Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bang the Machine

Trading has been slow for the last couple of days, so when a friend phoned to invite us out for pizza we jumped at the chance, leaving our systems to work for us while we were out. After pizza at the unlikely named Big Bowls, it was off to a PC Bang (PC room) for a few rounds of Kartrider, as you do.

I've had some brief experiences of PC Bangs while in Korea - but they've been limited so far to hanging around the entrances while my girlfriend went in looking for people. So today was my first entry into the world which so many Koreans seem to inhabit.

It wasn't quite what I expected. While the closely packed machines accompanied by the whirr of fans and the smell of CPU-heated air mixed with body odour took me back to my university days, I was surprised to find that it appeared to be little more than a glorified arcade - since almost everyone was playing a game of some kind.
Until today, I'd laboured under the illusion that people in PC Bangs were surfing the Internet, checking their email, watching videos and doing all the kind of things that people generally do aside from gaming. But it all appeared to be gaming, and in fact, to be absolutely precise, of the hundred-or-so computers, everyone was playing one of five different games as far as I could tell. Unfortunately, my knowledge of games is sufficiently limited that the only one I could readily identify was Kartrider.

When we sat down - in the smoking section to start with (there was no room in non-smoking) - a woman brought us a drink that tasted suspiciously like flat Sprite, and about as unpleasant as that sounds. There have been quite a few stories in the past couple of years of Koreans playing games in PC Bangs so long without a break for food, drink or sleep they've actually died, so perhaps this was a small concession to that. Each computer also had a very small vending machine next to it, containing nuts or chocolate for 100 won a time. It wouldn't keep you going for long though - even if you had the change.

A fascinating aspect of the place the PC Bang has in Korean culture is that by some technical means that I am not aware of, Kartrider knows that you're playing in one and whatever points you would have scored at home are doubled. Not only that, special PC Bang-only cars are available which make the game easier to play. Which all serves to put PC Bang players of the game at a distinct advantage to those who choose to play elsewhere. I understand that we paid more for playing Kartrider than had we just accessed the Internet, so I imagine there's some kickback for the company as well as the PC Bang in doing this.

The downside of playing in the PC Bang was the noise - I found it impossible to hear my own computer above the racket of all the others - and when I finally left the PC Bang, I discovered I couldn't hear properly as I'd been slightly deafened. I think if I ever specifically went there to play a game in future, I'd take some small headphones.

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