October 06, 2012

World of Starcraft

From the string of cookie cutter beauties churned out by the nation's finest surgeons to the bottomless bowls of kimchi provided as side dishes at Korean restaurants, many of the stereotypes about South Korea have been spot on. The gaming culture is no exception, as I would witness firsthand at a television studio in Mokdong during a live broadcast of a Starcraft tournament. As the most technologically savvy and socially awkward group in the world, young Koreans are almost always attached to their electronic devices while awake.

The Korean equivalent of Internet cafes, PC bangs, are usually open 24 hours a day. They can be found around the country, filled with avid gamers around the clock. Gaming addiction is an issue, with the government even attempting to put limits on the number of hours a person can play within a given time frame. There are cases of gamers passing away after marathon sessions at the computer. The victims are not limited to the players themselves. A baby died of malnutrition as her parents were so immersed in the digital world they neglected to feed her.

Starcraft is one of the video games that is wildly popular in South Korea. That is why there are television channels dedicated to broadcasting tournaments where top gamers battle it out in front of live studio audiences. The gamers sit in enclosed booths facing each other, free from the distractions of the outside world. Their antics are displayed on several large screens for the audience to witness. The crowd is evenly divided between foreign and local nerds. There is one girl in attendance, and one more who I am unsure about.

The spectators are offered free pizza during a break, which they gobble up in no time. To the left of the audience are English speaking commentators, and to the right are some extremely lively Korean commentators. They describe each attack and counterstrike between the battling gamers with an intensity that does not match my excitement level, but adds greatly to the atmosphere. Since most gamers rarely see the light of day, a visit to the studio provides an unique glimpse into an usually invisible aspect of modern day life in South Korea.


"Champions rarely talk. They just perform and the world around them talks." - Unknown