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/.