I ask my students what their hobby is, and inevitably, the first answer I get is "computer games." In Korea, gaming is hugely popular, and some gamers are professionals respected on a level akin to sports stars. Some, however, aren't to be respected. A couple of news stories that serve as cautionary tales of what can happen when hobbyists go to extremes: one Korean man died after playing 50 straight hours of Starcraft, and a Korean couple let their baby die of neglect as they raised a virtual baby in a simulation game.
I haven't been raising any armies or babies, but I've been playing this, uh, tactical role-playing game since arriving in Korea:
NAME: Gina Phillips
OCCUPATION: English Teacher, SMOE Public Middle School
SKILLS: Ability to read Korean very very slowly but with no comprehension, throw a frisbee, smile and nod
RESOURCES: Contact information for some of mom's friends, work visa, helpful books gifted from buddies: Frommer's Guide, Ultimate Guide to Karaoke Domination, Making Out in Korean (a coyly titled phrasebook teaching the phrases which, it insists, are truly useful; thanks Sarah!).
WEAPONS: A winning personality and zest for life? Denial? Ice cream.
CITY: Seoul, South Korea
MISSION: Thrive. Be awesome at living a full, worthwhile life. Make the most of your time.
Okay sooo the 'mission' wouldn't market well. It's much more fun to shoot agile zombies and aliens or liberate girls with impossible dimensions or rob Egyptian tombs or whatever. But I've already put my two quarters in. I'm living in Korea by golly!
-You're an alien. Card up (get your Alien Registration Card).
-You're a commuter. Card up (get a T-Money card for the subways/buses/some taxis and some convenience stores).
-You're a tenant. Collect spoons and TP and stuff and conquer your appliances. MIDBOSS: Take a shower (see porcelain-cuddling post).
-You're employed. Navigate the streets to school and successfully pose as an English teacher. Don't blow your cover.
-You're hungry. Take on a spicy Korean meal. Go grocery shopping.
-Locate and infiltrate the local frisbee team.
FINAL BOSS: Using only your limited Korean and miming skills, coordinate with your landlady the set up of your internet. Bonus: Because you've performed so well in Level 1 so far, and because of the pity elicited by your embarrassing attempts at demonstrating "wireless", you can redeem your bonus points for the translation services of the landlady's awkward son.
-Decipher the code of recycling and waste disposal procedures.
-Master the art of strategic positioning on the subway to minimize bodily smush.
-Ingratiate yourself with the proprietor of a local restaurant so she helps you study Korean and gives you free appetizers.
-Scout different neighborhoods in Seoul and different provinces in Korea.
MIDBOSS: Properly utilize the traditional sauna facilities. And by 'properly utilize,' I mean 'be naked.'
-Designate yourself a fan of the local baseball and soccer teams and don't look clueless when the entire stadium participates in the same elaborate cheers and gesticulations.
-Play a tournament with the frisbee team. Get on a friendly heckling/butt slapping basis with your teammates. Witness a surprise wedding! At the Jeju tournament, a couple got married on the fields after play Saturday while we looked on in our cleats. THAT's why the party theme was love-- it was a wedding reception!
BOSS: Partake of food items you think are gross (see sannakji post), likely to be some form of marine life.
-Eavesdrop on people who underestimate your Korean comprehension.
-Take up with your school's teacher volleyball team. Advance to the Seoul championship tournament (top 16 teams in the city)!
-Host a few out of town guests and feel more informed than they are.
MIDBOSS: Hold a conversation through dinner with your non-English-speaking family you've never met before.
POST MIDBOSS BONUS: Learn you have like 12 first cousins-once-removed and all their kids living in Seoul!
-Make peace with the idea of kimchi at every meal.
-Don't just grocery shop. Card up and become a MEMBER. Now all that cereal and orange juice you're buying translate into points, and someday, maybe in Level 32, you'll get a free head of cabbage.
So here I am, middling in Level 3. I've been playing for three months straight and am feeling pretty good-- which means I beat that one Starcrafter Korean dude's record by about 2,110 hours.