Gaming, Culture, and Korea- Looking Back at State of Play

Jesse Max Muir

A couple weeks back I had posted my own introduction to the concept of Autoethnography, as well as my personal interpretations towards South Korean Gaming documentary State of Play. Despite further research and investigation to the concept my understanding Autoethnography has remained relatively unchanged in following Ellis, Adams and Bochner definition as

“an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” as well as subscribing to the belief that Autoethnography is essentially the combination of ethnography (the study of cultures)  with autobiography (an individual’s self-articulated accounts). In light of this, my post State of Mind centered on this concept, as well as my own personal epiphanies towards State of Play, the full extent of which can be seen:

Here: https://jessemaxblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/state-of-mind-an-autoethographic-response-to-korean-gaming-documentary-state-of-play/

And here: https://storify.com/jessemaxmuir/state-of-play-a-reaction

Now although my interpretation to the concept has not changed, after conducting additional external research…

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‘We don’t play games for fun, we mostly play for work’

Starting DIGC330, I didn’t know what to expect, but the first few weeks of it have definitely met and well exceeded my expectations. Our topic, autoethnography was something unfamiliar and unheard of but after looking into it, it helps put a name to the method that allows us to understand cultural experiences. According to Ellis, it is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. (Ellis, 2004; Holman Jones, 2005).

From this reading, I understand that it is qualitative research in which one gathers through personal experiences from being a part of a particular culture then assessing it and allowing further cultural and social meaning and understanding.

This week’s text, ‘State of Play (2013)’ was a particular interest due to my own in depth knowledge about South Korea and it’s culture (and because I just came back from a holiday in Seoul). While watching this documentary, I managed to connect what I knew about the culture to what was being demonstrated. Thus, some things that came as a culture shock to others; was something I had expected and already understood about the principles of Korean life. However, the idea of e-sports and its popularity was still a new concept.

A few observations picked up throughout the documentary:

  • South Korea is considered the home to E-sports and is accepted and viewed like regular physical sporting events with a stadium, wide screen TVs and cheering audiences. From my knowledge, cable TV in Korea also has its own station dedicated to E-sports that has people playing games and tournaments 24/7.
  • Players, such as Lee Jae Dong are treated the same as celebrities and have a fan culture. The fans in Korea are known to be very dedicated and protective towards idols and actors. Thus, the screaming fan girls weren’t a particular shock, but the fact that pro gamers did have a broad fan audience was unheard of.
  • They have a team house in which pro gamers are scouted, leaving home at a young age and trained, living together in a dormitory. – I noticed this was very similar to the way Korean K-pop idols were scouted and trained for years by entertainment agencies until they debut. This way of constant, consistent training must be quite understanding in Korean culture and seen as highly beneficial.
  • There is no fear or taboo about kids playing games and wasting time compared to western culture; but seen as dedication and benefit- much like sporting events.
  • Teams are sponsored by huge companies in Korea such as SK Telecom and CJ E&M Company; large well known corporations.
  • Jae Dong has a ‘game face’ in which he hides his emotions- due to his beliefs growing up of how a man should act. The masculinity and gender through e-sports is also demonstrated due to the lack of female involvement. These expectations of a male can be somewhat related to western culture.


What does East Asian cinema actually mean? This is a question I have been contemplating for some weeks. According to C. J.W.-L. Wee (2012), it wasn’t until the 1980s that the world started to see the emergence of a collective ‘East Asian’ film industry (p197). During this period ‘New East Asia’ as it was known, stipulated a capitalist-driven, modern cultural image showcasing urban settings through cinema. As I was reading this article, I immediately backtracked to all the Asian crime films I had seen and experienced over the course of this investigation. Every single one was set in either a city or a suburb – entirely urban environments. Perhaps this is indicative of the ‘contemporary’ image that East Asian cinema is trying to promote? And that the crime genre is no exception to this form of branding.


east asia

Geographical area of East Asia


It isn’t all sunshine and lollypops. The East Asian film industry is a ‘fractured collective’. It is a loose network of sorts divided at times by a long history of geo-political-cultural tensions. One film which I stumbled across called ‘Full Time Killer’ (2001) seems to embody this phenomenon. In the opening scenes of the film we are introduced to Chin who works in a video store in Hong Kong (remember those). We hear Chin’s inner monologue and how she wrestles with her Asian identity:

“My name is Chin. I’m from Taiwan. I know Japanese. I work at a Japanese video store in Hong Kong. The customers can never figure out where I’m really from…But does it matter?”


