Explaining Korea's Obsession with StarCraft

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Matt Barton's picture

StarCraftStarCraftThere's a great post up at Edge Magazine called StarCraft's Enduring Legacy: Part One. While I was aware of how popular the game remains in Korea, I didn't realize just how huge of a cultural phenomenon we're really talking about here--we're talking players who have fan clubs of over half a million people. What I really wanted to know was why this game was so popular in Korea. Apparently, it's simply a matter of the right time and the right place:

Many in the industry say the game had the luck to be released in 1998, just as the Asian financial crisis was savaging Korea’s economy. Millions of students and laid-off workers needed an escape – and StarCraft was there at the right place at the right time.

The staff also claims that Korean culture "revolves around the latest craze," and obviously StarCraft was one of those crazes that manages to persist many years later. I don't claim to know anything worthwhile about Korean culture, but I'd love to hear your theories about why StarCraft is so popular there.

Oh, and in case you missed it, here's my Matt Chat episode that covered the game:

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Hans (not verified)
From an expert

Explained: I played Starcraft on a semi-professional level in Europe. I've played the game consistently for over ten years, probably tens of thousands of games. The game is great NOT because of the developers' skill, but because gamers exploited tricks and glitches in the game which required incredible dexterity and agility to pull off, but if done correctly, would win you the match.

Korean culture, and I would argue Asian culture in general, is fantasy-oriented and very concentrated. Once something comes along that is great, EVERYONE thinks it's great, there's very little opposition to popular culture. As mentioned above, during the financial crisis, students and everyone under eighteen started playing Starcraft. When the big companies started making big money through internet cafe's and televised competitions, the phenomenon took off. Today, Starcraft matches are broadcasted on national television, there are dozens of "boot camps" for people wanting to become pro, and some even die trying to become the best because they don't sleep or eat properly. This is something that could never happen in Europe or USA, simply because of the different heritages we have. Asians have a long history of mixing fantasy and mythology with reality.

Look at Asian martial arts, where people still believe they'll live forever or that they can fly. ALL the most popular movies in Asia are fantasy movies with spellcasting dragons and blue-haired punk wizards. These movies are for adults. Starcraft progamers are treated as national heroes in Korea. Even the elderly know all the Starcraft progamers' names and accomplishments. It's their national sport. It's fiction. It's all very Asian.

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