Thursday, December 29, 2016

Analogue: A Hate Story (Or, Joseon Korea in Space!)

It seems that Korea and Koreans are represented pretty well in the indie game market. Dust: An Elysian Tail, by half-Korean developer Dean Dodrill, incorporates a number of Korean elements in the story and design and has sold over a million copies. On a smaller scale, the visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story from Love Conquers All Games is explicitly based on Korean history. In case the hanbok and Hangul on the box art didn't clue you in:

Image courtesy Raide and Love Conquers All Games
The idea is that you are some kind of cyberpunk data hunter. For this job, you've been tasked with fishing out information from a long-abandoned space colonizing vessel, the Mugunghwa, which was originally launched in some unknown year by the (obviously fictional) United Korea Space Federation.

Mugungwha at a grave site in Uijeongbu, South Korea
As you work with the computer's AI system and access the ship's logs from high-ranking passengers, the science fiction background quickly takes shape: Joseon Korea in space! A cool conceit, but I would have loved to see it explored more in depth. I appreciate that Love tried, however, and it's pretty obvious that she is deeply interested in the topic—the game is available in Korean as well as English, so it might be a fun way to get in some language practice? Even though Love isn't Korean, she obviously did her research (and very helpfully names it in the credits!). But there are Korean scholars out there who are better equipped than I am to comment on the accuracy of her portrayal. Anyway, on to the game itself!

During the job you interact with two different AIs, who show you different logs from the long-dead residents of the Mugunghwa. Those logs comprise the story of Analogue. There are also dating sim overtones, as your dialogue choices with the AIs determine if you leave the job with none, one, or both of them downloaded to your own computer. More importantly, your choices dictate which logs they decide to show you. The easiest way to "hack" the game is to remember to show every log to both AIs. (You can't talk to the AIs directly; the game's conceit is that you communicate by answering their yes/no questions and showing them log entries you want to know more about.)

There's also a small but significant element of the story that takes place in a faux-*nix command line, which tickles me to no end (as a Linux user myself). This is where the game's one and only puzzle comes up, and it's a bit of a doozy. I thought it was, anyway; I had to look up a solution online.

Analogue is generally pretty forgiving. You can't really die—I guess maybe only if you don't solve the puzzle you can, but that's it. Your choices aren't so critical, either. This isn't to say that none of them matter. If you're too rude to Hyun-ae (the main AI), or too disinterested in her, she'll disconnect and you'll lose the game. If you neglect to talk to the AIs (by showing them certain logs), you won't unlock all of the content, and you certainly won't be able to finish the game. But otherwise, you can't really lose.

As the story is presented achronistically (achronologically?), it's hard to tell what's happening at first. This is a point in the game's favor, as it makes repeated play-throughs more rewarding. I don't think I really understood things until I unlocked my third or fourth ending (out of seven total).

It's important to save! There comes a point in the story, maybe like halfway or two-thirds in, where you're railroaded into finishing the game with whatever AI you're engaging with at the moment; if you want to get the other AI's ending(s) and you haven't saved in good time, you'll have to start from the beginning.

Overall it's cute. I don't think it's quite as holy shit!! as some of the breathless reviews on the website make it out to be, but I think it's a mildly interesting story presented in a really clever and creative way. I would have loved to see more backstory and less dating sim, but maybe she tackles that in the sequel, Hate Plus.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Park Geun Hye's Downfall

Damn, y'all. What a time to not be in South Korea. This is the kind of thing I would have loved to talk about with my students, at least to hear their perspective.

When you're the first minority anything (or at least the first in an official capacity—black people were playing baseball before Jackie Robinson, and so on), the burden is on you to not fuck it up. Beyond that, the burden is on you to be unbelievably good at what you're doing. Twice as good for half the credit, as the expression goes.

As the US is on the brink of its first woman president (knock on wood, get out the vote, etc.), and as I left the country almost four years ago (where does the time go?!), it's a little shitty of me to sit high and mighty and talk about Korea's patriarchal society and its relationship with Park. From a distance, her presidency has looked a little troubled, but I don't know the details. But it's not the details I'm interested in at this point (or well, I am, but you know), but the ramifications.

The next woman to run for office in South Korea is going to have to contend with this shitshow. It doesn't matter which party she's in, or her career up to that point, or how long it's been—the pundits will all bring up Park Geun Hye. Whether it's a favorable or unfavorable comparison doesn't matter; thanks to this scandal, it'll be hard work to come out of the shadow of Park's legacy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Wow, let me dust off the ol' K-blog for the first time in a long while!

I wish I were posting here again to relay some positive news—a vacation or even a new job in South Korea, a friend's new blog, some great news out of the peninsula—but that isn't the case.

I want to tell you about my friend Bob. Bob, a gay ex-Navy man, and his husband, Hoon. Both of them were some of the warmest, most open, most generous people I met while I was in Korea. This is out of an amazing group of coworkers and friends I managed to accrue—I honestly had a wonderful time in Korea due in large part to the fantastic people I met, Korean and foreigners alike, and even among those examples they stand out. (The "hell is other foreigners" tag notwithstanding; it's my default "other foreigners" tag and I wouldn't have much use for a new one.)

