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#1 Posted by Godivaner (4 posts) -

Hi.

Before I start, just one thing I should say is I'm a Korean(No one would be confused but its the south one) and I lived in the US when I was young for few years so if my use of the English language is not so reader friendly, sorry for that.

This is a topic I wanted to write about for a long time. As Giantbomb has been the place I come to hear about how the gaming world at large is, for the last 2 years, I wanted to return the favor and tell you guys about how its been in Korea last year. At least the issues anyway. There`s a lot to talk about as you can imagine, but I'll just stick to the ongoing 3 issues, that are somewhat all tied together.

The governments game rating system, Steam, Game Addiction.

And to start it off, here`s an ad that`s started running in our subway stations few weeks ago.

And here is the translation.

  1. Have you ever had a auditory hallucination regarding video game bgm? Yes/No
  2. Did a object ever look like a game character before? Yes/No
  3. Does not playing a game make you anxious? Yes/No
  4. There are times when you can`t separate reality from video games. Yes/No
  5. If you have at least one "Yes"
  6. Consider game addiction.
  7. Game Addiction / Whatever you imagine, it will destroy more.

The logo that appears at the end means its sponsored by our Ministry of Health & Welfare. That`s just the most recent hot topic of the day for us, Korean gamers.

For those who don`t know, Korea has a Law called the Game industry promotion Act. There are a lot this law covers but there are two main themes covered in this law that makes most Korean gamers very...pissed off. One is about 게임과몰입ㆍ중독 예방 which means Prevention of game over-immersionㆍaddiction and the other is about Game Ratings. (The use of the word Over-Immersion would seem very off, but it was made up as a early compromise in the video gaming scene when addiction was, rightly so, considered not the right word)

The second one is a lot easier to explain so I'll go in to that first. Because of this Law our Game Rating System is government regulated. What could be so wrong with that, someone might think. Well, one huge problem is, and as I understand it Germany and Australia is the same, no game can be sold(and also distributed) without a prior rating. Not just in the meaning of not being able to sell in stores, I mean its straight out illegal to commercially sell your game(as with distribution). There has been instances where an one person or small team have made a game and freely give out to people or it was a college student selling there first made game on campus, and then someone would report it and was shutdown.

Someone might say with all the violent games and such it might be a good thing. I would agree with that to a certain degree but when the gaming market is becoming more international and with the rise of Indie games, it becomes a huge problem. In a nutshell, Steam becomes a issue.

As far as I know, its a unofficial number, but there`s a estimated guess that there are about 600,000 Korean Steam users. And with this number, thousands of different games, which are mostly not rated by the GRAC and GCRB(Yes.. we recently changed the rating system from having one which was called GRB to two agencies. One that handle 18 and up, and the other does the rest) are being bought. Last year, one congressman brought out this issue and whether its fair for most Steam games to be just sold when our own games need to go through the rating system. There`s a lot of stuff that came out from this issue such as Localization and whether there is a intent to sell(distribute) in South Korea because the law specifically requires this intent. But for time sake I won`t go deep in to it. Anyway this thing brought out all kinds of stories of Steam being blocked, jokes about translating games in North Korean, blocking all games not rated, and so on. The joke about North Korea is that official localization and release rate of foreign games is pitiful right now, only 2 companies to speak of if your talking about major companies, are importing games here with not that much official translation done. So individual translation is really big here. Haven`t counted but I can say 90% of Steam games, if translated, are done that way. As a example, Dying Light is getting one, Shadow of Mordor got a 0.9.1 version few days ago, This War of Mine, and so many other games were translated unofficially, whether it had a official English(or whatever original language) release or not. And with most Korean Steam users playing games like this, to get rid of this so called intent so no problem arises, there was a joke about just saying it was localized for North Korea.

Anyway, here also comes the problem of Indie games. It comes from both ways, in and out. Because of the digitization of games, we also have a growing indie game community here. Trying to sell it on Steam becomes a factor but its not the main issue on this one. Because our rating system asks for a lot of money and it requires a business license(Don`f forget in this current situation, you can`t even distribute games. There are ways around this of course) independent developers have a very demanding environment to start with. For a PC game the least you have to pay is 360,000원, which amounts to about $300.

The English Page for GRAC regarding game rating fees. If you make a RPG PC game with some kind of network enabled you have to pay at least $1,800.
The English Page for GRAC regarding game rating fees. If you make a RPG PC game with some kind of network enabled you have to pay at least $1,800.

So if you were a independent game developer who is a student or just graduated or something in those realms, its not a ideal situation. Of course I would have to mention that there are talks about removing the business license requirement for independent developers. How about the outside? One of the individual translation teams recently seen a drop of support for the Korean language in Steam store pages. So he contacted one of the game`s developers and asked why are you dropping the Korean language support and they say they heard about the problems about the rating system and just wanted to avoid the fuss all together. He asked if they tried to apply for a rating, and what does he hear, that there was no English Page to even get info on. Yeah...now that was a month ago and they did add one now. But still.

