PC Bangs as Industrial Driving Force

This entry was written in response to the Research Blogging Assignment for Stanford’s Fall 2008 Cultural Interfaces class. For more about this assignment, click here. You can leave a comment on this post by clicking on the “comment” link below.

My research focuses on the role that PC bangs have played in Korean culture. PC bang is the Korean term for PC room. These numerous establishments are a hybrid between Internet Café and videogame arcade. Since their introduction in 1998, PC bangs have become the hub of Korean online gaming. Offering popular titles such as Starcraft, WarCraft and Diablo II, PC bangs have become an important part of leisure for youth in South Korea. The social aspects of PC bangs have been thoroughly analyzed. The economic impacts that PC bangs has had, however, has long been overlooked. In an article from the Journal of Education, Community, and Values, Byungho Park and Thom Gillespie of Indiana University present PC bangs as a business that has deep ties with the gaming industry in Korea.
Park and Gillespie first relate the rise of the PC bang to the expansion of the online gaming industry. Piracy had been a huge problem in South Korea and the lack of copyright laws discouraged software companies to establish businesses in the country. PC bangs provided these gaming software developers with a market. Because PC bangs were legal businesses, they could not use pirated material and thus were forced to purchase games for their computers. The success of Starcraft in South Korea helped to cement the profitability of PC bangs, as well as that of the software market in Korea. According to Park and Gillespie, “Just after one year since its introduction, PC-bangs became the center of the Korean software market, an inevitable change considering the PC-bangs purchase six million dollars worth of game software every month.” Once it found a market, the gaming industry then began to diversify its products offered in PC bangs to include online chatting. This was aimed at the female adolescents, “who were stereotypically thought to be unfriendly with computers,” but were more interested in socializing.
In this way, the gaming industry and the PC bangs worked together to target customers from ranging demographics. This is important to my topic because this helps to explain why PC bangs have such a widespread influence on Korean culture. From the journal, it would seem as if the gaming industry played a pivotal role in promoting PC bangs, which in turn, enhanced the gaming industry.

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6 Responses to PC Bangs as Industrial Driving Force

  1. Everett says:

    My buddy, who is Korean tried to start one of these in Northern California. But he couldnt get enough people on a daily business and had to shut his doors.

  2. Ben Halpern says:

    Very interesting source, Ming. I recall reviewing your research proposal and the first time I had heard of these PC Bangs. It’s crazy how much their society is centered around video games, something that is such a seemingly small subculture in the US. It’s also interesting how the Bangs began opening social utilities such as online chatting for the adolescent girls. I’m interested to know, then, what the overall demographics are of these Bangs–the gender and age demographics of the gamers and the socialites separately. I think you have several options on which direction to take your research as far as the actual subculture is concerned, so I look forward to seeing your project progress.

  3. Carlos Arellano says:

    Hey Ming,

    As I read your post, I was reminded of my Jr. high days, when I would go to the PC room around the corner from my house and play countless hrs of Counter-Strike. Because I have actually had experience with the online gaming world, I would have to disagree with Ben and say that even here in the U.S., the online gaming subculture is vast–we can consider games such as Madden and Halo. However, as you mentioned, and as i also know, that the gaming culture is much more pivotal to the community in Korea, I think many of us would develop a greater idea of exactly HOW much more if you brought some statistical comparisons to your project. Maybe just general numbers showing more active gamers in Korea, number of hours spent in front of the computer playing etc..As Stephanie mentioned above, I also think that addressing WHY gaming has been more successful in Korea as opposed to the U.S. would make your argument more effective. Good luck!

  4. Stephanie P says:

    Hey Ming! You already know how excited I am about your topic ^^ I have many gamer friends, and I’ve actually played my fair share of MMORPG’s as well..but I never put any serious thought into how gaming culture can have such a significant effect on a national level. I’m glad you found so much information about the history of PC Bangs and gaming culture in Korea (written in English too!) I think a good exercise for your paper would be to ask WHY has gaming been so successful in Korea, as opposed to the U.S. (even more than Japan or China)? It would appear there are aspects of Korean culture that have allowed the country to readily embrace online gaming–what are they? What is stopping the U.S. from being more plugged-in like the Koreans? I really like where you’re going with this topic–I also hope my friend Youngpyo can help you out by giving you some useful websites and personal stories haha! Have fun and keep up the good work =)

  5. John Lyman says:

    I’m glad Carlos mentioned that he used to go to a “PC Room,” because it illustrates that Bangs would have a fairly captive audience in the U.S. Anyone who has been to a Circuit City in the past two years could have picked up on this: there is a room towards the back of most stores that used to be mainly for “demo-ing” computer games; nowadays, it is monopolized by only a few popular MMORPGs. The people who spend time in this room nowadays are there for the long haul: I’ve seen guys sitting in that retail store for entire afternoons, basking in the informal PC Bang experience.
    I don’t know at this point, maybe the rooms are intentionally catering to the diehard gamer (as opposed to those who want to sample games) at this point. Either way, it makes me wonder if this kind of room could thrive on its own, outside of the store. Considering most of these kids don’t come to Circuit City with shopping agendas, I’m going to guess that it would.

  6. Constance D says:

    This journal article sounds great and seems to provide you with lots of launching points. You should definitely look into gaming culture in Korea before the PC bangs. I think Stephanie and Carlos both raise an interesting question – why Korea and not the US (where pirating is not uncommon)? How and why are our gaming locations/habits different? I think the tidbit you included about female adolescents was interesting – it might be worthwhile to look how successful PC bangs’ campaign to capture this demographic been, and how the demographic overall has changed over the years (as Ben mentioned). Also, you mentioned the lack of copyright laws in Korea in the past. Has this changed at all, and if so, how has it affected PC bangs? I concur with Ben that there are many directions you could take your research. Good luck!

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