Bob is quite a few years older than most of my Korean and NEST contemporaries; the draw of retirement and the beginnings of failing health prompted him to leave the Korean ESL world after a solid decade in the field. Hoon was unable to come with him at the time, so he remained in Korea.

Unfortunately, Bob's been facing an uphill battle since coming back home. He is unable to work much these days (aforementioned failing health), but receives no additional disability support to supplement his $500 / month Social Security stipend. And it takes money to bring someone permanently overseas.

All of this is not helped by the fact that, during the entirety of Bob's tenure in South Korea, the Korean government did not recognize same-sex marriage (and continues to fight this losing cultural battle, even today); we all knew Hoon as Bob's husband and vice versa, but the title was nothing more than a social nicety. Likewise, national, federal-level same-sex marriage was not established in the US until after Bob had already moved home, so the US embassy couldn't have done much to help.

Would being legally-recognized partners help? I don't know, it might have. But that's water under the bridge.

I know the Internet is full of a lot of tales of woe, or ridiculous potato salad kickstarters, or anything else, but I can assure you that the couple involved with this are among the kindest and most generous people I've had the pleasure to meet. Do I understand entirely the reasoning or legality behind all of the obstacles, both American and South Korean? No. Hopefully it will actually be easier than this for them to be together; hopefully it won't take as much as Bob is expecting it to take. But do I think for a moment that this GoFundMe is a graft, a fraud, a pity party? No. Never in a thousand years. Bob was always the giving one: having dinners, thoughtful gifts, good advice, even job openings. He would never ask other people to give if he didn't have to.

If you have the means, please donate. If you have the audience, please signal boost. If you have the legal connections and advice, please get in touch.  These are two sweet people who deserve to be able to live out their lives together.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Andrei Lankov's AMA

Andrei Lankov had an AMA on reddit. I'm reading it right now; you should, too.

I just can't bear to let this little blog of mine completely go, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Uijeongbu Time Capsule

Someone shared this photo in the Uijeongbu Crew Facebook group (which I can never bring myself to leave, ever):

Main street Uijeongbu, 1966.

Googling to find the original online (in case the Facebook image link ever breaks), I came across this page. It's mind-blowing how much Uijeongbu changed in nearly 50 years and how quickly.

Now Uijeongbu looks like this:

If that photo up there is taken where I THINK It is, then these two right here are just a few blocks down from that location.

This fresh on the heels of news that the THC9, beloved downtown movie theater, has finally been crushed under the heel of the CGV that opened when they put in the Shinsegae right at Uijeongbu Station. And that one of my favorite places downtown, Birdland, has gone from a cool jazz club with regular performers who recognized me and my friends to "Birdland 7080," which means no more live jazz in Uijeongbu and probably yet another loud, obnoxious 7080 bar.

Nothing is permanent except change. But when you leave a place, you like to pretend that you're leaving it in a state of suspended animation. That the things you loved will continue on after you forever and in some way that part of your life will, too; that you can come back whenever you want to and it'll be like you never left.

Womp womp womp.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Self-Published Wacky Expat Shenanigans in South Korea Novels

I found something the other day that prompted me to crawl out of the woodwork, something I can best describe as the aborted fetus of a literary movement: the lost in Korea generation.

An overwhelming number of EFL teachers in South Korea end up writing blogs. Only natural: the majority of them are the first among their peer group to teach in Korea, and it's easier to share longform updates and photo essays via Wordpress or Blogger than it is via email or Facebook.  Plus, I think you'd find that many of them majored in English at university, to some extent—straight up English, or Creative Writing (guilty), or Journalism, and so on. I'd argue that crowd represents a disproportionately large number of EFL teachers in Korea. Not as many as Education, perhaps, but a close second.

Naturally, then, when you have people with a passion for words on what may be the biggest adventure of their lives, away from their friends and family for maybe the first time in their lives, a blog becomes a tempting, even an inevitable, step to take. Add a few words of encouragement in the comments, and you know what seems like an even better idea?

A novel

Full disclosure: I wouldn't have bothered digging these specimens up if I weren't up to tricks myself. I'm guilty of having literary aspirations, too. 

That's besides the point of this entry. I have some amount of high-falutin' critical literary thoughts on what a novel about teaching in South Korea should and shouldn't be, but that can come later. For now, I just want to float these links to self-published "wacky expat shenanigans in South Korea!" novels out into the world for your amusement, since they are pretty awful. If you want to write a novel about EFL teachers in South Korea, don't write one like these. Please.

Out of courtesy to the authors who, as far as I can Google, have moved on into careers unrelated to teaching English or creative writing, I won't include their names or links to their Facebook/LinkedIn profiles, all of which I was able to find rather easily. Which brings me to a piece of advice: when writing a book based on your own real life experiences, do yourself a favor and use a pen name. 

English Toss on Planet Andong by Dave Franklin (exception made because he is a writer by trade)

The granddaddy of all of these, though, is unusual in that it's mostly about being in jail: the infamous Brother One Cell by Cullen Thomas (who still seems to make bank on this book, so he gets named here, too). This one is maybe worth reading, but the reviews seem mixed, so it'll have to wait for a slow book day, after I've filled in the gaps of my English literature history.