Saturday, February 10, 2007

Patriot Games

We have a lot of TV channels in the UK, but I think it has to be said that after the first twenty or so, it's niche, long-tail and lowest-common denominator entertainment all the way. So I admit, an entire channel of consisting of "The World's Scariest Police Chases" seems like overkill even if it's your thing. But despite the fact that a lot of people in the UK play video games, there's no games channel and I can't even recall ever seeing a specific gaming programme beyond an old TV show called Gamesmaster which was pulled off the air in 1998.

The Korean cable TV service we subscribe to for 5,000 won per month (about £2.72) in our apartment building is a fairly standard one which a lot of people have. Out of approximately 60 channels, three are video game channels, and a couple of the others feature hours of video gaming during the night. If you weren't convinced by the PC Bang experience already, this should tell you a lot about the prevalence of gaming as an activity and subculture here.

In fact though, merely labelling them as gaming channels doesn't really explain what they are. Their focus is online gaming, and the standard programme consists of tournaments between individuals and teams. Serious and haggard looking - and almost exclusively male - youths with slightly wild or vacant eyes hunch over their screens while commentators provide a running dialogue on the action. Meanwhile a crowded audience watches almost as intently. Girls scream when they show the players up close on the big screen. I never really thought of video games as a spectator sport, or gamers as high-school pin-ups, but here it is.

Oddly enough, three months of flicking through the various TV channels would lead you to the conclusion that there are in fact only three online games played in Korea. World of Warcraft, Starcraft and some first-person-shooter Doom-variant I've never really identified. I actually dubbed one of the channels 'World of Warcraft TV' in my mind because as far as I can tell that's all they ever show. In fact, I know from my own experience playing the hugely-popular Kartrider that there are others, but I've never seen any coverage of them. Very occasionally ordinary multiplayer games make an appearance, so I've seen coverage of a basketball game a few times and last night, bizarrely, a women's wrestling game on the MBC Game channel - with female gamers - rated 19 - adults only (note the logo in the top-right of the screen!)

I couldn't honestly say what the specific content of the Korean gaming channels is beyond coverage of the Korean World of Warcraft League and 'Star League' as I can't understand Korean, but Arirang - the English-language and ever-so-slightly foaming at the mouth Korea-to-foreigners channel (slogan - 'Korea for the World, the World for Korea'), started showing some of the tournaments late at night - especially between Korean teams and foreign ones. Having never played them, I just don't understand World of Warcraft or that genre of game, so I was no wiser despite the valiant attempts of the commentators to explain the battles as they unfolded, and it remains an unsatisfying spectator sport in my book - even in English. But the take home message from the game I watched was that the Korean team beat the Chinese team and there was much rejoicing which left me feeling slightly ill-at-ease.

I continue playing Kartrider because going round and round in circles as a cartoon-like figure is something I can relate to from my real life, and besides I only need another 1,000 points to lose my 'green-glove' status and progress on to the next colour (spot the sign of addiction here). Plus, now that I have Korean Windows I can actually talk with the other players in-between races - something I couldn't do with English Windows even though Korean input worked with normal desktop applications. Whether I will or not is another matter though, I can't type Korean fast enough and even if I could, I'm not sure how my nationality will go down, particularly when I'm winning...


Anonymous said...

Arirang's eSports show has a homepage:

That Quake game is probably CounterStrike.

Instead of Patriot Games, it reminds me of the Wizard. That Nintendo movie with Fred Savage.

Teski said...

Hi~~! I hope you don't think I'm intruding, but it's so refreshing to meet another Korean person using this blog website!! Usually it's naver or cyworld homepages.

You seem very 3-dimensional and I enjoyed reading some of your posts and seeing some of your photos of places far and wide, and those under your nose.


반갑습니다~~ 좋은 하루 되세여~~

Anonymous said...

Not sure if my previous comment got posted since I accidentally closed the browser.

I think the other first person shooter is probably CounterStrike.

Here's the Arirang eSports page:

Here's an article in the Korean Timesa about professional gamers.

Mike said...

Hello Mark,

Thanks for the links, they're much appreciated. I took the liberty of retrospectively incorporating them into my blog post. Hope that's OK. Unfortunately it looks like Blogger's comments doesn't like long url lines (unless it's just my browser!) so I'm also reproducing them below:

Arirang eSports
Korean Gamers Look to Europe

A bit of a development on the Quake-type game. It does look more like Counter-Strike but in trying to pay more attention late last night I noted a small url at the bottom of the screen which read

I didn't catch the company name though I'm afraid and a cursory web search didn't turn up anything. Probably Korean of course - I'll try to get to the bottom of it!

Sorry I didn't post your comments a little earlier, I had a slight run-in with Meniere's last night so I was off-line for a while which felt very un-Korean of me :-)

Mike said...

Hello Tereska,

Thanks for your comments. 감사합니다. Much as I liked the idea of blogging using Naver or Cyworld it's actually very hard to set up an account as a foreigner. Instead I've long-since thrown in my lot with the Americans' Google, which is very British of me.

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