South Korea (henceforth Korea) is known for its success in eSports and vibrant gaming culture. At the heart of its gaming culture are PC Bangs (PC rooms), local Internet cafés that nurture the exploration of games. During my bachelor’s degree, I spent one year studying at Yonsei University in Seoul, the capital of Korea. Throughout my studies, I had the opportunity to investigate the local gaming culture and PC Bangs firsthand. I fell in love with Internet cafés, as they were something that I had never experienced before. I understood that the Korean gaming culture is drastically different compared to Finland, as it revolves around PC Bangs rather than the players’ homes.
The entrance to a PC Bang
The way PC Bangs operate is that the customers pay a certain amount of money before they start playing, just as in regular Internet cafés. The rates are usually around 80 cents for one hour, but depending on the quality of the computers, the rates can go as high as two euros for one hour of playtime. Most games can be played for free, as there are special regulations regarding the operation of PC Bangs. Most popular games are also pre-installed, so the customers do not have to go through the trouble of spending long periods of time downloading huge games.
I was amazed at the general quality of the computers for the low prices. Even in more run-down PC Bangs, all the available computers were using the latest computer hardware. As a student, it was extremely convenient to be able to play games with good computers at a low cost. Moreover, the Internet speed was always faster than I have ever experienced in Finland. I always got great value for my money. Usually, I played at my local PC Bang called Loha PC. It was a relatively new venue with high-quality equipment and low prices, so I decided to make it my regular PC Bang.
I had examined the Korean gaming culture beforehand, so I had a hunch as to what to expect. However, the real experience of the local gaming culture was so much more complex than I had expected. PC Bangs are not the stereotypical Internet cafés that one might think of at first. One important feature of these venues is that they offer food that is delivered straight to your seat from the counter. There is a huge variety of meals and snacks that can be chosen from. I was surprised and amazed, as I thought that eating a meal would be a liability to the gaming equipment. Whenever I would play games at home and eat at the same time, I would often splash my drink or drop pieces of food on the keyboard. Still, PC Bangs in Korea all had a system for ordering food straight to your computer. This was a standard feature, and a PC Bang would not truly be a PC Bang without the possibility of ordering food. Sometimes, I went to PC Bangs only to eat because the prices were so low. I could buy a meal for as little as three euros, and the quality and the selection of food were always decent.
Selection of the food available at a PC Bang
PC Bangs are also venues for social interactions. I often went there to play with my friends, and so did the locals. Usually, there were groups of two to five people playing League of Legends, Overwatch, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, or Apex Legends while socializing with their friends. In Finland, meeting my friends physically to play games was something that I experienced only through LAN parties. We would gather our computers together at one of our parents’ houses and play games with each other. At PC Bangs, every day was a LAN-party. Overall, it was quite rare to see people playing on their own, but not unheard of. It was arguably relaxing that even when I was on my own, I could de-stress myself by playing a game or two of Apex Legends.
All in all, PC Bangs are venues of ultimate convenience for playing games. While they provide excellent equipment for playing games, there is so much more to them. They are often open 24/7 with brilliant food and other amenities. With the push of a button, you would get all things necessary delivered straight to your seat. Prices are conveniently cheap even for people who normally would not be able to afford expensive computers. Now that I am back in Finland, I truly long for the excellence of these venues.
Pictures taken by the author’s friend, who wishes to remain anonymous. Pictures are used with their permission.