Author: Matt keats

Touring North Korea

Picking up where I left off, in the midst of virtually touring North Korea, I think I have decided upon where my autoethnographic research will lead to for my final research digital artefact. Autoethnography is, essentially, when the researcher throws themselves into a cultural field, experiencing the oddities and nuances alike. And upon experiencing these foreign, but otherwise “everyday” events, looking back to within one’s self and understanding why such events have stood out. To explore my research through such a process I am thinking of writing a short online fiction piece. The narrative is still not entirely decided upon, however I am thinking of a plot that’s loosely based around the idea of a character being absorbed through a virtual reality headset and placed into the actual world of the 360 North Korea video I am basing my research around. From here the character experiences the unfolding events. I am considering embedding live tweets from my research as thoughts, or learnings that the character experiences. This would be slightly interactive as the readers could click on research links through embedded tweets(form of references/further readings).

So, in order to create this interactive online digital story, I must begin my research.

To do so, I am going to delve into some of the following things that stood out to me, in the hope of understanding North Korean culture through the cultural framework of my own life. Through this research it will be interesting to consider how my experience of the video changes. This investigation should then hopefully inform how I will convey my research through my interactive digital piece. Looking at my previous observations, I want to focus in on a few core aspects:

  • How successful can North Korea really be? How much longer can they last while being isolated from the rest of the connected world? To expand on this, I want to look at the internet situation of North Korea. In the last few days North Korea accidentally leaked the DNS for .kp, showing only 28 domains on their internet. This Reddit post will be a valuable place to being my autoethnography.
  • Military experts analyse the footage from the festival to try and gain an understanding of N.K’s military strength
  • The notion of tourism, or tourism attractions in North Korea is interesting.

Furthermore, there are a few other curiosities I am interested in exploring:

  • How do weddings work in North Korea? Are they planned marriages?
  • Traffic is reported as being relatively new to N.K.
  • Most people (everyone?) are wearing navy blue armbands. What are these?
  • The Supreme Leader is kind of hard to take seriously with his massive portrait on a float regardless of how many missiles and nukes he flaunts. However it is hard to ignore the atrocities he is carrying out.

As the civilians in the 360 video walked the streets, waited for trains, and even visited “tourism destinations”, I noticed they weren’t doing something almost everyone does in my day to day life. As they moved through the streets and waited in the metro, absolutely no one was scrolling through feeds on their phone, something of a complete obsession within the culture I am familiar with. The strangeness, and perhaps more importantly, the significance of this cultural variation was emphasised in the narrators final lines.

“All of this closing off from the outside world cannot be sustained as each successive modern era requires participation in a global economy in order to survive… many wonder how much longer will this last”

The notorious censorship of the North Korean internet is just one facet of this so called “closing off” of the country. But in understanding this isolation, I am, as an autoethnographer, able to better understand the 360 video at hand and thus the North Korean country. Interestingly, North Korea’s main Domain Name System (DNS) server was recently leaked revealing that there are only 28 websites on North Korea’s public internet. Now, when I say public, I mean this limited amount of websites can be viewed by the outside world and tourists. There is an internal intranet used by officials and government in North Korea, which would be a whole new type of interesting, but there is a lot of significance in seeing the limited extent of the public internet. For starters, many of the websites are propaganda in its simplest form, one site show casing the Supreme Leaders activities, such as visiting farms full of bountiful fruit. In this case, these sites are most likely meant to be viewed by the outside world.


Supreme Leaders Activities:

Most of these sites are extremely “pre-dated”. Looking at the North Korean internet is like taking a step back to the beginning of the internet. They are slow to load, and when they do, you are presented with an unsophisticated site that may not have been updated for a long time. Yet in a way, this brings a kind of authenticity to my North Korean experience.

A few of these sites bring me back to one of my early observations in the tourism of North Korea. The idea of North Korea as a holiday destination is one that seems completely insane to me. The places I have holidayed in, be it western countries such as America or Asian countries such as Thailand, for the most part where safe and allowed for tourists to do what they wanted. This form of freedom and adventure in a foreign place is what I understand as the idea of a holiday. However, there is practically no freedom to tourists visiting North Korea. You cannot leave your hotel room without government official “guides”. While most western visitors recounts of travelling in North Korea are positive, saying “the only way DPRK tourism is not safe, in my opinion, is for tourists who plan on participating in any civil disobedience”, Enright, a travel writer who wrote about her trip on her blog, Borders of Adventure, said she was constantly aware of breaking the rules and the possible punishment this entailed. “You can’t say to your guides, ‘Hey did you know that during the war the North bombed the South and not the other way around?’” She goes on to explain that telling her North Korean guides the truth about the rest of the world would have put not only herself but the guides in immense danger if she were overheard. In discovering this bleak way of tourism, there is obviously a definite reason you are escorted around the country by The Supreme Leaders Henchmen “guides” on specific, structured tours.

