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Digital Media in East Asia: National Innovation and the Transformation of a Region By ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Digital Media in East Asia:


An August 2011 news report captured the quixotic nature of digital East Asia. North Korea, one of the most technologically backward and least free nations on earth, had jumped into the digital age. They were not liberalizing cell phone use, expanding wireless connectivity, or investing in digital content. Rather, the national government had opened a large video gaming center, staffed by government employees. The workers were playing games, not creating them. They developed advanced expertise in World of Warcraft and other multiplayer games, stockpiling enormous quantities of the points needed to advance through the many layers of virtual worlds. In turn, these points and credits were sold to foreign nationals looking for a fast and, for them, inexpensive way of progressing through the games. The gaming center proved to be an effective money-spinner for the outcast state (the North Korean facility replicated comparable but more-commercial operations in China).1 Such, it seems, are the dynamics of the new digital economy and society in East Asia: North Korean worker bees playing games on company time, selling points that allow wealthy users to skip stages in the highly competitive world of online gaming (what used to be, in the pre-Internet age, called cheating), all to generate cash flow for the rogue state.

The regional and global connections in this digital mash-up are impressive. The games might be East Asian in origin, for Japan and South Korea are world leaders in online gaming, but the hardware being used could be from North America or Europe. The servers that run the games could be located anywhere from China to Iceland. The consumers of the illicit