I am a gamer. Personally, I’m fond of strategy games (RTS and 4X), but I also dabble in RPGs, in particular stealth-based RPGs, as well as MOBAs and MMOs. I have been a gamer since I was a young boy, getting ruthless beatings from my Dad… in the original Age of Empires.
Despite my fascination with tapping my fingers to build up my defenses against the tyrannical, warmongering Gandhi, and occasionally kick armor-clad Italians off the rooftops of Rome, I hadn’t really considered that one could be paid or achieve fame by doing so… until my younger brother showed me the team he was following for League of Legends, The Chiefs. However throughout much of Asia, particularly South Korea, “professional gamer” is at the time of writing a well-established and accepted occupation. State of Play is a documentary dealing with just that, South Korean professional gamers, particularly StarCraft players. Special focus is given to the Zerg player who won 6 premier titles and currently plays StarCraft II for the team Evil Geniouses, Lee Jae Dong.
Having been exposed to the concepts of RTS games and professional gaming previously, I was already somewhat familiar with the game footage shown, the team uniforms and the prize-pool sizes. None of these were surprising because of my previous experience, though the seriousness with which it was taken by the subjects of the documentary was unexpected. Professional gaming from my cultural perspective feels as though it’s more akin to an extra-curricular activity than a true profession. While you’d like your local or preferred team to succeed, the impact of failure is downplayed; losing a gaming tournament is likened to coming tenth at the school athletics carnival, not to failing a qualification for Rio 2016. The loyalty to a team or player appeared far less trivial as well. When my younger brother tried to explain how he felt about the Chief’s ADC Raydere switching teams, it seemed like he was talking about a class mate who was changing schools; but Jaedong’s fans could more easily be compared to the girls who swoon over Benedict Cumberbatch. Considering the time and effort that goes into organising and practicing for these tournaments, I suppose it’s only appropriate that they get recognition for it. When I play, I can do so for quite a length of time, but practicing the same game for 10-12 hours per day sounds to me more like a recipe for RSI than a fun day at home. The phrase “it’s just a game” springs to mind, as it often came up whenever my parents wanted me to stop littering the bodies of Spartan soldiers across the Halo Reach multiplayer maps. Perhaps this is a symptom of a more rigid definition of success in Australian/Western culture, or perhaps a greater separation between the concepts of work and play, which according to what appeared to be an organiser for the StarCraft tournaments in South Korea, are being blurred by this new entertainment industry.
One thing that isn’t being blurred, as many of my classmates pointed out at the end of the viewing, is that gaming is very much a male-dominated occupation. All of the women shown in the documentary were either relatives or fans of the players, with the exception of a commentator with a very effeminate voice (you never see them, so I’m hesitant to say whether it was really a man or woman). I confess, I’d never really noticed it before, but now that I think about it, I do know of plenty of female streamers, YouTube content creators and cosplayers; but I cannot name a single female professional gamer of the top of my head. Perhaps what we have in common with the South Korean e-sports industry is that sports are seen as more masculine professions, or perhaps that video-games are seen as a more masculine pass-time by Australian culture, both of these explanations make sense to me. It could also be that women are made uneasy about professional gaming what with all the controversy around #Gamergate in 2014, which quickly switched focus from journalistic professionalism in game reviews to misogyny in the gaming community.
All-in-all, it was a very thought-provoking experience to watch the State of Play documentary, and see just how much my cultural background and experiences affects my perception of professional gaming in South Korea, and even here in Australia. What did you think of all of this? Should e-sports be more accepted in Western cultures? Could it be a stage for men and women to compete against each other in future, or will it forever be a man’s sport? Feel free to comment! In the mean-time, here’s some music for you, enjoy!