I feel these strict circumstances around tourism and the isolation placed on North Korea are both pointing to what the Supreme Leaders dictatorship is trying to achieve and continue to maintain, a unified hive mind of solidarity. North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Su-yong told reporters at a UN climate change conference earlier this year that “The real source of power in our country isn’t nuclear weapons or any other military means, but the single-minded unity of the people and the leader. This power of unity we have is the real source of power that leads our country into victory.”

Living in a country where freedom of speech is a somewhat protected right, it seems bizarre that the government of North Korea is promoting single-mindedness. Furthermore, that’s an interesting sentiment when the country literally parades massive nuclear weapons through the capital city in celebration of the 70th anniversary of The Workers Party.

What I have found through my research is that North Korea is ultimately an oppressed society with limited freedoms. However, in a way this only adds to the culture of which as an autoethnographer I have begun exploring. As Ellis (2011) explains, “When researchers do ethnography, they study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture. These practices, values and beliefs (which I have merely scraped the surface of) vary from mine own with such a vast difference that when I view the 360 video now, the entire context has changed.

North Korea and Virtual Tourism

North Korea has always been something of a curiosity to me. How can a country almost entirely cut itself off from the rest of the world and continue to function? A notion which seems almost impossible in a world which is becoming increasingly connected and thus “smaller”, a paradigm we know as globalisation.

What goes on behind the closed borders of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un? How much truth is there to the controversial 2014 film, The Interview? In particular this scene:

To explore and research this, I decided to immerse myself within a 360 degree video within North Korea during the 70th anniversary of its Worker’s Party. This is an American ABC news production, and while obviously this is not an Asian produced media piece, the video still provides an interesting insight into the cultural experiences of North Korea.

It is important to remember that video is based on an itinerary that is overlooked by government officials. The news team are not even allowed to leave their hotel room unaccompanied by government escorts, or “guides”. This “pre-approved guided tour” is the case for every tourist visiting North Korea, and it is because of this that I feel tourism would be an interesting area to delve deeper into as I experience North Korea. Like most people, I like travelling and have visited many places around the world, so it’s not a surprise that tourism is one of the main aspects that intrigued me within the video.

Furthermore, the process of viewing a 360 degree video of a foreign place can be understood as a form of virtual tourism. This supports Denzin’s (2014) description of the autoethnographer as a flâneur, the concept of the flâneur being, the casual wanderer, observer and reporter of street-life in the modern city. This is exactly how it feels to experience virtual tourism, as you are free to move the camera around in all directions in order to observe the experience at hand, these observations being the cultural nuances and oddities of, in this case, North Korea. In exploring this, I am adhering to Ellis’s (2011) description of autoethnography as I am aiming to “retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.”

Additionally, Denzin (2014 p. 268) justifies this methodology saying “Within the context of history the autoethnography becomes the “dial of the instrument that records the effects of a particular stage of civilization upon a civilized individual”. The autoethnographer is both dial and instrument. As an ethnographer, I am both the researcher and the research.

Therefore by following this criteria surrounding authethnography, I will be experiencing a North Korean cultural celebration (a particular stage of civilization) , then looking back at my initial experiences, write about and critically analyse certain epiphanies, or effects on myself (the civilized individual), surrounding the experience.

To begin the process I wrote down my initial reactions when viewing the video. These initial experiences revolve around things that were slightly unusual to me, things that I was not aware of previously, or things I felt interested in exploring more of.

  • The notion of tourism, or tourism attractions in North Korea is interesting.
  • You cannot leave your hotel room without government official “guides”.
  • How do weddings work in North Korea? Are they planned marriages?
  • Traffic is reported as being relatively new to N.K.
  • Most people, or everyone are wearing Navy blue armbands. What are these?
  • The Supreme Leader is kind of hard to take seriously with his massive portrait on a float regardless of how many missiles and nukes he flaunts.
  • Military experts analyse the footage from the festival to try and gain an understanding of N.K’s military strength
  • How successful can North Korea really be? How much longer can they last while being isolated from the rest of the connected world?

The following blog post will delve deeper into understanding exactly why these certain things stood out to me, and in exploring these experiences, I hope to realise epiphanies and important moments. It is these epiphanies that will create interesting and important research, moving my autoethnographical process from “story-telling” to proper research

State of Religion

After initially experiencing State of Play and observing it with autoethnographic research in mind, there were several processes, encounters and internal thoughts I experienced which I will analyses through self-reflective investigation. I hope to explore certain epiphanies and important moments within the text and in doing so, will hope to gain and convey a deeper understanding of the cultural nuances within the Korean e-sports industry.

