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.
- Have you ever had a auditory hallucination regarding video game bgm? Yes/No
- Did a object ever look like a game character before? Yes/No
- Does not playing a game make you anxious? Yes/No
- There are times when you can`t separate reality from video games. Yes/No
- If you have at least one "Yes"
- Consider game addiction.
- 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.
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.