It is clear that Chin has difficulty in anchoring herself to a particular Asian nationality. Is she Taiwan because she was born there? Or is she Hong Kong given she is an expat? As I am hearing Chin’s story, I was empathetic toward her confusion. This feeling is linked to my own experiences of attachment to a particular place or lack thereof.  A significant part of my life involved living in three different states – Perth, Queensland and NSW. In a sense I have an attachment to all three places, whilst being known as a ‘New South Welshman’. Territorial boundaries define our racial and cultural identity. When faced with attachment to more than one physical place, how we identify ourselves is even more complicated, as with Chin. I would not have been able to connect with the character of Chin had it not been for autoethnography as a method of research as it “can uncover many different feelings within the writer. It can be joyful, sad, revealing, exciting, and occasionally painful” (Custer, D 2014, p1). Given that Full Time Killer was filmed in Macau, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan it is an attempt to create a cinematic product which transcends the borders between East Asian nationalities. How does one country retain its unique cultural identity, whilst being part of a broader, regional creative industry?


Moses Sye 2009

The broader theme of Full Timer Killer is the ‘good’ hit man versus the really, really bad hit man. It is their nationalities that are quite important. The good hit man named ‘O’ is Japanese, while his enemy Lok Tok-Wah is Chinese. Is this reflecting on the prickly relationship between Japan/East Asia and China? I could be reading too much into this. However, the entire plot development is built around the Chinese hit man versus the Japanese hit man as they battle it out to be the number one assassin. The nature of the plot coupled with the multiple filming locations reinforces this theory.

Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, the Qualitative Report, volume 19, p1-13.

To, J 2001, Full Time Killer, motion picture, Team Work Motion Pictures Ltd.

Wee, C.J.W.L. 2012, ‘Imaging the fractured East Asian modern: commonality and difference in mass-cultural production’, Criticism, volume 54, issue 2, pp197-225.

Girls Generation: The Beginnings of my K-Pop Journey

Autoethnography is a process of connecting personal autobiographical experiences to social, cultural and political contexts for the purposes of storytelling and communication (Ellis & Bochner, cited in Alsop 2002). A key autoethnographic prompt put forward by Sheridan (n.d.) is to ask “how can I describe this situation so that others would fully understand what happened?” I think an important step to take in answering this question is to reflect on how I ended up becoming interested in Korean pop music specifically and how my initially shallow experiences with Kpop have developed into a slightly deeper appreciation of Kpop and Jpop, and an attempt to place these genres within broader cultural and industrial contexts. It all started in early 2012 when my younger brother showed me the film clip to “Gee” by Girls Generation.

It’s fair to say that Gee far exceeded my initial expectations and I was immediately drawn into the song with its bright colours, cheerful tone, adorable choreography, and relentlessly catchy vocal chants of “gee, gee, gee, gee, baby, baby, baby.” After a few days of repeat listens and trying to sing along with a language I completely don’t understand, I decided to explore further into the group via the related YouTube videos for the film clip, where I came across the far less bubbly, far more sexually mature R&B-styled song “Run Devil Run”.

Because I enjoyed this song as well, I decided to share the above video with my brother on Facebook. It was here that a mutual friend (and killjoy) pointed out that this was actually a song that was bought off American songwriters and that it had even been recorded as a demo by Ke$ha, in an attempt to stifle our enjoyment. I checked the facts and it appeared he was right, it was written by American’s and recorded by Ke$sha (Pini 2011). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the song, but it did get me thinking about how much American influence exists in the Korean pop industry, and even how much of Korean pop can be thought of as inherently Korean. Up to that point I knew nothing and had assumed that because I was watching Korean women singing in Korean that this meant I was getting an entirely “in house” Korean produced song made for Korean audiences. But this assumption proved to be naïve and overly simplistic. Run Devil Run utilizes a schaffel beat that is popular in German techno and has been used by popular English electronic band Depeche Mode in songs like “Personal Jesus” (Martin 2011). Girls Generation are also highly successful in Japan, where they regularly make appearances as guests on Japanese variety shows (Martin 2011). The appeal to global audiences becomes particularly noticeable when the same song is re-recorded and repackaged in different countries using different languages, with Girls Generation songs being released in Korean, Japanese, and even English (allkpop 2011) .


