Online Gaming in South Korea
The rise of online gaming in South Korea has brought improved economic prospects and notoriety, but at what price?
Beginning in the late 1990’s South Korea has quickly become the undisputed king of the online gaming world. Gaming and the culture that has grown up around it are now the defining aspects of the lives of many South Korea youths. While this eruption of online gaming has created revenue for the country and made South Korea a global hotspot for international gamers it has also been a cause of concern in much the same way excessive television viewing and game playing has in the U.S.
A number of factors contribute to the huge percentage of online-gamers in South Korea. A fast internet connection is a necessity and South Korea is, per capita, the most wired country in the world. Over 60% of households have broadband – compared to 20% in the United States (Kim 2). South Korea’s small geographical size and high population density make running the required cabling an easier task than it would be in the U.S. Broadband access in South Korea is, furthermore, the cheapest in the world at $25 per month (Kim 2). Additionally, in South Korea console gaming isn’t nearly as popular as it is in the U.S. and elsewhere. Console systems – Playstation, Nintendo, Sega – are by and large of Japanese origin. Due to past discord between the two countries – Korean being a colony under the rather, at the time, iron-fisted Japanese – Japanese imports have been both officially and culturally unpopular (Herz 3). Without consoles to take away from the base of game players, in South Korea unlike the U.S., online computer gaming is the dominant form of electronic gaming.
Though more than half the homes in South Korea are wired it is the cyber cafés, know as PC bangs, where much of the serious game playing occurs, and where the culture is most apparent. There are reportedly over 25,000 bangs in the country, open all hours of the day and inexpensive (Gluck 1). Game playing in South Korean is a much more social experience than it is in the U.S. Going to a bang, whether to play online or simply go to a chat room, has become the social activity for many young Koreans. It is what they do when they go “out”, how they escape the apartment complexes in which 50 percent of South Koreans reside (Herz 2).
The choice of games that the South Koreans play also reflects their more social nature. Star Craft, a real time strategy (RTS) game by U.S.-based Blizzard Inc. was the first extremely popular game in South Korea in the late 1990s. RTS games can be cooperative team-based or simple head-head battles. At that time there was not a lot of choice in online games, particularly in Korea as they had limited or no access to U.S.-based massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as Ultima Online or Everquest. That changed when Seoul-based NCsoft released Lineage, an MMORPG for South Koreans. Now, as of March 2003, Lineage has 3.2 million...