Video gaming is so ingrained in American culture that we take it for granted. We don't stop to think that other countries, especially those on continents not ending in -orth America, might have a very different relationship with their hobby. Take a moment to ponder these what-ifs now as you check out these surprising aspects of gaming cultures from around the world.  

 

1. Cheaters and Hackers get Jail Time in China

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Many online gamers are total dicks. For all we know, you could be a total dick. And why not, what are developers going to do? Supsend or ban you? You'll be back again. But in China, they might ban you from real life by arresting your ass.

We should probably cover the background here. See, Chinese ultra-mega-conglomerate Tencent has become the world's largest video game company by engulfing its competitors like a Greek god eating his family. The conglomerate is responsible for PUBG Mobile and bringing non-mobile PUBG to China, a stupendously huge gaming market that accounts for more than half of PUBG's 27 million global users, and that's before the official Chinese release.

But PUBG is also plagued by rampant cheating, and Tencent can't monopolize the gaming industry if all these tryhards keep chasing away the casuals. And anti-cheating enforcers at BattlEye have already done their fair share, banning more than 1.5 million accounts, or 6 percent of the PUBG population -- and that's only since January.

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In an attempt to shut down the game's virtual black market, Tencent-backed police agencies have already arrested at least 120 people for creating and selling in-game cheats. We're talking nasty stuff like auto-aimers and see-through-walls X-ray mods, basically superpowers sold for 20 bucks a pop. 

Chinese authorities also arrested group of 15 major hackers and charged them with $5.1 million in fines. And we mean serious hackers, who preyed on other gamers financially as well, using a Trojan horse virus that allowed them to control PCs and extract delicate user information.

And this isn't the first time Chinese gamers have been arrested for virtual dickery. In 2014, a jackass duo known as Wang and Cai received two-year prison sentences for cybertheft. They acquired personal information relating to a Mr. Ma, then logged into Ma's Dungeon Fighter Online (a multiplayer brawling game) accounts and stole the equivalent of $6,405 worth of digital property. That's about nine dollars per day of jailtime, for those at home wondering whether cybercrime pays in China.


2. Iran's video game culture grows despite restrictions

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The Iranian Revolution of 1979 banned a lot of the things people in the West take for granted, but since then the country has gained some familiar amenities like Pizza Huts. Rcently, they've been dipping their toe into the next-most important luxury: video games.

Iran's video gaming industry has so far been mostly imaginary, due to factors like the non-existence of copyrights, bans on Western trends and a laundry list of international sanctions. For example, even if developers received permission to create a game, sanctions prohibited them from obtaining licenses for awesome true-and-tested development engines like Unreal. It's also nearly impossible for developers to use crowdfunding platforms or to self-publish on Steam or Google Play.

But that's changing with the newer generation. A 2016 survey found that 23 million (out of 80 million) Iranians are gamers, and 37% of those are women, allowing for the kind of varied and often horrible trashtalking the rest of the world has grown to know so well. With numbers like that, Iran is potentially the Middle East's hottest gaming market, and sales have only increased over the past couple years.

When it comes to foreign games, Iranians generally purchase pirated copies or versions edited by the ESRA, Iran's game rating agency, who takes a cut in the process. Home-grown choices, on the other hand, usually come in one of two forms. There are some propaganda-driven titles, like Missile Strike, a game about guiding missiles into Israeli landmarks, picking up Mario Kart-like power-ups along the way. 

But local gamers say that these are extreme and unrepresentative of the mainstream gaming culture, made up of regular hardworking people who would rather play FIFA than virtually bomb Tel Aviv.

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On the other end of the spectrum are actual games, i.e., creative and interactive works of art based on Persian culture, like Garshasp: The Monster Slayer, which is a bit like God of War with Persian Mythology. Other new and popular titles include Grandam Overdrive, a Rayman-ish platformer rooted in Persian folklore, and Seven Quests, an MMORPG monster-battler based on a 1,000 year-old epic poem featuring Rostam, the Persian Hercules. All this, and not a loot box to be found.


3. Tech Prices in Venezuela Are Unbelievable

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As you may have noticed, Venezuela isn't doing too hot right now. The economy is in shambles and tens of thousands of Venezuelans are taking to the streets to protest corruption and the nation's out-of-control hyperinflation. This affects games in a big way, but to really understand the scale we're working with, we need to dig into the hows and whys.

Venezuela's financial troubles are caused by a combination of factors, including falling oil prices, an overcontrolling government hindering private enterprise and the country being broke. It doesn't help that, until recently, the country used two exchange rates, one high and one low.

The lower rate was only available to a privileged (read: corrupt) few, who took advantage by flipping dollars on the black market, making the problem worse. But normal people don't go through the official, legal mediums to get their cash. They do it on the black market, with an otherworldly exchange rate of more than 250,00-360,000 bolívars per dollar (as of April 2018), according to different sources; a mind-boggling 99.9 percent decrease in value over the past 5 years.

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And so basic amenities are exorbitantly priced on the black market. A dozen eggs can cost $150 dollars, a box of pasta twice that much, and a kilogram of dry milk more than $700, or half a monthly paycheck at minimum wage. These items can be gotten for much cheaper at legit supermarkets, theoretically, but it's a crapshoot. Certain items are only available certain times of the week, and people often wait in line for hours only to find out that supplies have run out. It's come to the point where World of Warcraft gold is seven times more valuable than Venezua's real currency. This disparity is so common with online games that some people are playing Runescape just to put food on the table.