Allkpop 2011, ‘SNSD to release repackaged Japanese edition of “The Boys”’, allkpop, 6 December, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.allkpop.com/article/2011/12/snsd-to-release-repackaged-japanese-edition-of-the-boys

Alsop, C. K. 2002, ‘Home and Away: Self Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol 3, no 3, http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf

Martin, I 2011, ‘Every day we’re schaffeling: What Girls Generation are doing right’, The Japan Times, 30 June, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2011/06/30/culture/every-day-were-schaffeling-what-girls-generation-are-doing-right/#.VCK3IBbiNpy

Pini, G 2011, ‘Girls’ Generation’s “Run Devil Run” Is Our Music Video of the Day’, Paper Mag, 11 January, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.papermag.com/2011/01/girls_generations_run_devil_ru.php

Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 15 September 2014 http://ricksheridan.netmar.com/auto/


Over the past week, I have been reflecting upon my topic and how I am going to present this in a digital artefact. After much consideration, I have decided to compare my experiences of crime movies that have been produced by East Asian countries or cities. Given my interest in South Korea, I will focus on this as a site of production, as well as China, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau as an attractive locale for filming. I have observed over the course of my study into this genre (which I have not blogged about as yet) that while there are similarities in regard to cinematic quality, there is a prominent but underlying tension between these sites of production which often go unnoticed. These movies commentate on their country’s difficult geo-political-cultural relationship with China and their struggles to carve out their own individual identities.




So the next obvious question will be how I am going to present my findings from the autoethnographic study? One of my strengths is writing. Now I know what you are going to say; ‘perfect write an essay’. Since I have been given the opportunity to produce a more creative-based project, I have decided on a happy medium between writing and a digital platform – Storify.  Two separate Storify pieces will provide a detailed examination of two broad results from the autoethnographic study; one the complicated definitional boundaries of the ‘crime’ genre and two; the tensions between East Asian countries/cities/states. Storify is a flexible medium because it allows the user to integrate videos, images, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts within a body of text. Hence, it will provide an effective balance of exploring academic concepts through more informal language and engaging media.



Hong Kong Skyline 2009



But what is auto-ethnography and how does it tie in with my research? Autoethnography is a research method where “the author is both informant and investigator… the autoethnography is not simple personal narrative” (Cunningham, J.S. 2005, p-2), but rather connecting personal experiences with wider cultural implications. This method has allowed me to connect my own experiences of watching these movies with academic literature in order to better understand East Asian cinema. For example; as raised previously I have discovered that many of these films have an underlying resentment toward China. I would not have been able to discover this if not for autoethnography, if not for directly experiencing it. I was then able to connect this ‘experience’ with an industry report which seems to mirror this observation; “government shake-ups and new policies – such as the Chief Executive elections and the recent National Education curriculum, which is designed to encourage understanding and patriotism for China – are fiercely opposed when perceived as moves by the Chinese Communist Party to assert their influence on Hong Kong” (Ma, K 2012, p3).

So now I continue on my quest to better understanding Asian crime cinema through the use of autoethnography.




Cunningham, J.S. & Jones, M 2005, ‘Autoethnography: A tool for practice and education’, CHINZ ’05 Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI New Zealand chapter’s international conference on Computer-human interaction: making CHI natural conference proceeding, New York, July, viewed 10 September 2014, http://goo.gl/AOhB75

Ma, K 2012, ‘The Asian screen: the state of China and Hong Kong’s film industry and the emergence of Transmedia’, Hexagon Concepts, October, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/109335662/The-Asian-Screen-1-Hong-Kong-China

YouTube Profile

I honestly wasn’t really sure on how to present my topic of YouTube and Diaspora, but have finally settled on doing a WordPress blog (simply a dedicated page on my personal blog) and presenting a new YouTuber each week. In their profile I will give information about them and their channel as well as discussing my experience in watching their videos. 

