Issues of Import – Korea! Games? No.

Issues of Import

Evidently I’ve been spoilt. For the last five years in Japan I’ve seemingly been surrounded by people who accept gaming as part of their daily lifestyle. They aren’t “gamers.” They are businessmen, office ladies and students. They just happen to carry around their 3DS, DS or PSP with them, as anyone might a book or Kindle. I’ve come to assume every first-world Megacity would at least be able to match semi-rural Japan in terms of seeing videogame stores on the streets and people playing videogames on public transport.

Hongdae

Recently I visited South Korea. In my mind, Seoul is meant to be even more futuristic than Tokyo, with everywhere and everyone connected to the backbone of the Internet and the national sport of choice being StarCraft. Therefore, considering I was staying in the centre of Seoul, I assumed I’d be able to comfortably pick up a few dozen StreetPassers with my 3DS, buy some rare Korea-exclusive games and take some candid shots of people playing games in public. How wrong I was.

Seoul Train (sorry)

Looking around on trains, no-one was carrying any kind of handheld other than phones. They weren’t playing games on their phones either – they were watching TV or surfing the web.

I walked around Hongdai, the trendy student fashion/art/nightlife area of Seoul (think Camden meets Harajuku) for the better part of a day. The streets were packed in ways I’d only seen before in Tokyo. In any given 10 minutes in Tokyo you can pick up 10 Miis. In Seoul I met two Miis in one day.

On a quest to find the last Korea-exclusive Wii game... K-Pop Dance Festival   StreetPassing in Seoul... Hangul isn't compatible!   Bub & Bob "Bubble Bros" sticker hidden amongst Seoul graffiti

The friends I’d gone over to Seoul with asked their Korean friends the best area for buying games and electronics would be. They obliged and we ventured out to the Park Mall by Yongsan Station. A multi-storey store full of vendors selling camera equipment, PC bits and bobs, furniture and, dare I say it, videogames.

Yongsan

..this is what seems to pass for the “games district” in Seoul. Predominantly second-hand games, with a smattering of Chinese pirate games and grotty peripherals. After looking through each store’s library, only one of them had the final Korea-exclusive Wii release, “K-Pop Dance Festival”. That store’s owner was out. Joy.

Gangnam backstreet

I never came across any other shops selling games the rest of my time in Seoul. I did get one glimpse of a cyber café offering PS3 games to play in a backstreet in Gangnam though. Sadly, the closest thing I found to some kind of celebration of videogame culture was in a rather peculiar man’s “store” in Insadong, housing the collection of toys he’d procured in the last 50 years. Why no StarCraft museum, Blizzard?

Pokémon figures in Insadong

At the end of my trip the videogame-related bits I managed to find were three packs of Angry Birds chewing gum and the only games magazine available in the biggest book store in Gangnam. The games magazine “GAMER’Z” is quite the tome, packing in the expected news, previews and reviews… and 300-odd pages of entire Japanese dating sim script translations.

GAMER'Z magazine

So there you go. If you’re after Korean games you’re best off picking them up online. Same goes for Korean gamers. If anyone has any evidence proving the contrary, please do let me know below.

Keep on importing!


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