of Korean gaming culture, and I am really surprised how some analysis were remarkably accurate. I do, however, see some inaccurate analysis (in my opinion) on Korean gaming culture. (console vs. pc, MMORPG vs. real time stretagy games)

Oops I accidently pressed the post button. Anyway, in my opinion, you may refer to other sources for more accurate examination of Korean gaming culture.

Kyle,
This source sounds fascinating, but I'm very curious to see what the rest of the picture is. I'm also fascinated by the Korean gaming scene and how it plays the role that physical sports do in the U.S., but I'm curious as to your take on the importance of the issue - why do we care why gaming, and particularly Starcraft, are so big?
Also, is there any controversy over it, whether on the part of Koreans concerned whether video games should be such a big part of their culture, or perhaps from console manufacturers hoping to open up a Korean market (particularly with internet-enabled devices). I'm very curious to see what direction you take this in, and what other sources and perspectives you include.

This is a fantastic topic. I'd just be wary in being too broad. I appreciate that there are many factors that contributed to Korea's unique development, but a certain point being comprehensive diminishes from the ability to have thorough analysis.

Judging from the article you chose, it appears that a historical/economic approach is very strong.

(Just food for thought)

Hey everybody, thank you for reading on commenting on my post. I thought I would update some more of the information I have found as I continue to develop this topic. Please ignore the strange format, especially as I wrote these to myself, but they are based on other source I have found.

New source #1:Hey Kyle, my name is Seth Schiesel and I am a writer for the New York Times. I like the many approaches you take here to look at why Korean gaming culture and the gaming culture of the United States differ so drastically.
I agree with your historic and economic reasoning about why this phenomenon occurred, but I believe you could supplement that point a little more. Before I did my report, I did some research and found that Korea and Japan have had a large amount of historical animosity. Looking at this from both a political and historical lens, it would make sense why console games weren’t/ aren’t widespread in Korea. More than people just not being able to afford this consoles, Korea had no desire to support Japan in any way, shape, or form and thus the Korean government did all they could to prevent Japanese consoles (all the common, popular ones you know like Nintendo, Playstation, and SEGA) from becoming part of the Korean market.
Something else I found during my report that was a very integral factor into the development of gaming culture was actually (it may seem a little counter-intuitive) the emphasis on education in Korea. Now before you dismiss this point because it seems ludicrous that gaming for non-educational purposes and education could run hand in hand, listen to what I found. Education has a key spot in the Korean lifestyle, and thus most families view a PC as an investment to aid studies, not a distraction. Consoles, on the other hand, are viewed as a toy instead of a educational assistant and are often not purchased. With children going to school for ten hours or more a day, many parents encourage their kids to get a break and relax. Video games on the PC are the perfect tool for this relaxation, and thus children are encouraged to play after a long day at school and on the weekends. Be sure to think about the importance of the education system in your argument,

New Source #2: Interesting article you found, Kyle, but I think recent developments could really help boost your argument. My name is Dave Rosenberg and I have been involved in technology and marketing for fifteen years and I have never seen something quite like this.
What could be this monumental, you may ask. Just within the last few weeks, the Korean government and judicial system ruled that “virtual currency is the equivalent of real world money”. This is certainly a startling fact. The line between real life and virtual gaming is becoming less and less defined. A video game now holds serious economic power within a country.
I feel this directly relates to your post because it shows an alarming obvious difference between the U.S. and Korean gaming cultures. You were looking at how video games were affected by economic, political, and historical factors. Now video games are becoming completely intertwined and inseparable from all these, and so much so that it will begin to define the economy, politics, and history. If video game currency becomes the same as real world currency, how long before in-game politics become real world politics. What this tells us about Korea is that gaming culture is their culture. Korean culture without gaming is now incomplete. In Korea video games are no pastime to be taken lightly, they define the country.
The United States, on the other hand, draws a clear distinction between virtual reality and real life. There are strict laws on internet gambling and other programs on the internet that allow real money to be made into a virtual resource. The United States is stalwart in assuring that the boundary between the two stays clear. People in the U.S. are weary about just paying to have to play a video game month by month. Tell those people that the money in the game they just spent buying that short sword just represented a real loss of money and these will erupt in outrage.
What I am trying to say is that Korea has adopted gaming culture as part of how the life and function on a day to day basis, whereas the United States has and plans to keep gaming and the rest of society in two different spheres. Because of this mindset and the adherence to their individual policies on gaming, the Korean and United States gaming cultures are incredibly different and will only continue to grow apart.

New Source #3:Kyle, a solid start so far, but delving into a more detailed examination of cultural tendencies, morals, and traditions would really help expand your argument. I am J.C. Herz and I wrote an article for Wired magazine in 2002 that could really benefit your proposal.
A very interesting aspect of Korean culture that affected the development of their gaming culture was the strict social and familial hierarchy that has been part of the Korean culture for many generations. The “Confucian hierarchy in Korean society” allows the perfect structure and organization necessary to create successful virtual clans. When participating in popular games like Lineage and Lineage II, you become immersed in a world of strict hierarchy that is completely unseen in American role-playing games. In these games you may be a prince who needs to gather an army strong enough to assault other prince’s castles, but more than likely you will get to be the very replaceable and abundant position of a commoner. You may fight and be the loyalist and greatest follower your leader has ever had, but you will never have a chance to lead or rule others, for your are nothing but another one of the commoners. Richard Garriott, a successful developer in the MMORPG world, explains that “In Korea, everyone is very comfortable with taking subordinate roles.” When working together “their groups are extremely well structured, to the point where they march in lines, attack in waves, and have a style of coordination that you could not possibly match in the United States”.
Why can we not match this style of gaming in the United States? It is simply the ambition, desire, and belief that we can all be the best that makes us unable to participate in this type of structure. American players want to be “the hero-king Lone Ranger”. It is the American mindset that each person can be a self-made man, it is us alone that decides are destiny.
These two different mindsets create an irreparable divide between gaming cultures in both countries. It is certainly debatable about whether either of the mind sets are better for the country as a whole, but it isn’t debatable that the Korean social structure allows the a rigid style of MMO gaming structure to develop.

And also, Minsuk, I feel like your insight could really help me out. I realize through more research that MMORPG's are popular in Korea, mostly described in New Source #3, but I was wondering what your thoughts about console vs. PC are. Everything I am finding says that consoles really aren't that popular in Korea, and PC's are used far more frequently for gaming. Any info/ thoughts would be greatly apprecaited.

Thank you all for your insight and thoughts!

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