After dabbling in some autoethnographic research in the past — one of the ‘perks’ of being a Cultural Studies major — the notion of analysing, recording and addressing my personal experiences was not new to me. As a method to understand cultural experience, Ellis, Adams and Bochner describe autoethnography as an approach that embodies “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research.” By doing so, this methodology helps to “facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”, and whilst watching State of Play, I was undeniably the outsider looking in.
It would be a complete lie to say I wasn’t entirely gobsmacked when watching and thus experiencing State of Play. I had never even heard of eSports until just last year and I would have never been able to comprehend the fervour with which its community shared.
For those of you who don’t know, eSports is an organised competition which involves the playing of video games — mostly multiplayer ones — across a number of electronic platforms. One of the most popular in this gaming phenomenon is the League of Legends World Championship. The global eSports market spans across transnational borders and attracts a viewership of over 200 million. In 2016, the industry is expected to make an approximate $463 million.
The documentary State of Play follows the lives of professional gamers — most notably Lee Jae Dong, — providing viewers with unique insight into the Korean cultural phenomenon that is gaming. I recorded my response to the documentary, and this is what I found most intriguing:
- There was a distinct parallel I found myself constantly drawing on when watching Lee Jae Dong and his teammates compete in arduous keyboard thrashing battles. I couldn’t help but picture them as professional NFL players, striving for their chance at the Superbowl. They mirrored the same traits I expected in an Olympic team. Yet despite this, and perhaps most surprising to me was, they were just gamers.
- The fan following which Lee Jae Dong and his teammates had accrued was surprising to say the least. As a former Directioner — I spent a significant amount of time in high school obsessing over 1D and may or may not have a Harry Styles doll — I could see myself in the fangirls State of Play followed. I just never thought a group of gamers would be afforded with the same celebrity status as boyband royalty.
- The pressure with which the StarCraft professionals dealt with on a daily basis proved that the industry could not be treated with contempt. Lee Jae Dong showing emotion after winning a competition highlighted the highly competitive nature of the eSports league.
- This moment further suggested that even in Korea, and in gaming culture too, gender roles are quite strict. I didn’t see the portrayal of a female gamer once in State of Play. Is this to say that female gamers are not part of this popular culture narrative?
In making sense of my State of Play experience I have been able to heighten my understanding of others. It never occurred to me that Korean gaming culture was so revered in the eyes of the community. In the words of Ellis, Adams and Bochner, my “assumptions of the world” have been changed.