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Dark side of play for S. Korea's female gamers

China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-16 10:08

SEOUL, South Korea - When US video game maker Riot Games held a highly anticipated League of Legends championship match in South Korea last year, about half the spectators in the packed arena were women.

While the pastime is traditionally seen as the preserve of young men, the number of female gamers in hyperwired South Korea has grown rapidly in recent years.

But the South's $4.2-billion gaming industry has been hit by allegations of sexism and censorship targeting female gamemakers, likened by some to a modern-day witch-hunt.

South Korea is the world's sixth-biggest video game market, boasting 25 million players - half the population - and multiple TV channels dedicated to broadcasting eSports competitions.

About 65 percent of South Korean women aged 10 to 65 play video games, compared to 75 percent of men, and mobile games attract more female players than male.

Women now account for 42 percent of all gamers in the country, according to industry tracker Newzoo.

But female gamemakers account for less than a quarter of the male-dominated industry.

Despite its technological and economic advances, South Korea remains a patriarchal society in many respects, and behind the facade of the global game powerhouse lies a heavily male-oriented culture.

'Anti-social ideology'

The latest row began when the CEO of Seoul-based IMC Games launched a probe into whether a female employee harbored "anti-social ideology" after complaints about her personal activity on Twitter.

Sung Hye-jin had followed several feminist groups and retweeted a post featuring a slang term describing sexist men.

Some of the industry's key clientele of young, male gamers demanded her sacking, calling her a "cancer-like creature" who "followed a dirty ideology".

Sung apologized for the perceived offense, vowing to unfollow the groups in question.

She kept her job after CEO Kim Hak-kyu decided her actions were "just a mistake but not a crime", but he assured customers he would "remain endlessly vigilant" to prevent a recurrence.

Rights groups and the country's top labor union have condemned the investigation.

"This misogynistic action ... has left many women in shock and fear," the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said in a statement.

South Korea's own game sector has a history of sacking women labeled as supporters of Megalia, a controversial online feminist group accused by many gamers of ridiculing men.

"It's common sense that one should not be punished at the workplace for personal beliefs that have nothing to do with work," said a the female CEO of one gaming company.

"But that common sense is not accepted at all in this industry right now, especially for women."

Agence France-presse

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