Well, this gotten so much longer then I first intended, and with my limited English skills, this will not be a good read, I can guess. So fast on to the final part.

Game addiction. Also game violence. These words has always loomed over our(Korean) gaming culture with all the news regarding PC 방(or internet cafe) connected deaths and such. This issue gotten worse when last year a representative of a political party in a speech talked about the "4 drugs in Korea" and "the need to save society from these evils". The 4 drugs he mentions are Narcotics, Alcohol, Gambling, and you guessed it, Games. So... there has been ongoing talks with the government and, as a whole, The Game Industry, about how much and where to implement laws to regulate games. Of course gamers were pissed at the implication, jokingly saying progamers must be professional drug users and game developers are professional drug manufacturers. Steam, of course is a international drug cartel. There are parts of the government that are still saying and doing promotional things for video games. But at the same time the ad you saw and officials coming out to say these things have not been a special case. Disheartening amount of news talk as if games are the reason for violence and that game addiction is a proven fact. When there is a crime, and the criminal played a video game, that fact is presented as a important reason for that crime be have been committed.(Of course everyone would have seen this kind of situation in their own country as I have sadly heard about it many times.)

So if you put all this together, and not sure if I'm allowed to and not sure if this is the correct use of the word, but it has been a clusterfuck in 2014 for Korean gamers.

There are more things to talk about, such as the so called "Shutdown" or somewhat similar "Cooldown" Law. If you heard about the incident that happened 2 years ago about a underage progamer who had to forfeit a game in an ongoing proleague tournament, it was because of a law that shutdowns the game after 12 P.M if you are under 16. That happened because of these laws. The "Shutdown" law has since gone to our Constitutional Court as to determine if it violated any constitutional rights. It was rejected for the reason that limiting time was not in violation enough to make the law moot. It was early last year when this happened so not sure how the situation is now, but there were talks about appealing and changing the law. But as all this can tell, the current situation is South Korea shows that it never truly had a positive attitude towards video games, and there is a lot of work to be done for it to have one. Especially one fit for a global gaming culture.

You guys(Mainly US and Europe, cause I`m not sure how much this would make sense with other parts of the world) have your own problems, I have seen but it always seems to me that your fight to get video games as a legitimate media is over and now looking for ways to improve it, as we, as in Korean gamers, are still fighting to just make others around us understand that as much as it can just be a entertainment, it is also something that can have a meaning in our lives. At the very least I can say that notion itself is still foreign to many people here.

So this has been a rant for sure. I hope I was able to tell you guys the situation in South Korea and how, I and many other who enjoy games here, are feeling right now. And that this writing was a small interest to you. I would love to hear how others think about this ; the ad, the laws, and such. And if there are any similar situations since I would think this kind of culture movement is not that unique.

Well, thanks for reading my long post.

After reading once to make sure there was no big error, most of my talks are about PC games, as I am a pc only gamer right now as well as singleplayer focus gamer. Not all but still a lot of what I wrote here can be totally wrong if you start looking at the mobile, console, and online gaming scene here. Also I totally forgot to mention region locks but I guess that`s more nonspecific.

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#2 Posted by LibrorumProhibitorum (443 posts) -

I can't add much to this, but Korean society is incredibly interesting to me, which makes this all the more fascinating. From what I know, and anybody feel free to correct me, Korea has a huge thing for mental health and tends to misinterpret mental health while being very, very protective about somebodies mental health and causes of mental health issues. So to see video games be linked to it, which isn't too far from how people in the west interpreted violent video games to create violent people, is also really interesting.

Video games, from what I'm reading here, seem like a niche, much like how anime is a niche in Japan. I mean, it's big, and thousands upon thousands watch and engage with it, but the general public can be quite presumptuous about the type of person who engages with this medium due to the lack of public knowledge about what the medium contains today, however in regards to anime in Japan there's a much bigger awareness of what it contains, just relatively very few engage with it.

So, yeah, thanks for this post, it's really great.

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#3 Posted by GERALTITUDE (5990 posts) -

Hell of yes!

Thanks so much for posting this duder, really enjoyed this read. Always interesting to see how the rest of the world is faring when it comes to normalizing game culture. I knew about some of this but definitely not the extent to which South Korea had mobilized its Game Law.

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#4 Posted by TheHT (15859 posts) -

Shit. Clusterfuck really does seem like the appropriate word.

There's seriously a legal video game curfew for minors? That bananas.

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#5 Posted by Danteveli (1441 posts) -

It's not super pretty in here but Korean society is different than the one in the west so it comes to games from different perspective. So the thing goes deeper than just Game Law. To be honest I think the prevention of over-immersion makes sense in this case.

