Gaming Yourself to Death: A Visit to a PC Bang in Korea


South Korea has two Starcraft channels, a professional Starcraft circuit, and a whole lot of internet cafes specializing in gaming. Meanwhile in China, a man called for emergency services to save him from…the internet. Online gaming is BIG in Asia.

It goes without saying that not every Asian guy you meet will have hardcore gaming skills, or even an interest in video games at all. But there are some serious enthusiasts this side of the globe.

This week, Chinese news outlets are reporting that a 22 year old man named Ah Mao recently called emergency services saying that he needed to be rescued from his internet addiction. According to sources, the young man entered an internet cafe on March 26th, and emerged–wait for it–on the 29th.  And he’s not alone.

The door that beckons to many a player. Photo by Tim Walker

The door that beckons to many a player.
Photo by Tim Walker

Back in 2005 a South Korean man spent 50 consecutive hours playing Starcraft. He barely ate. He didn’t sleep. He collapsed and died in the internet cafe. In Korea, these internet cafes are called PC Bang, which translates roughly as “darkened room where one goes to play internet games endlessly. Or, more literally interpreted, the name means PC Room.

A few weeks back I headed into a PC Bang in hopes of finding one that offered Battlefield 3 as a gaming option. I know, my inner nerd is showing here, but there’s a point to this.

Some PC Bangs in Korea are incredibly clean and comfortable. The one nearest my apartment is not one of those. Photo by Rob Fahey

Some PC Bangs in Korea are incredibly clean and comfortable. The one nearest my apartment is not one of those.
Photo by Rob Fahey

When I entered my local PC Bang, it’s dim, and a cloud of cigarette smoke hits you like a wall. Seoul recently passed an anti-smoking law that prohibits smoking outside of designated rooms, but they didn’t seem to be complying. In the PC bang, there was a non-smoking section: a small, ventilated booth of about 10-15 computers that weren’t fogged in a haze of smoke. The remaining 30-40 stations were awash in a tobacco cloud. But I digress.

You grab a small card off the counter, which has a special code you enter on the computer. Your time is tracked based on this number, and it averages about $1.00-$1.50 USD per hour in most places. There are shelves full of ramyeon, chips, and other snacks, energy drinks, hot water, coffee–virtually everything you would need for a marathon gaming session. The chairs are large, plush, and comfortable. The computers are new, and the internet connections speeds are among the fastest in the world. For many Koreans, this is paradise.

The room is filled with a chorus of clanking swords, explosions, and the constantly repeated mantra of the PC Bang:

“Ahhhhh-shibal! Ahhshibal! Ahhhhhhhh-SHIBAL!”

Literally,

“Ahhhhh-fuck! Ahhfuck! Ahhhhhhh-FUCK!

This particular Starcraft tournament dazzled gamers with K-Pop group "5 Dolls". Photo by Nick Pettit

This particular Starcraft tournament dazzled gamers with K-Pop group “5 Dolls”.
Photo by Nick Pettit

I didn’t find Battlefield 3, so I was in and out in about an hour. And to complicate matters further, many games that are rated 19+ require an online verification system, which is difficult to get past if you don’t have a smart phone–and here is my shame–I don’t. So it looks like the PC Bang isn’t going to be my new home, which is probably good because I’d rather not end up tweaking on Red Bulls, sucking back ramyeon, and wearing adult diapers.

Here’s on of Korea’s Starcraft channels in action:

 

 

And, while we’re on the topic, see if you can follow what this guy’s doing:

 

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