Foreign computer games popular among North Korean youth

A scene from Starcraft: Remastered (by Blizzard). Image: Yonhap News Agency

Popular computer games are gaining traction among North Korean youth, a recent defector to South Korea has reported.

Jung Hyun Min (14, alias) defected to South Korea from North Korea’s Hyesan City last year. “I played almost all of the most famous South Korean video games in North Korea […] Every one of my friends has played foreign video games,” he told Daily NK.

Jung added that North Korea’s youth enjoy all kinds of games and that it was hard to say what category he enjoyed most, but that he “played a lot of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) 5, FIFA Online, and Project IGI2.”

GTA 5 is a game in which players assume the role of a big city criminal and complete various missions. FIFA Online is a soccer game that allows players to create teams and compete in matches.

Project IGI2 is a first-person combat game that is not widely played in South Korea.

“If one USB with a game on it hits the streets, it means that all the kids in Hyesan will play it,” said Jung. “People don’t care who put the game on the USB in the first place. Rumors usually hint that the games come from China.”

North Korean gamers, however, are unable to interact with the wider international community because internet access is severely restricted in the country. Jung emphasized that this was one major difference between North and South Korea, though he added that North Korean youth were not completely restricted to playing the games alone.

“By connecting a LAN cable between our computers [in North Korea], we could play multiplayer games with friends in the neighborhood,” he said.

Sin Ji Suk (37, alias), a defector who arrived in South Korea in 2006 from Pyongyang, said, “Being able to connect a LAN cable and play games means that they knew quite a lot about computers.”

The North Korean authorities reportedly do little to restrict the playing of foreign computer games. While foreign movies and dramas are banned in the country and those caught watching them are subjected to harsh punishment, this is not the case for computer games.

“The authorities don’t actively go after players of foreign computer games, and it’s easy to change the filename extension of the document to mp3 .avi .doc .jpg, etc. in order to hide it in plain sight,” said Sin. “People aren’t worried about getting caught playing foreign games because the authorities are focused on cracking down on South Korean movies and dramas.”