Korean popular music, shows, and movie are making waves around the world with the help of fans and large platforms in the U.S. Korean stars have appeared at the American Music Awards, the Grammy’s, are featured in Billboard publications, and are streamed on Netflix.
Even so, years before this, there is another aspect of Korea popular culture that went international years ago and continues to be a major powerhouse in and outside of South Korea: video games.
South Korea has fully embraced video games and the culture that its players have spawned. More than 12,000 PC Cafes catering to casual and professional players are seemingly on every block and there are channels on TV dedicated to gaming programs and events.
According to a poll by Nielsen Korea, eSports is the most popular sport among late millennials and Gen Z falling just behind soccer and baseball. Moreover, it to be a professional player is ranked higher than a scientist for elementary aged children in the country, a survey by the ministry of education reported.
It is the fourth most profitable video game market in the world –5.7 billion U.S. dollars — and has around 25 million players, which is just about half the country’s population. It completely trumps the domestic music industry, which has a revenue of about 494.4 million U.S. dollars in 2017, according to the 2017 IFPI report.
As you can see, there is a lot of money in the industry, even more so when you learn that large South Korean conglomerated like SK Telecom back professional eSports teams and sponsor leagues. There is also prestige in the field with the International Olympic Committee considering adding eSports as an official Olympic competition in the future.
News Publications and Video Games
News regularly comes out about eSports and video games every day as it is a keystone of Korea popular (k-pop) culture. It is what some in the industry call a “mass medium,” a communication platform used to reach a large audience like television or radio. Even so, media outlets that specialize in publishing information about K-pop usually fail to include it in their stories.
When a boy or girl group member mentions gaming in an interview it might make it into a story, but if it isn’t attached to an idol celebrity it is forgone. From the information mentioned so far, there is absolutely an audience for this kind of news. Perhaps, it is because video games eschew outside the group of people that these publications believe are their targeted audience.
This argument, however, does not hold up. The bombastic success of Fortnite is predicated on Gen Z and millennials. The Verge reported that around 60 percent of its 200 million payers were between the age of 18 and 24. Moreover, it seems like fans of K-pop music and dramas are into the game too; Fortnite is offering an “exclusive K-pop skin” to those who preorder the Galaxy S10.
It should be a no brainer to it seems like it would be a prescient topic that all these publications should write about. So why don’t they?
K-Pop vs. Video Games
The problem with videos games, it that they don’t explicitly sell a cultural product in the same way that songs, dramas, and films do. In all three of these, facets of Korean culture are on display in language, food, people-to-people interactions, and more. Conversely, some of the most popular video games in Korea (link in Korean) such as League of Legends, Battlegrounds, and OverWatch, weren’t created by Korean companies.
Further, video games are almost always set up to work internationally meaning that they rarely contain concrete cultural touchstones. While these are exceptions like Red Dead Redemption which pays on the Western cowboy mythos, players connect with universal narrative tropes aided by fantasy world constructs.
Sure, cross products between games and K-pop have already been made and are hugely successful to boot. Additionally, several celebrities like Super Junior’s Heechul and LE from EXID have expressed their passion for games with video footage of them playing out on the internet. Nonetheless, without the clearly dedicated fan bases and the human figure that grounds a story, it may be difficult for some writers to see how articles about eSports of games will perform well.
Does that make Korean video game culture an illegitimate as a K-pop product? I don’t think so, mostly because by ignoring it, people are missing a huge part of Korea culture — of daily life. As mentioned before, about half of South Korea’s population plays video games. It that doesn’t legitimize it I don’t know what does.
Get creative writers and let’s start writing about gaming.
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