The Bizarre Video Games Driving North Koreans to Hate the U.S.


As I watched the presidential inauguration last week — at first from the National Sardine-Can-Slash-Mall, later from the warmth and isolation of my studio apartment in Northeast D.C. — I picked up on something peculiar: newfangled cultural incongruities marking this traditionally hawkish ceremony. 

Beyonce singing (or not?) with the Marine Band? President Obama reviewing a bunch of footbound troops? A commander-in-chief’s inaugural ball for the commander-in-chief?

These militaristic things no longer make sense — not in this age of Harvard Law-educated presidents and unmanned drone strategeries.

And, dare I say, it was all quite refreshing. I felt proud to be in an intellectual and progressive nation where the unashamed braggadocio of armed-to-the-teeth forces was noticeably out of place. 

Then I got bored with watching them all eat a lunch that I didn’t get to also enjoy — so I turned on my PS3 and played FIFA 13 until probably about the same time the last staffer got up from hugging the toilet at such-and-such inaugural ball. God bless America.

I know we’re steeped in seemingly unprecedented political and social cynicism, but take a step back for a second and remember that we’re not living in North Korea. Phew. Thank your lucky stars and stripes that I’m not playing video games in Pyongyang, because everything I just lauded New America for is the polar opposite over there.

Aside: I’m making an educated guess here; I’ve never actually been to Pyongyang.

Evidently though, militaristic politics are so deeply embedded within the North Korean culture that they pervade all societal spheres of influence — especially and most egregiously in video games.

Another aside: My spine just shivered as I wrote that. Like some mini Iditarod race running roughshod across my vertebrae. Please God, not the video games.

Alas, it’s true. These North Korean folks create some ruthless and bizarre flash-based internet games. And they can all be summarily described as blatantly anti-American, anti-South Korean, stupid, boring, oddly out-dated, maddeningly unchallenging, and somehow still far more fascinating than the NFL’s Pro Bowl.

Take, for example, what I like to call Kim Jong-un’s Punchout. This hand-to-hand combat game — reminiscent of the original Nintendo’s Mike Tyson version — isn’t overtly militaristic. But your opponent is a defenseless and noosed effigy of the president of South Korea. As you repeatedly sock him in the face, you get the drift that maybe these two neighboring countries have some unresolved issues.

Then there’s Korean Whack-a-Mole, which is exactly like it sounds. Presumably, you employ your mallet to smash the heads of South Korean politicians as they mockingly poke their heads up out of individual chutes. But I’ll be honest (and maybe racist) here, I can’t tell if they’re South Korean politicians by just looking at them. I have no frame of reference. For all I know, they’re North Korean country musicians. Suffice to say, the exaggerative animations and grotesque nature of these games are propaganda of the worst kind. They’re violently antagonizing, vitriolic, and full of unflattering caricatures of real people. And coming from a staunchly hawkish and combative country like North Korea, they’re almost certainly designed to promote hatred of and hostility toward the United States and South Korea. Boo. On the upside, America ain’t that bad, ya’ll.