My Kingdom For a Game

In Let's Get Political on July 5, 2011 at 11:46 pm

My Korean friend took one look at me intensely scrolling from page to page on my brand new smart phone and said, “You’re one of us now.”

It’s true.  Countless times I have passively gazed at strangers in cafes, friends and couples, totally absorbed in their respective gadgets often oblivious to company.  Being of that cusp generation that lived through high school and part of college without mobile technology, I found myself clinging to the belief in gadgets as the destruction of sociability.  So much so that I protested on many a date, claiming Twitter was our third wheel.  But that was before I got my own.

Korea is the most connected country in the world, with the highest speed Broadband DSL connection, and a population as reliant on internet as Australians on air-conditioning.  Nay, more so.

So imagine my astonishment, when scrolling through Android Market on my shiny new Galaxy S II Amoled screened beauty (I threw that in, though actually I have no idea what Amoled means), only to find something missing.

“Games:  No matching content in Android Market”

No games? In Korea?  Are you serious? I concluded it must be a fault of the handset.  No possible way could the country world famous for internet gamers not have access to mobile games.  Turns out, the impossible is bafflingly possible.

Despite, or perhaps in spite of, being the world leader of the internet, Korea is also the leader on internet regulation.  Almost all content is monitored and thus censored, pushing the limits of free speech to their bendable and breakable.  But here’s the trick; whilst free speech is a guaranteed democratic right, there is also an out clause which states “neither speech nor the press may violate the honour or rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics”.  What is quantifying ‘public morals’ or ‘social ethics’ is up to the big guys.  Basically, you have free speech…until you don’t.

Current president Lee Myung Bak has developed crackdown policies on political content, shutting down social networking sites, blogs and other web content which may be pro North Korea.  In January of this year, a South Korean man was arrested for praising North Korea in a steady stream of tweets for almost a year.  But if that wasn’t scary enough, in November 2010 a woman was sentenced to 2 years prison for possessing an MP3 file of instrumental music with pro-North Korean titles.  No lyrics.  Just titles.   Debate can wage as to whether political censorship is a necessary evil, based on the fact that the war is not over.  But politics aside, what about my games?

The Korean government estimates that approximately 2 million citizens are addicted to the internet, so much so that it affects their ability to function.  As such, the regulatory board has been introducing all sorts civil liberty defying policies, such as shutting down game sites during early morning hours.  Not only that, after a string of suicides of famous actresses brought on by the influence of ‘Netizens’, anonymity is all but impossible.  A citizen number is required before posting any public content, and it’s also required to enter sites with content deemed by the government to be regulatory worthy. Internet content is thoroughly tracked, rated and controlled.   In short, Big Brother is watching you.

I can’t download games because the Korean regulatory board cannot evaluate and screen every game available from Android Market.  There’s just too many.  Google simply threw its hands in the air and said, “Well, I guess you can just go without”.  Apple had a similar reaction, eventually pulling its games applications from iTunes after facing constant regulatory hurdles.  But it doesn’t stop there, as Google Korea and YouTube also block anyone uploading videos with their settings from Korea.  Nevermind the fact that the Korean government has their own YouTube channel.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  Iphone users can create US accounts and gain access to all the Angry Bird-like applications they’ve ever wanted, just as I can third party install my own mind-dulling amusements.  But before you think about downloading any pro-Kim Jong Il violin concertos, make sure you’re safely off the Peninsula.


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