Korean MMORPG Culture: A Lecture By Leo Sang-Min Whang

When I was plunking around for a link to Cory Doctorow’s wonderful story “Anda’s Game”, I found (on this page) an interesting link to the State of Play 2 conference and a very interesting talk by professor Leo Sang-Min Whang about the Korea-specific experience of gaming in MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). His area of focus in study is comparing East Asian countries in gaming

Some of the interesting points he raised include:

  • Unlike with young people Japan (and, Whang suggests, in other parts of Asia), cosplay (public displays performed by individuals who are dressed up as video-game of manga characters) is relatively rare in Korea, even in Seoul, despite the tendency for Korean youth culture to include imported Japanese youth-culture; Whang seems to suggest that interest in real-life cosplay/roleplay is inversely proportionate to interest in online gaming, or rather that cyberworld experiences serve the same function as cosplay experiences.
  • The conservative parental and teachers’ organizations who condemn games because they’re not “studying”; he amusingly contrasts addictions to books, versus addictions to online gaming.
  • In Korea and Taiwan, participation is highly concentrated in a few specific games (such as the game of this professor’s focus, Lineage, which apparently had only 200,000 players in Japan but close to three million in Korea).
  • Korean MMORPG players tend to have lower rates of participation in clan-type groups or organizations in-game.
  • Korean gaming worlds tend to have more strongly codified causes or goals linked to membership in an in-game clan group; ths is reflected in the way that in-game clans have much more clearly defined hierarchical norms among Korean players than among Japanese players.
  • Korean games tend to have gamers on average four years younger than Japanes gamers, but Korean gamers tend to have spent much more time in-game than the Japanese. Korean and Japanese teenagers are spending about 4 hours a day, and you can guess what the effect it has on their grades. Korean gamers in their 20s play longer than Japanese players, but as they age, Japanese play for longer periods.
  • Korean MMORPG culture has been developing for a longer time than in Japan or other Asian countries.
  • As of 2001, MMORPG participation was overwhelmingly male-dominated in both Japan and Asia, but it was far more male-dominated in Korea than in Japan, to the order of a 10% difference (95% male players in Japan, 85% male players). However, in both societies, in-game characters were about 35% female; therefore, many more male players in Korea opted to run female characters.
  • Explaining the popularity of MMORPGs using the advanced nature of broadband and Internet cafes availability in in Korea is erroneous, since Taiwan boasts almost as much popularity through broadband lags behind and Internet cafes are less numerous there.

Mind you, all of this is really a few years out of date, with all the data being from 2001. But it’s still fascinating… but I will say that the rare times I visit a PC-Bang, it’s mainly men playing

If you’d like to see the video, which is quite fascinating for anyone with an interest in Korean youth culture, you can take a look here. Any further thoughts on the differences between Korean and other Asian experiences of MMORPGs would be appreciated, dear readers, if any still remain after my long posting drought.

5 thoughts on “Korean MMORPG Culture: A Lecture By Leo Sang-Min Whang

  1. Oh, yeah, well, I have a blocker thanks to a certain troll problem from way back. But I’ll go find it now… it’s hopefully saved up in the “blocked comments” log…

  2. Nope, it’s not in there. Any ideas what would have been flagged as questionable? Usually the comments with too many links get flagged but held in the database for approval. If you still have a copy, email it and I’ll append it above. (Or, if you wish to write it again.)

  3. There were no links in my comment, it was just one line about how I must be getting old because I’d never heard of this kind of gaming… must be a bug in the software or something.

  4. Hmmm. Weird.

    It might not be an issue of age, though. The professor who talked about it was no spring chicken either! I think it may be exposure to youth culture, or maybe even just exposure to certain regional youth cultures, that lets one know about such things.

    I don’t really play these kinds of games, but I have noticed other people into them, and an online acquanitance has a blog all about this kind of game and game-development. To me it seems just an outgrowth of all those “chat” places people used to (? maybe they still do?) frequent when people started to get common access to the Net. This is just that, with a focus and goals and graphics and so on.

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