South Korea is one of the world’s largest market for video games and famous for the success of its competitive players. A core element of the country’s gaming culture are the so-called PC Bangs: internet cafés with a focus on competitive online gaming. They are ubiquitous in South Korea, cheap and equipped with up-to-date gaming computers, and usually open around the clock.
In order to learn more about the workings, culture and history of PC Bangs — and about why they are popular in Korea but virtually unknown elsewhere — we spoke to Jun-Sok Huhh. As he argues, their emergence is the result of the country’s historical circumstances during the 1990s, they have shaped what games Koreans play and how they play them, but are now struggling in the face of recent developments in the gaming industry.
Jun-Sok Huhh is game industry analyst at NCSoft, one of South Korea’s largest game development companies. He obtained his Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees in Economics from Seoul National University and has written multiple academic papers on the culture, business and history of PC Bangs and gaming in South Korea.
The [PC-Bang] was kind of child of the IMF crisis in Korea. Many unemployed and young people who did not find jobs gathered around the Bang. At first, Bang was called “Jusik-Bang”. Jusik means the “stock”, so the “Jusik-Bang” means the Bang for stock exchange – which means an internet cafe for stock trading. After the IMF crisis, people in “Jusik-Bang” had nothing to do but play games in front of their computer [and] their biggest game, as you know, is Starcraft.
The interview was recorded on April 6th in Seoul.