This ethnography explores the practical experiences and institutional entanglements of online games, gaming, and gamers in contemporary South Korean culture and society. Korean online gaming culture is encountered at numerous sites and scales of experience, from the virtual worlds of online games, to the offline spaces where gaming happens, to societal practices and discourses around the management of online gaming and gamers backed by competing institutional interests. Online gaming is contextualized within the history of building Korea's high-speed, high-tech information society, a process known in Korea as “informatization.” Korean online gaming culture is evaluated according to a sociocultural appreciation of speed that elevates qualities of quickness and acceleration as virtues of practice and behavior, the performance of which calibrates individuals with normative expectations that inflect approaches to IT use in Korea's information society.
Since its emergence in the late 1990s, Korean online gaming culture has been the source of both celebration and controversy. While online games have proven to be lucrative for the Korean economy, the objects of a vibrant popular culture, and an area of business and leisure activity that distinguishes Korea as a leader on the world stage, they have also been the objects of political and medical interventions around problematic gaming, or online game “addiction.” Gamers exist in the middle of this tension, their practices and behaviors evaluated against models of normative online gaming and IT use. These evaluations differ from site to site and across scales of experience, yet they are all inflected by a preoccupation with quickness and acceleration as characteristics of a normative orientation to information practices, including online gaming. Performance of these qualities connects individuals with Korea's information society, contributing to normative gaming socialities that I argue are associated with chronotopes: participatory frameworks in which temporality, spatiality, and sociality are intrinsically interconnected. Korean online gamers must calibrate themselves and their practices with normative expectations for gaming and for being social across these chronotopic scales. Failure to calibrate “correctly”—or, rather, mis-calibrating—can have serious consequences for gamers, prompting their enrollment in institutionally-backed disciplining techniques and strategies designed to align them with normative gaming socialities.