Gaming in the DRNK

In a regime as controlled as the Democratic Republic of North Korea I thought the concept of gaming culture would be non-existent. At best I expected to find an underground sub-culture who risks life and limb to engage in online and digital gaming. I started my investigation and found limited information to help confirm and expand my understanding of this culture in North Korea. There were some newspaper articles, such as The Telegraph’s, North Korea internet users ‘downloading Top Gear and porn’

(Tuesday 16 September 2014). This article mentioned the strict isolationist measures and speculated on the legitimacy of claims that games, TV shows and pornography had been downloaded from IP address within the country.

A Korean News article, Foreign laptops increasingly popular item for North Korean middle class (Phebe Kim, 10th July, 2014) discussed in detail the increasing movement of foreign laptops into North Korea and the fact that these were only available to the elite class of citizens who could afford the expensive items. The article quoted sources (defectors) who stated that video games were being played.

Computers are also popular with young people that watch DVDs, listen to music, and play video games. Jimin states, “As children of elite families] use more advanced computers to play games, they can be tempted to become like those game addicts that are often mentioned in South Korea.”

This information does not mention or allude to the existence of an underground gaming culture in North Korea but given the prodigious engagement of the western societies in the digital gaming environment it is only logical that this leaks into the North Korean society. Supporting this is the increasing engagement of neighboring countries – Japan, China and South Korea which makes access to contraband digital products less of an obstacle. In addition to this, I have already mentioned the public execution of citizens in North Korea for possessing copies of movie, TV and other foreign digital products. If people are going to risk persecution and death for old TV shows they certainly would for the digital gaming experience.

North Korea’s first video game –

Online commentators marveled at the backward design despite the existence of many online resources which would produce an infinitely better quality. North Koreas are definitely going underground for quality.

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4 comments

  1. It is an odd thing to imagine a nation wherein 90% of the population is being told to eat grass and bark while the other 10% are playing video games and downloading porn. Even though North Korea likes to construct itself as a digitally connected nation, I find it hard to believe that there would be an underground gaming community. This would mean ordinary citizens, part of the 90%, would have to own a console or computer, not to mention the games themselves and/or have access to the internet. As much as it is an uplifting thought that there is a section of such a suppressed population that, despite it all, has found joy in gaming, it seems very unlikely that they would be afforded this opportunity over basic human rights.
    I went looking through articles about North Korean Internet use after writing this and I came across this one http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htiw/20140907.aspx which details how North Koreans are making use of wi-if signals from neighbouring countries, which could be relevant to your research into their gaming habits.

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    1. Thanks for your great comment. It strikes my as a little naive that the world is oblivious to the total class difference in North Korea. The whole issue of video gaming just spotlights the injustice. From my research the 10% of the population connected are either government functionaries or the rich minority of upper class families. These people could not care a kimchi about those without and are happy toe the party line and follow the rules to stay connected. Those who don’t die!

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  2. To think the US has a 99% problem…

    Really interesting post outlining the division in class in North Korea.

    I know this isnt the topic you are discussing however I find it interesting that the young people of Korea are gaining means of communicating with the ‘outside world’, inevitably they will gain contact, what will this mean for the closed country? But, I digress.

    This persecution you discuss is also interesting, is it another case of the rich being above the law? Do these people get publicly murdered also?

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  3. It looks pretty impossible for the regime to maintain control of information and technology flows into and out of NK at the moment. As you said, North Korea is surrounded by 3 extremely techy countries. Japan, South Korea and China are all hubs of electronic development. That must play a huge factor in North Koreas underground economy, which is apparently booming at the moment. On the topic of emerging class divisions; those who are taking risks and developing businesses, like operating passenger buses or importing fishing boats, are benefitting greatly and emerging as sort of transparent tycoons who often operate across the Chinese border. The governments socialist planned economy is collapsing (no surprise there) and the redistribution of resources and wealth seems to be helping to shift financial control/power from the regime back to some lucky individuals… so in terms of an underground gaming culture, it seems that a lot is going on under the Kim Jong Un’s nose and it certainly is becoming harder and harder to control.

    (http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/09/21/2011092101133.html)

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