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#6 Edited by _Zombie_ (1483 posts) -

Really interesting read. You don't hear much about the South Korean games industry (outside of pro gaming), compared the west or Japan.

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#7 Posted by Random45 (1807 posts) -

@theht said:

Shit. Clusterfuck really does seem like the appropriate word.

There's seriously a legal video game curfew for minors? That bananas.

No kidding, how in the world do they even enforce that? I remember hearing that you have to use your social security number to even play certain games in Korea, so I guess it's tied into that somehow (assuming it's true).

Though I actually DO think there is such a thing as video game addiction, just look at games like Farmville and pretty much ANY MMORPG on the market. Games like these use psychological tactics to keep people playing their games for as long as possible, so they can make as much money as possible. Still, all this bullshit would make me avoid publishing a game in Korea as well, I just wouldn't want to deal with all of that bullshit.

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#8 Posted by dudeglove (13751 posts) -

It comes as little consolation, and there's no actual legislation in effect (just empty threats by nameless buffoons with no understanding), but the Russian communications regulatory body Roskomnadzor has recently threatened to shut down Steam over a steam community post in the most infantile way possible (i.e. posting "Wouldn't it be an awful shame if all those gamers lost their toys" on its VKontakte social network page, rather than make an official statement). This comes in spite of the fact that store.steampowered.com and steamcommunity.com are two separate domains.

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#9 Posted by Justin258 (15659 posts) -

Man, that's terrible. Video games still have a long way to go worldwide.

As far as your English goes, it's really quite good, you just need to work on punctuation and a little bit of syntax. I didn't have any problems understanding what you were saying.

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#10 Posted by Brendan (9215 posts) -

Too be honest...$1800 doesn't sound like a massive hurdle, but combined with the other issues it sounds like you need to be serious about selling (not just making) your game in South Korea. It certainly makes it more difficult for individuals to share their ideas with the public.

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#11 Edited by Giant_Gamer (762 posts) -

Unlike other media forms gaming is still new to the whole world. It is evolving so rapidly and attracting more people that's freaking out lots of officials.

The good thing is that your government is acknowledging video games and setting laws for them (I'm pretty sure that they'll change into a more convenient form in the future) instead of blindly banning whatever game some officials might not like.

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#12 Posted by Nightriff (7196 posts) -

Very interesting read and that was the correct usage of clusterfuck

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#13 Edited by Krullban (1470 posts) -

@random45: Yes. To play a lot of games in Korea you usually need to put in your social security number

Normally to sign up for anything you need your social security number.

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#14 Posted by Sinusoidal (3608 posts) -

Wow, I've lived and gamed here (Korea) for ten years now and didn't know a lot of this.

I think a great deal of the problem is due to the general Korean attitude towards mental health issues. Mental health care is in its infancy in Korea, and easily decades behind North America and Europe in terms of availability and acceptance. Having to go to a psychiatrist is shameful here. It's something you hide from other people. Someone being dragged off to the "white hospital on the mountain" is a huge joke. One of the most commonly used slurs here involves calling one a "byeongshin" which basically means "cripple" or "retard". Parents with children who have mental health problems tend to end up shuffling them off to live in the countryside with their grandparents. I've taught in classrooms with special needs children, and up until very recently there were literally zero resources in place to cater to their needs. Nowadays, I do see a special teacher show up maybe once a week, but these students still tend to get shuffled to the back of the class where they are essentially ignored during regular classes. It's a sad situation. Though things are getting better.

What Korea needs to realize is that game addiction is not a cause of mental problems, it's a symptom of mental problems. Which could have any number of underlying causes.

Korea can be a stressful place to live. There are 50'000'000 Koreans living in a country that is a little smaller than Ohio. Then Koreans spend more time on the job than any other OECD country. It's not uncommon for a Korean to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. The Korean school system is incredibly competitive. Not just at the university level. Middle schoolers duke it out for the good high schools. There are an abundance of after-school academies where students go to get a leg up in math, science, English... I teach middle schoolers, and more than a few of them are already spending up to and over 10 hours a day in various classrooms. Many of those classrooms have 30-40 students in them too. Then when they finally get into high school, the last class there ends at 11pm!

Don't get me started on the institutionalized alcoholism and rampant prostitution (which according to some sources accounts for up to 12% of the entire country's GDP!!)

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#15 Posted by probablytuna (5008 posts) -

From hearing how popular Starcraft is in South Korea and how competitions are broadcasted on TV made it seem like video games are an accepted cultural norm so it's surprising that there is as much stigma as there is anywhere else. I do believe game addiction is an issue, but I don't think games themselves are to blame for that so I am very much opposed to laws that issue these video game curfews.