Language Cleanup Frustrates Online Gamers
By Kim Tong-hyung
Park Jung-min, a 26-year-old office worker in Seoul, is one of the millions of young South Koreans who call playing computer games their favorite pastime. However, she says things have been less fun since game companies called in the language police.
Chatting with other gamers has always been an essential part of online games, but Park says in-game dialogue has become more difficult lately, with operators banning a broad range of words they deem ``indecent.''
``When I was playing Tetris through Hangame (www.hangame.com) the other day, the chat window blocked my postings two or more times and displayed warnings that I was using banned words,'' Park said.
``This is very frustrating, especially when you are writing a long sentence and the computer just blows it off,'' she said.
It's not that she was exactly trash talking, but the heavy restrictions on online vocabulary sometimes make the simplest conversations complicated, Park said.
For example, try telling other gamers ``I have to sleep now'' after hours of laborious cyber battles. The chat box might prevent one from doing so, depending on how the sentence is arranged, as the Korean word for ``sleep'' includes a form that spells identically to a word for a human sex organ.
And it would be better to leave ``bravo'' out of congratulatory messages, as the word ``bra'' is also ruled out in many online games. There are countless other examples, and gamers are concerned that the list of banned words seems to be growing.
``Why not just completely shutdown the chat functions then?'' said Park, wondering whether the restrictions were based on a consideration of the structure and phonology of the Korean language.
`` Banning words doesn't make much of a difference, as you can always deliberately misspell to get the words through. And what are you going to do about voice chats? The restrictions just annoy everybody as they interrupt even the most casual conversations,'' she said.
Game companies have been preventing the use of foul and sexually explicit language for some time now, but critics wonder whether the restrictions are becoming excessive.
The game companies' heavy-handed approach is seen as linked to the Lee Myung-bak government's recent efforts to impose rules on the Web and press Internet companies to take stronger control of online content after struggling to deal with anti-government criticism in the blogosphere.
The state-run Korea Game Industry Agency (KOGIA) even published a list that identified more than 8,500 indecent words that the agency recommends online game companies ban.
KOGIA said it selected words that were lewd, violent, discriminatory and possibly used for gambling. However, the wealth of everyday language included in the extensive list could be seen as borderline comical.
The Korean word for ``eat'' is on the list as it could be used as slang for ``sex.'' Words also banned for lewdness includes ``combine,'' ``experience,'' ``lip service,'' ``hole'' and ``seashell.''
KOGIA also recommended the banning of ``dog,'' ``babo'' ― the Korean word for ``dunce'' ― and ``jikding,'' a widely used slang for ``salary men,'' because of their ``violent'' vibes.
``It's hard to imagine a gamer being banned from saying `experience' or `ate' in a role-playing game,'' a blogger on Daum ridiculed.
``I don't know what KOGIA is trying to establish here, other than proving that it takes quite an imagination to be a pervert.''
KOGIA officials stress that the list wasn't intended as mandatory, but rather a guideline for game operators for setting rules for online language. Internet users have been confounded by the different rules in different games, KOGIA officials claim, and the list, which is also available for download on the agency's Internet page (www.kogia.or.kr), should be seen as the first step toward standardization.
``It's not that we want online game operators to ban all the words we recommended, and they can be flexible in making their own decisions,'' said an official from KOGIA.
``We just wanted to give them the base material to make those decisions, which is why we divided the words by grade, or level of indecency,'' he said.
However, industry watchers wonder whether it would be appropriate for a government organization to set the standards for verbal decency when current restrictions are already causing discomfort for gamers, and some are wondering whether the increasing verbal restrictions could end up posing a threat to the freedom of expression, with Internet companies going overboard in efforts to avoid increasing regulatory risks.
Hangame, an online game portal operated by NHN, was recently criticized when it banned the word ``Lee Myung-bak'' from the chat rooms for some of its games, along with ``TAAN'' and ``DaDa Action.''
Hanbit Soft goes further, as it not only ban its users from typing Lee Myung-bak, but also ``Roh Moo-hyun'' and ``Kim Jong-il,'' although both companies deny the rumors of political pressure. Pity the gamers who were born with the same names as Korean political leaders.
``When authorities move to restrict certain terms, such as `contract couple,' from online dialogue, they are not just repressing a single word, but an entire culture of thought,'' said Ko Kil-sup, a language researcher and director of civic group Cultural Action.
``KOGIA has decided on the criteria of violence, lewdness and discrimination in picking the bad words, but the standards themselves reflect a subjective decision by the decision-makers,'' he said.