As we begun the viewing of State of Play in class, the #Digc330 twitter feed sprang to life. This was an extremely interesting experience. Everyone contributing to the feed was simultaneously watching the documentary and thus commenting on the experience itself in live time. However, whilst this was all simultaneous, the ideas and issues that were being brought up all explored different aspects of the film.




The above tweets are just a few I pulled from the #digc330 feed to portray the variations in issues being discussed. This process of autoehtnography helps to explain a couple of things. Firstly, autoethnography and the research conducted by the individual will vary and depend on the individuals cultural back ground. Therefore within autoethnography, there is no “right” or “wrong” thing to be looking at, rather the individual draws from their own personal experiences and reflects on this in the hope of forming a greater understanding of the culture they have experienced. Yet viewing State of Play alongside a live twitter feed undoubtedly affected my understanding of the documentary and Korean e-sport culture, more so then if I had simply viewed the film alone. Therefore, autoethnography is more than just personal self-reflection, it also allows for the reflection of a group of experiences and observations.

As I already had some basic knowledge and exposure to competitive Korean e-sports previous to my initial State of Play viewing, I found myself actively searching for unfamiliar aspects within the film. Where I understood that the money, stadiums, huge fan bases, and team houses where a common part of e-sports, I was intrigued by the involvement of the family. By drawing on my personal experience I was able to relate to certain aspects of the Korean culture, while also noticing other aspects that I haven’t personally experienced before.

Taking note of the historical and spiritual/religious culture that came from the parents in State of Play, I was intrigued and wondered “Is this emphasis on religion part of the overall Korean culture, or is it simply a result of Jae-dongs culture?”

Looking at this paper, I am almost convinced that the emphasis towards spirituality and religion in Jae-dongs family, is not repeated throughout the entirety of South Korean families. Of the secondary school children surveyed in the “Spiritual State of the World’s Children, Executive Summary report for south Korean” 58% stated they have no religious affiliation and only 16% report weekly or daily prayer. These statistics suggest many families are much less involved with religion and spirituality when compared to what we see in State of Play. This is interesting as I have come to realise that State of Play is conveying quite an individual, unique story about an elite pro-gamer. This story isn’t what every pro-gamer has experienced, rather it is Jae-dong’s personal endeavour. In other words, we experience Jae-dongs journey through the cultures immediately surrounding him.


When Games Are No Longer Games

DIGC330, Digital Asia, where we will be conducting an autoethnographic investigation into the production and consumption of Asian digital media, communication technologies, as well as the industry and culture as a whole, from a local, national and personal perspective.

“Woah, what the heck does that even mean?”

To me, autoethnography is research based on the researchers personal observations of the ‘mundane’ within a culture, and then, an analytical narrative of these observations in the hope of understanding certain aspects of said culture. These observations should be “aesthetic and evocative”, utilising storytelling conventions in order to engage readers.

“Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience.” – Carolyn Ellis, 2011.


Ellis (2011), explains that “When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.”

So, for this post I will be commencing an autoethnographic investigation of the ‘State of Play’ documentary. This will involve my personal observations of the documentary, as well as the way the Twitter-feed reacted, and why these observations are of importance to my research.

State of Play follows a champion pro-gamer, Lee Jae-dong, as he loses, triumphs and struggles through the world of South-Korean professional E-sports. In the true sense of autoethnographic research, below are my initial observations in experiencing the film.


  • Gaming isn’t seen as play, it is seen as work.
  • It is a serious sport, (again, more than a ‘game’) with massive fan groups, intense training, huge stadiums and LOTS of money.
  • The players still have decisions to make: High school or Pro-gaming.
  • Extremely demanding career. 10 hours of training a day, away from friends and family, some choose to leave school.
  • To add on to the demands observation: He is constantly sleeping at school (know that feel bro).
  • The average pro-gamer retires at 24. This is incredibly early for someone to end a career. Is this due to slower reaction times as people get older, or is there an underlining concern of longevity for such a career.


An interesting experience I had throughout the viewing of the documentary was watching the twitter feed react to certain things. Each user would come at an issue with their own perspectives coming into play. This demonstrated to me how Autoethnography works. For example, some people were interested in the technology used for the huge competitions shown in the documentary, others were concerned with the gender roles within the sport. Further subjects included: Clothing, training, and even food.

Having experienced competitive online games for a lot of my youth, many of these being popular within Asia, (League of Legends, DOTA) the notion of E-sports was not entirely new or strange to me. I knew about the professionalism of the industry. The money, the stadiums, the massive fan bases and even the team houses are common place within E-sports and I had come across these circumstances through the games I had casually followed.
What interested me within State of Play was the family aspect shown through the documentary. This brought with it a historical and spiritual culture which I had not being involved with before. These notions created an authentic, traditionally Asian ‘feel’ to the film. For me, this added a new and intriguing experience to E-sports, one which previously I had not experienced or even considered.