The last time I was in Seoul was in 1998, in the depths of the IMF crisis. Of course, it’s always interesting to visit a new place, but Korea was not at its best then: it was in the worst economic depression in years, the North Koreans were acting up, and there was even starting to be a problem with homelessness (previously unheard-of). This time around, my futurist’s radar was going off constantly. William Gibson has a lovely saying that the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. This is a place, I kept thinking, where the future is already here.
It reminded me of something I saw a couple years ago, that was my first signal that something interesting was going on in Seoul. I bought the game Descent 3, one of those games whose rules are: 1) pilot a spaceship around the solar system, and 2) blow up everything that isn’t you. After playing it for a few days, I got to a level that was set in… Seoul. Of course, it bore as much relationship to the real Seoul as the level that took place on Mars bears to the Red Planet, but still: some hip young designers, obsessed with making a game that would be a hit and continue a hugely profitable line, thought that it made sense to set a level in Seoul.