The feeling is overwhelming and nostalgic. Places I have never been but have seen many times swell with memories of my youth. It is early morning and misty, but resting on a bench by a river I can see where Kang Min fed his ducks and dreamed of dreaming again. At new buildings where studios have long since been torn down, I can see the crowds of excited fans claiming seats and writing words of heartfelt encouragement to their heroes. I can hear the footsteps of foreigners nervous with excitement heading up the halls to the little place where nerds fought battles. With an almost teary breath I think how they were not too late, but here I am looking at an electronics store and pretending a large TV is playing Brood War, pretending the customers are not trapped in their study of pricey phones, but absorbed in the clash of two magnificent minds. I put my hands in my pockets and walk away alone.
Twenty years too late, but not too late for PCBangs. Why they’re still around I can only guess, they are like the failing businesses of arcades which serve only to amuse their owner’s childhood dreams. I walk in and ask a weary looking man with stubbled neck if he has Brood War. “Sure.” He leads me to the second of four rows of computers and I notice only three other people sitting down, wearing baseball caps and hoodies and absorbed in games not my own. “Can I get you something?” the owner asks. I ask for tea and he goes.
Every day for a week I go to that PCBang, not precisely knowing why. I order my tea, sit down, and play Brood War for three hours. Not much of a way to see a country, but for some reason I find myself unable to escape its draw. The steam of my tea floats into my face and I perspire pleasurably in my efforts to conquer. It’s amazing anyone still plays this game, let alone are still so good at it.
On the third day I begin to think of other Brood War players from the past who would be in Korea right now. StarCraft IV is big money and Day9 and Tastosis are big names here to cast it. They’ve really made a life out of eSports, haven’t they? Somewhere in the recesses of my being I hang onto the brief hope that they still think of Brood War sometimes. That with their names so big and bright, untouchable as stars, maybe I would meet them in this dank little hut of a PCBang. I knew it was ridiculous, but as I thought about it more, I hoped more truly that they really would. I could imagine it now. They would be walking in this part of town after some routine shopping and see the PCBang. They would say “Hey, I can’t believe these still exist!” and joke and laugh and suddenly become serious. “Do you wanna go in and play a few games?” “Why not?” Then they would see my white skin sitting in the second row (I’d become accustomed to my seat) and say “Weirder and weirder! A foreigner in a PCBang!” and head over to me to see what I was playing. And they would see that it was Brood War. Brood War, of all games! A foreigner, in a dying Korean PCBang, playing Brood War. Such a peculiar set of curiosities was almost never seen. They would be so moved by nostalgia that they could not help but challenge me to some games.
I think that fantasy is what keeps me coming day after day in spite of a whole country to explore. I want it to happen so badly, that as I sip my tea and teach the owner how to say my name, I come to believe that it must happen, that it is inevitable. As each day passes and I pay the owner his money before I leave, I think, tomorrow will be the day. Tomorrow someone will come, and challenge me to a game.
For four days I think the same thing. By the end I feel foolish that I have been wasting my whole vacation in a nearly vacant PCBang. Even the few Koreans who seem regulars themselves do not engage me. Perhaps they are too young to remember Brood War, for it has been so long. Perhaps they are a little afraid of the aging foreigner who sits alone in the second row.
When I realise that tomorrow will be the eighth day I have wasted in this PCBang, I determine that it will be the last and I will finally see the rest of this country. I can’t make it today, for some reason. My heart does not allow me. So it will be tomorrow, my last day at the PCBang that I will cut the strings of my naïve dream.
I arrive early in the morning, as I usually do, and order my tea for the last time. I tell the owner that this will be my last day, and he tells me that it was good to meet me and know that there are still people who play this old game. I wonder if I should challenge him before I leave. I play my first game and when I’ve finished I begin sipping on my warm tea. The chime at the front door rings as a man enters the PCBang. My heart flutters strangely. White skin, thick glasses, the man himself. Day9. He looks amused that such a place still exists. His jaw slacks a little when he sees me and he grins. He walks toward me to see what I’ve been playing, and sees the lobby of a Brood War game. Words cannot describe the energy that seems to exude from him. The man is radiant; shouts: “oh my god?! Is that Brood War?!” Everyone in the PCBang turns to him. They are already beaming from their recognition of his television face, and become more curious of who the Hell I am by association. Of course he does not know me in any way, but it doesn’t matter. I am an aging foreigner playing Brood War in a Korean PCBang, after all.
He immediately challenges me to battle. The map is to be Lost Temple, most classic of the classics. I tell him sincerely, “I am going to do the best strategy I know” and he laughs and says he is too. I have warped in as Protoss at 6, and he has landed Terran at 9. He scouts the wrong direction and by the time he finds me a Dragoon has blocked my ramp and my own Probe is harassing his SCVs. A quick StarGate pumps out a Scout directly to his main across the tiny chasm. He is sitting across from me and I see him tilt his head and smile incredulously.