To make sure the posts are consistent I intend to look at the same criteria for each person/profile

  • Name, age, occupation and the usual introductory bits and pieces
  • What is the channel about (Beauty, music, gaming etc.)
  • Cultural content and Cultural experience perhaps looking at cultural representation
  • Evidence of audience exerpeince

I’m definitely open to more ideas on what I should be looking at in regards to YouTubers. I don’t necessarily want to look at YouTube ‘stars’ but feel it would be good to look at both ends of the spectrum. I also think I would like to look for users IN Asia as well as in other countries to see how and if their experience differs. 

At the end of every post, it would be important to make sure I comment on my personal experience of watching YouTubers I have never watched before as well as watching some old favourites under a new light. 

Here is a link to my personal blog if you would like to follow the experiences I have https://systemcards.wordpress.com/digc330-autoethnograpic/ 


Drawing some inspiration from my last post on KOFFIA, this week I decided to do some further examination of Korean crime cinema. The Thieves (2012) a high budget, high impact heist movie with an all-star cast, is my next patient.

As I am pulled into the first scene, I immediately notice a young woman dressed in expensive clothes with a hat five times bigger than her head strutting down a hallway, her ten inch heals click on the ground while an older lady trails behind. Suddenly, the young woman seems familiar. Anyone seen Oceans Twelve? She [Yenicall, played by Gianna Jun] is very much like Julia Roberts’ character, Tess Oceans. The two characters wind up in an office greeted by the director of the gallery who bows at the older lady when I learn that she is his future mother-n-law. I immediately wonder if ‘bowing’ to senior figures is an exclusively Korean cultural practice. The older lady (Chewingum), says nonchalantly; “so I understand you deflowered my daughter? “Once driven, even a Mercedes is a used car.” I immediately thought it was both perverted and funny. My earlier comparison with Oceans Twelve is validated when I learn that the mother-daughter combination is actually a scam, and that both women are con-artists.


(Skip to 1:24:57)

Another experience, that seemed to resonate with me, was the constant use of the word ‘bitch’. Not that I was offended, but I noticed the frequency of the word. While this maybe a trivial observation, this raised some interesting questions around language and if they could be applied to the broader framework of Korean cinema. Of all the profanities at the producer’s disposal why the constant use of ‘bitch’? Is this South Korea’s favourite word?  This quandary of language also surfaced in another scene where the jeweller in the jewellery store writes on a napkin ‘help’. As I was watching this unfold, I was confused as to why ‘help’ was written in English when the movie was originally released in Korean. Is the English version of ‘help’ universally recognised? These questions have naturally emerged from my use of autoethnography as a method of research which is “intrinsically subjective. It brings the researcher/writer into self-awareness” (Custer, D 2014, p8). It is this subjectivity and self awareness that has allowed me to connect my personal experiences with broader Korean culture and its use of cinema as a medium.




Aside from these themes, setting also proved to be just as important. Macau becomes a central focus as the plot develops. In the last few decades or so, Macau has played host to dozens of films. Movies from the ‘west’ such as Johnny English Reborn (2011) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), “were also shot in Macau but only as sporadic scenes in the films themselves (the city itself is more used as a prop than a location in most of them, sometimes even mimicking other cities rather than “playing itself”), (Martins, D 2013, p8). In complete contrast, Asian production companies have recognised the opportunities that Macau presents “due to its beauty and cultural appeal, but, also, due to its closeness to Hong Kong” (Martins, D 2013, p8). Macau’s aesthetically pleasing cityscape and iconic casinos motivated the producers to film there. Does this also make The Thieves partly a Macua production as well as a South Korean production? This certainly complicates the film’s ‘Asianness’.


Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, The Qualitative Report, volume 19, issue p1-13.

