The most effective word I can use in my vocabulary to define my initial reaction to the South Korean film State of Play is ‘bemused’. Some synonyms of bemusement include; bewilderment, confusion, perplexion, mystification, ‘at a loss’, ‘thrown (off balance)’; and yep, I felt all of the above whilst watching State of Play.
Mirriam-Webster offers a simple definition of bemusement; “to cause (someone) to be confused and often also somewhat amused”.
Below I outline some auto-ethnographic observations that I reckon’ give the best insight into my initial reaction to the film.
- My initial shock came from the intensity in the way that the film’s main subjects are introduced – in fact, the way the film was introduced. I genuinely believed that at any moment, a sub-plot about CIA/M15 involvement was about to spring up.
- I really found this conceptual framing of eSports in Korea to be distracting to my notions of online-gaming, and the whole film sort of felt like a parody to me. I get that it can be competitive, but this is next-level.
- After the first thirty minutes or so, the serious nature of the film sort of started to transfix me – Given the nature of the film, I wasn’t surprised at all that the scene shows soooo many close range scenes of the gamers staring intently into a bright computer screen. Though what I was surprised at, was the feeling that this invoked in me.
- Every time they showed a scene like this I just felt totally anxious. Something about the solitude of this image made me sympathise with the players and start to see their gaming exploits as a quasi-struggle (and less of a parody)
- Actually, the whole movie made me pretty anxious.
- Scenes in State of Play that often illustrate the fanfare and reactions to the gamers, only cements this discomfort even more. The documentary shows very (I would argue overly) excitable young female Korean fans watching the real-time strategy game intensely. Jae Dong, a champion of South Korean eSports gamers, has a status of fame is more akin to that of a pop star.
- State of Play really wanted to show us that Jae Dong induces wild hysteria among women fans but he in contrast inspires determination among his male admirers. I found scenes like this very reminiscent of a nosebleed section at a One-Direction concert. (Not kidding, google it)
- StarCraft is the game that the film is central to, and every time it was mentioned my brain would override the name with the only MMORPG game I know; World of Warcraft. So I’d like to make a distinction between these two as I’m sure they’re pretty different.
- The deep orchestral music that accompanies most of the film gives an ominous feeling through and through, which only added to my curious demeanour. Was the film trying to get us to empathise with the plight of elite eSportsmen?
The film’s earlier scenes include a monologue from one of the pro-gamers: “All Koreans will blindly follow the same path. Elementary school, middle-school then high-school. Everyone is walking that same road. I chose a different path” – Bit sensational mate, if you play games for a living in Australia you’re a bit of a bloody bludger. Amirite?
Phwarrrrrrr. Anyway at this point, I’m thinking that this doco really could go anywhere.
“We don’t play games for fun, mostly for work”
Simply put, this subverts my idea of what a game exists for. I feel as though ‘professional gamer’ is just a bit of an oxymoron. How is it still fun when it becomes work? I mean they all look pretty tired to me.
As a non-gamer, my interest for eSports has a now piqued. My understanding of the ‘serious’ side of gaming has always just been it’s addictive qualities, much like many other past-time activities. It’s safe to say that I had zero knowledge about the pro-gaming landscape, and had never really considered it prior to this film. It’s not as though the idea itself was shocking, it was more that the activity itself is so widely embraced and respected but in limited cultures. What is the appeal to South Korea that doesn’t appeal so strongly to us?
My limited exposure to gaming, whether deliberate or environmental, made a lot of concepts in the film difficult to understand. Because of this, I spent a lot of time trying to unpack the context of pro-gaming in South Korea, often overlooking the reactions of the main subjects of the film.
Also, I really feel like ramen now.