The technologically advanced South Koreans have avoided Western temptations like cheeseburgers and crack, but the populace is facing a unique problem: rampant gaming addiction. But that may just be the side effect of a fantastical new gaming culture that reveres virtual athletes as gods.
1. South Korea's Soviet-Style Gaming Curfew
Gaming addiction is most prevalent across the younger generations -- kids, teens, and young adults are spending the majority of their time sequestered inside PC Bangs, or South Korean gaming cafes with otherworldly internet connectivity. Every day millions of seemingly zombified adolescents sit at tiny cubicles and devote countless man-hours in the quest for a godly APM (aka Actions Per Minute). Some ditch school, neglect duties, and spend up to 18 hours a day locked away at their battle stations. Others have even gamed themselves to death.
In an attempt to protect its youth, South Korea enacted the shutdown law, which went live in November of 2011. Like Soviet curfews of the past, the shutdown law bans individuals under the age of 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6:00 A.M. All underage persons caught online at the witching hour will be unceremoniously disconnected. As such, it's gained the nickname Cinderella law, because young gamers disappear from tournaments en masse as midnight chimes. Authorities have even considered an extension of the law to include mobile gaming, in an effort to get these kids of their damn phones.
Understandably, not everyone is pleased. The gaming industry voiced great displeasure and challenged the law, while PC Bangs nation-wide complained of declining profits. Others argued that the ban is easily skirted by players using a parent's -- or any adult's -- identification number to log on.
Prominent doubters include Shon Ae-lee, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family's Youth Policy Director and South Korea's current president, Park Geun-hye. Both would rather invest in teaching adolescents some damn self-control, and a new stipulation allows the law to be lifted with parental consent. Step-parents everywhere now have a new way to get their new family to love them.
2. Professionals are put under tremendous physical strain
Being a pro gamer is the greatest thing ever, right? All you do is chill with your boys, pound 3D Doritos, and talk crap on LoL.
But in actuality, the eSports life is a 24/7 grind that only ends when your career is over, and top players spend all their time practicing or sleeping. And sometimes not so much the second one. Hell, some players need permission just to go on a date. Now, compare that to every famous athlete's Instagram.
And, just like the athletes with actual muscles, professionals hit the gym hard (relatively) to stay in tip-top gaming shape. Some lift weights while others supplement their daily Starcrafting with running or swimming to achieve a mind-body unity.
Afterward, just like professional sports teams, gaming squads devote "free time" to studying opponents' play and devising strategies to attack perceived weaknesses. Pre-game routines exist as well but are somewhat less impressive than Steph Curry draining half-court threes. Instead, it's finger exercises. MarineKing, for example, types "+a1a2a3a4a5a6a7a8a9a0" over and over again, followed by "ASDF ASDF" to work his digits' full range of motion.
At least players don't have to worry about cooking. Professionals living in sponsored grind-houses enjoy pre-planned meals and maid service, and even amateur Starcrafters in PC Bangs can order rounds of Mountain Dew and ramen to supply all the essential amino acids every gamer needs.
Like contact athletes, some gamers suffer career-ending chronic injuries. Like carpal tunnel syndrome. Once the bane of middle-aged secretaries, Korean youngsters are now dropping like flies due to constant pointing and clicking. Sometimes surgery is necessary, but Starcraft pro Lee Young-ho sees his scar as "a badge of honor."
To reduce the risk of injury, proper body mechanics are key and have birthed a new profession: eSports ergonomics coaches. In the case of Frank Maas of TheSandbox, a Ginyu Force of Starcraft II experts representing a variety of disciplines has been made available, including strength training, psychology, and apparently even a martial arts master.
Maas suggests a regimen of stretches, posture exercises, and breathing techniques to fix professional gamers' bodies, which have been bent out of shape by 12 to 18 hours of daily sitting. Other than feeling better, Maas promises that gamers will also benefit from improved endurance and speed. In the game, that is. In real life, they're still screwed.