Martins, D 2013, ‘the Asian screen: the state of Asia’s film industry and the emergence of transmedia focus Macau’, Hexagon Concepts: media think tank, September, viewed 1 September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/172962172/The-Asian-Screen-3-Macau-film-industry-casinos-gambling-with-transmedia#download




r/NorthKorea: Telling A Story Through A Story

For many, the Internet is linked with their expression of self (Poole 2012). Facebook feeds document feelings while Twitter records opinions. The online world offers an opportunity of expression and storytelling that has never been offered before (Pareles 2006). 

Pool, C cited in TechWebTV 2012 ‘Web 2.0 Summit: Self Expression Through Social Media – Chris Poole’

Reddit offers this opportunity more than most sites. As a site that thrives on user generated content, it welcomes personal experience albeit usually for the purposes of comedy. Boards such as r/AskReddit, r/iAMA and r/TIFU are all based on users recounting personal experiences. But it is not only the places that specifically ask for users to recount their personal experience that tell an important story.

r/NorthKorea provides an insight into the shielded Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but unlike most digital storytelling, it provides a voice for North Koreans through the documentation of the experiences of visitors and defectors, and the aggregation and discussion of everything ‘North Korea’ (Reddit 2014). While it is impossible to say whether this story truly reflects the average experience of a North Korean citizen, it provides somewhat of a voice and story to a nation that is confined from the rest of the globe.

Browsing the content of the board paints a picture of a nation that is built for show. Images show empty streets but extravagant statues. Scrolling through, I get a feeling of isolation and pride. The citizens isolated from others but prideful in their country. One user posted a poignant photo of a female traffic director smiling, which they say is a rare occurrence, amongst a reel of tourist snaps littered with propaganda (fatherdougal 2013). A sense of human delight nestled in a story of propaganda and poverty.

Through website of the nation’s main broadcasting service, presents an aggressive, proud and stiff voice (The Voice of Korea 2014). Same, same but different. The ‘Voice of Korea’ is littered with combatant rhetoric which is weakened by the outdated and disjointed layout of the site. As I listen to the snippets of news audio linked on the site, I can’t help feeling that the electronic voice of the news reader aptly matches the image the North Korean government pushes. Stiff, robotic and void of genuine emotion. Built for show, but showing nothing. 

r/NorthKorea, although not voiced strictly by those whom it is about, provides a story that has genuine human sentiment. Through the aggregation of content, the Reddit community provides insight into a group that is forgotten under the weight of their governments actions. Reddit, as a community, has expressed the identity of a group that is unable to do so itself. A story within a story. 

Reference List:

 Fatherdougal 2012, ‘Just got back from a week in North Korea (Pyongyang, Kaesong, and the DMZ) – Here are some of my favourite snaps from the trip’, thread, 10 May, Reddit, viewed 28/8/14, < http://www.reddit.com/r/northkorea/comments/1e2bw8/just_got_back_from_a_week_in_north_korea/&gt;

Pareles, J 2006, ‘2006, Brought to You by You’, The New York Times, 10 December, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/arts/music/10pare.html?ref=music&_r=0>

Poole, C cited in TechWebTV 2012, ‘Web 2.0 Summit: Self Expression through Social Media – Chris Pool’, web video, 3 April, Youtube, viewed 28/8/14, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYIingBky5A&gt;

Reddit 2014, North Korea, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.reddit.com/r/northkorea&gt;

The Voice of Korea 2014, Voice of Korea, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.vok.rep.kp/CBC/english.php?sYear1=2014&sMonth1=8&sDate1=27&gt;


GROUP WORK: Beauty or the Beast?

Group Members

Amy Hutchesson
Renee Stewart
Gemma Jamison

As a group, we have decided to research the culture of beauty and obsession with image throughout Asia, specifically concerning image-related subcultures throughout Japan, Korea and China e.g. harajuku, kawaii, aegyo cultures. We intend to research this culture primarily through platforms such as Tumblr, Instagram and blogs.

The reason why we have chosen this topic is because we all have a fascination with this field. Image is an interesting and vast topic and everyone in the world is involved with it. It is the way in which we choose to present ourselves to the world and can dictate and change so much of our lives.
With our studies of Asia, this topic seemed appropriate as image and beauty is such a large part of these cultures.