The situation is exceptionally dire when it comes to tech prices, according to the 2016 Technology Price Index released by Linio, Latin America's leading e-commerce retailer, which lists Venezuela as the most expensive place in the world to buy tech.

Specifically, the Xbox One came in hot at $37,000. Heaven forbid you're a Sony fan in Venezuela, because the PS4 clocks in at $56,000. Mobile gaming, maybe? Nope that sucks too, as an iPhone cost nearly $100,000 and an Android a bit less, only $78,000. Tablets were price-matched with entry-level BMWs, and Mac Books commanded Bentley money, $178,000 per. To put that into perspective, you could afford to fly to the second most expensive country, Angola, buy an Xbox, Playstation, laptop, and a couple phones, then fly back and still save tens of thousands of dollars.

Those prices are even worse now, as hyperinflation continues to push electronics into Lamborghini-pricetag territory in 2018. This accursed year will never end.


4. All the good stuff in Russia is pirated

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Like an overpopulation of bears and shirtless strongmen who ride them, piracy has become part of Russia's national stereotype. And for a while now Russia really has been a pirate's haven, especially in the realm of video games and digital media. A NewZoo study in 2011 found that 75 percent of Russians acquire their console and PC games illegally, and that out of 40 million gamers (of a total 140 million Russians) only about 25 million say they spent, you know, actual money on their hobby

And it's not hard to see why. Console games can cost upwards of $80, and residents with regular-ass jobs, especially in non-major cities, may only bring in the equivalent of several hundreds of dollars per month. Jailbreaking a console, on the other hand, can be achieved for under $50, and allows any game to be downloaded in under an hour, generally. Or, residents can buy pre-pirated games at one of the ubiquitous tech stores, mom 'n' pop shops, or markets.

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Even with this wild disproportion, about $1.5 billion is still spent annually on games, making Russia a unique gaming landscape where many spend little to nothing at all, and others spend extravagantly, especially on PC titles.

The Russians have been passing all sorts of new anti-piracy laws over the past half a decade. But it's been a back-and-forth virtual arms race as pirates find new ways to circumvent prohibitions and defy Roskomnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, which controls websites and internet content. Russia even has a Piracy Party and the Roskomsvoboda, who fight for users that have been angered by removed content -- because, firstly, no more free shit. But, secondly, and they have a great point here, the content removed is sometimes better quality and better translated than official productions, which are overpriced and often sloppy. 

And with a new consumer survey showing that 87 percent of Russians don't even know that pirating content is illegal, it looks like the battle will rage on.


5. The secret world of North Korean gaming

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Wait, what kind of gaming industry could possibly exist in the world's most dictatory dictatorship? The worst one ever, maybe, but that's only speaking objectively.

In 2012 the DPRK released Pyongyang Racer, the first video game from North Korea that reportedly targets international gamers. In other words, the first brainwashing game aimed at non-residents. It was produced by students from the Kim Chaek University of Technology in cooperation with IT specialists at Nosotek, and commissioned by the British-run Beijing-based Koryo Tours, a company that arranges tourist visits to North Korea.

Players ride around an accurately-rendered Pyongyang in a genuine Pyongwha Motors automobile, visiting major landmarks, like a totalitarian Crazy Taxi. So, is it good? Let's put it this way, the nicest thing anyone has had to say about it was "it looks like a Sega Saturn game." And remember, this game is supposed to make you want to go to North Korea.

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The Democratic People's Republic has produced other titles in the meantime, mostly Flash games, including a bunch from Uriminzokkiri, a "state-controlled website that provides news from North Korea's Central News Agency." These range from a racist Bejeweled to geography quizzes and also racist whack-a-mole.

Then there's the more predictably violent propaganda, wherein players hang a politician, kill demilitarized zone trespassers, or swat flies with the likenesses of George Bush and Shinzo Abe.

But these are games by definition only, and not in the sense that they're fun, or creative, or engaging for any quantifiable period of time. If you feel like being depressed today, you can watch Youtuber SomeOrdinaryGamers give 'em a spin. Otherwise, for less propaganda (though still a little via in-game billboards), there's Mount Paektu Racer, a breakneck version of Pyongyang Racer in which other vehicles actually move around.

More recently, North Korea encouraged internet and cell phone use. Sure, it's just so officials can spy on and censor what people see, but mobile phones introduce another avenue for gaming. And in 2016 the mobile game Boy General, based on a Kim Jong-un-approved animated series, took the country by storm. Can you guess what it's about? Surprise, it's propaganda. Historical propaganda this time, as gamers are asked to defeat the enemies of Swoeme, a warrior-ruler that commanded the Korean Peninsula 1,300 years ago.

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A North Korean gamer's best bet actually might be through their phone. Titles are surprisingly varied, including Western favorites like a tank battling game, an Angry Birds clone, a bubble popper, and one about raising a virtual pet.

At least players can escape the propaganda at state-sanctioned arcades, of which there are at least two. The internet caught a whiff of the first one in 2008, thanks to UK:RESISTANCE, who showed off a Pyongyang arcade hall, a ratty, decaying building housing the oldest gaming cabinets still in existence. Since then and possibly because of then, a much nicer arcade hall opened at Pyongyang's Rungna People's Pleasure Park. But oh wait, propaganda again, this time images of happy, well-fed families, and a suspiciously photoshopped-looking Kim Jong-un inspecting the machinery.

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It's not clear what the peace treaty with South Korea will mean for this specific part of North Korean life, but nothing would help sweeten relations more than an inter-peninsula Starcraft tournament.