Tuesday, August 14, 2007


It may or may not be the case that once upon a time Korea's multitude of PC rooms, known as PC Bangs ('bang' is Korean for room), were used for surfing the Internet and doing a spot of word-processing, but if they were those days have long since gone. These days, PC Bangs are basically video game rooms. That said, you can still find some of them that are willing to do something as old-fashioned as print out a document for a price, although based on my experience these are few and far between. And even then, the one we found doesn't have copies of Microsoft Word on its computers so we are reduced to printing out using 'Word Viewer'.

Because of the work generated in preparing our appeal against the decision to prevent myself and my wife returning to the UK, we've been at the PC Bang that prints a number of times of late, and I've begun to realise that these places are full of people no matter what time or day it is, shattering my illusions that they might be quiet during weekdays, when people are supposed to have jobs to go to. That said, I gather that PC Bangs are favourite haunts of Korea's unemployed.

As we were struggling to persuade a computer to print out a document to a networked printer the other day, I couldn't help but note that the guy sat next to us was well into ajeossi territory - mid-40s would be my guess - which admittedly is not your typical demographic in a PC Bang. But what was typical was his choice of game - an online 3D game which may have been Counter-Strike or something called Special Forces which seems to be popular here - with copious amounts of weapons, violence and blood. Perhaps they help deal with the psychological trauma stemming from the National Service which Korean men have to do.

I couldn't help thinking that something about this picture didn't fit, which I suppose is my prejudice of seeing video games as predominantly an activity for young males. On the other hand, it's a distinct possibility that a good number of today's Korean PC Bang and patriot-gaming generation are going to get older and keep playing - so perhaps our 'ajeossi' neighbour was in the vanguard of a subtle Korean social revolution. If I come back here in thirty years will the PC Bangs be full of grey gamers? A possibility. It probably beats what appears to be one of the most popular activities for old people in Korea at the moment, which is hanging around in parks keeping out of the way of family members and waiting for the end. It's common in this day and age to see disaffected youth as a 'lost generation', but in high-tech Korean cities which have long-since forgotten their recent heritage, I'm not so sure it's not really the elderly.

Our PC Bang of choice also features another tell-tale sign of Koreans' determination to stay here far into the future - beyond the inevitable drinks machines they sell snacks. We're not just talking chocolate bars and packets of crisps/potato chips here, because with the addition of hot water or the microwave you've got a complete noodle or rice meal in a tub. And as we regularly struggle with the mysteries of network printing a steady stream of haggard looking gamers make their way to the only female to be seen - the one behind the counter at the entrance - to buy what sustenance is necessary for another fix of murder and mayhem. I suppose it really is like being in the army. Predictably, I've never seen a gamer browse for their lunch. Leave chair, walk north to food counter and take nearest object, return to chair, play and eat. It's no wonder every so often, gamers die of exhaustion in these places.

Had Einstein been alive today, it's possible that he could have cited Korean PC Bangs as conclusive proof of the theory of relativity, because it appears that the measurement of time is not the same in a PC Bang as that which exists outside in the real world.

Korean tags: , 아저씨, 인터넷, 비디오, 게임, 음식


Jon Allen said...

The Joong Ang daily had an item about exactly this topic today.
You are well ahead of the newspapers!

Bad news about the amusement park down your neck of the woods yesterday.

Mike said...

Link: Gen-X gamers demand their place in market

Yes, with the amusement park and the plane accident it's been a bad couple of days for Busan.

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