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Online games as a medium of cultural communication: An ethnographic study of socio-technical transformation

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation explores the place and meaning of online games in everyday life. In South Korea, online games are a prominent part of popular culture and this medium has come under public criticism for various societal ills, such as Internet addiction and a hopeless dependence upon online games. Humanistic accounts of Information-Communication Technology (ICT) usage are still a minority body of research. All too often, studies of engagement with technology reduce questions to their basic variables and social aspects are omitted in the name of science. Exactly how has it come to pass that online games have come to occupy such a prominent place in the media ecology in South Korea and yet not been replicated in other national contexts? The first chapter discusses addiction as it pertains to online games and suggest some scholarly support for the viewpoint that the rhetoric surrounding a biomedical interpretation of online game addiction may not be the most appropriate way to address problems that have been typically laid at the feet of online gaming (or any other new form of media). The second chapter transitions into discussing my rationale for approaching South Korea as a fieldsite, the ethnographic methodology employed, and how this examination of online games is a particularly illustrative case of the profound role played by culture, social structure, infrastructure, and policy in audience reception. The third chapter on the rise of Korean gaming delves into the foundational aspects of Korean social history and culture that I assert set the stage for the present new media scene in South Korea. The fourth chapter explores what games mean in the lives of Korean youth according to the ethnographic data I have been collecting during research stays in 2004, 2008/2009, and 2010, having analyzed the emergent practices involved in online game activity. The last chapter examines the Korean games industry and the role it has to play in the upward mobility of young Koreans. Overall, this dissertation examines the contextual factors of South Korea, in which a medium of communication can begin to be understood within the porous boundaries of its national circumstances and sociotechnical transformation.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Smith, Richard
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