Humans of PC Cafe
A PC cafe or PC Bang (PC방) is a place that is filled with high-end computers that most people come visit to play video games. There are occasionally some people actually there to work on a paper or watch movies online — but they really are the anomalies. Most of the cafes are open 24 hours. Rates are very cheap — around $1~2 per hour. The price varies depending on the area the cafe is located. I live in a suburban bed town, so the price is between 1,200~1,500 Korean won. That’s approximately $1~1.25, based on the current exchange rate. Cafes around the urban areas will cost up to $2 per hour. Still extremely cheap!
My Korean home doesn’t have an ethernet connection and the wifi connection is just mid-tier. So, my gaming laptop can handle Overwatch on the Asian server but I just cannot play in on the US servers without having McCree’s gun turn into projectiles. That is why I’ve been going to PC cafes all summer, spending most of my morning queuing with friends in on the NA server.
Here is a brief observation of the humans I’ve met at the PC cafe over the past few weeks.
## Definitely too young to play Overwatch… let alone PUBG ##
Possibly the most noteworthy human beings at the PC cafe are kids. They seem to me perhaps too young to play Overwatch (Overwatch is for 15+ in Korea) and they are definitely are too young to play PUBG. These kids come in groups and swear quite a lot. Mostly about how you are a bad Widowmaker or Genji. I wonder how they will play once they have 2-2-2 role lock.
One of the most memorable observations is a conversation between two boys. They looked pretty young and had that childish note to their voice. One of them was teaching the other how to play PUBG for the first time. “Don’t worry, I got this,” he said, “and the game is easy to learn!” As time passed, there were more and more sighs coming from the boy until he finally screamed “Dude, you just ran me over with the car!!!!” I don’t think they played PUBG anymore after that.
To be fair, PUBG is no longer rated R in Korea. After having red blood and other gruesome visual effects removed, it is now rated 15+. But still, these kids must be like 11 or 12 at the most. I really wish there were positive role models for these kids as they play video games. You see them repeating toxic behaviors and hateful remarks, probably without fully comprehending what they are doing or what they are saying. Even though the games that they play have the potential to teach how to cooperate and communicate with their friends, a lot of them just come to the PC cafe to scream that everyone’s bad, they’re carrying and other things that make you leave team voice.
I also really wish they would be quieter. Inside voice only in PC Cafes. Another reason I want role models for them.
## Quick Smoke during the Queue ##
Often, there are empty seats with a League of Legend screen on. Most of the time, other people are banning champions and selecting one. Wonder where the owner of the account is at? They usually are smoking at the corner of a PC cafe and will run back to play the game in time. There are many empty seats with computers on, waiting for the smokers to return.
Most PC cafes have a smoking area. It used to be the case that people could smoke at their seats, right as they were playing video games. But since 2015, it is illegal in Korea to smoke at restaurants and cafes other than in designated smoking areas — including PC cafes. So, there is usually a separate booth in the corner for smokers. Most of the place is well-ventilated, making PC cafes seem more accessible and less decadent.
I’ve had my share of smokers in Overwatch, too. I sometimes queue with Koreans that I met online. They often fail to return in time for the game because they smoke during the queue. They type, asking for a “cigarette break.” With Overwatch queue being more unpredictable than that of League, some of my stack will often miss a player who runs from the spawn after the timer already ticks.
By the way, everyone leaves valuables behind when they go to the smoking area. Maybe they’ll take their phone but not because they are worried but because they want to stare at it as they smoke. This is not just at PC cafes — even in normal cafes, people just leave their laptops on the desk unattended. Fair, with dozen CCTVs in the cafe, anyone should feel safe. But I’ve been too Americanized these days, that I always carry my purse to the bathroom.
## Duoing Heterosexual Couples ##
Unfortunately, PC cafes are still dominated by men. Quite often, I am the only woman in the cafe, except for the lady sitting at the counter, fidgeting on her phone. (There are many sexist owners looking for “pretty young girls” to work part-time. I am sure they are the same people that tell me that “ladies shouldn’t be playing video games too late.” Fuck you all!). But more often than not, you see couples playing video games next to each other.
Often they have a cute matching nicknames. There are many examples of this but usually something that rhymes. Or something that goes together like paper and pencil or salt and sugar. Either way, it is adorable to see people having fun together. Sometimes I secretly judge them if they are a healer-DPS duo. But I’ve been trying not to. I’d say my personal favorite is soldier-D.Va duo. No reason, I just think they are cute.
Yeah, actually perhaps they are like BFF. But my heteronormative brain says otherwise.
## Dudes in Suits ##
There is a surprising share of dudes in suits, especially during lunchtime. They are dressed 10 out of 10 as salesmen – black suits, a shirt and even a tie. They come around just after noon. Sometimes they leave quite soon or they stay later. Most of them play League of Legends or old Korean MMORPGs.
I seriously wonder where they come from. I wouldn’t be surprised even if they were using their lunch break to play video games. Korea is a very dense country, especially around Seoul. So everything is next to each other. The PC cafe closest to my home is right next to a local library, a real cafe, and a flower retailer. It is also right below a restaurant and a convenience store. Another PC cafe has the subway station, an optometrist (where I got my pair of glasses on my way to Licorice Whip practice), a dentist, a hair salon, a notary and a dining hall for a local business, all in the same building. It might only be a minutes walk from the office to a PC cafe. Also, since most PC cafes serve food, it is a good way to get lunch and do something fun in the meantime. But part of me wonders — really?
## College Students Signing Up for Classes ##
Signing up for college classes in Korea is pretty competitive. Most of the classes are first-come-first-serve, so the popular classes would be closed minutes after the class sign-up opens. There often are not enough seats open for mandatory writing seminars and major courses.
Even though most people come to PC cafes to play video games, some are here for business. The myth is that if you apply to classes at a PC cafe close to college, the likelihood of getting into the class that you want increases. In general, the Internet at PC cafes are much faster than household wifi, so that is understandable. This is why you see people in their 20s at PC cafe early in the morning, waiting to click that class they really want or need to get in.
Then, of course, they go on and do other stuff. Playing Overwatch, TFT, working on their reports, watching yesterday’s TV show via VOD services… you name it.
## “Gamer Girls” ##
As much as I hate that word, gamer girls are probably my favorite humans to see at PC cafes. Occasionally, there would be a group of girls walking into the cafe together – maybe in groups of 3-4. They queue together. Often times, there are one or two people teaching her friend how to play a new game. I remember seeing four girls come to the PC cafe together. One of them started teaching another girl how to play Overwatch. They started from creating a Blizzard account, then to the tutorial (she did not forget to mention that the tutorial for Overwatch still sucks) and then went to quick play and so on. The new girl was pretty frustrated with her performance. She said that she was so bad. But her teacher-friend was encouraging. “It’s fine,” she said. “You got this, the game takes a while to get used to.” Usually they end up having fun.
I’ve also been in that position. My friends from grade school and junior-high taught me how to play Cyphers, a Korean MOBA game. We went to the PC cafe together. I made a new account and named myself “Overwatch is not working” (옵치가안돼요). They walked me through the tutorial. Then we went into the real game where I was absolutely confused and had no idea what I was doing. But they helped me through it. Even though I died like 20 times, it was fun. Especially to finally understand what I am doing and what my friends are doing in game.
It is fun to have that kind of experience.
I also run into my friends quite often. It is a pleasant experience to randomly walk into friends from junior high — even after all those years.