In South Korea, Gamers Stage An Inquisition Against Feminists

On March 26, a top game development studio in Korea released an unusual statement about one of its employees: "The woman was mistaken in retweeting a tweet with the word 'hannam,'" derogatory Korean slang for "disgusting men." It continued, "In the aftermath of this incident, I promise that we will create preventative measures, including education, in a timely manner."

A swarm of gamers had unearthed and publicized the Twitter profile of an artist at IMC Games while looking for feminism-sympathizers in the South Korean games industry. The artist hadn't hurt anyone, hadn't even set her bra on fire. All she'd done was follow a few feminist groups on Twitter and retweet a post using the slang term "hannam."

In response, her employer, IMC Games founder and CEO Kim Hakkyu, who is regarded as one of South Korea's most influential game designers, launched a probe to investigate her alleged "anti-social ideology," promising to remain "endlessly vigilant" so it wouldn't happen again.

The investigation, he explained, was a "sa sang gum jeung," a verification of belief - the same word South Koreans used in the Korean War to verify a citizen was not a communist.

For two years, vigilante swarms of gamers have been picking through South Korean games professionals' social media profiles, sniffing out the slightest hint of feminist ideology.

Anything from innocuous Twitter "likes" to public pleas for gender equality have provoked harassment from these hostile freelance detectives. It doesn't end at hate mail and online pile-ons; jobs have been put in jeopardy.

In 2016, the gaming company Nexon fired voice actress Jayeon Kim, who worked on the massively multiplayer online game Closers, after discovering she owned a shirt that reads, "Girls Do Not Need A Prince."

The shirt, and Kims' employers' response to it, sparked a controversy that echoed across the world. It wasn't the women's lib lingo that spurred the whole ordeal. The shirt was sold by affiliates of a controversial feminist website called "Megalia," which, two years later, is still central to the ideological inquisition that's consuming the South Korean games industry.

Since the beginning of this year, anti-feminist gamers have tracked down and outed at least six other South Korean games professionals - both men and women - for allegedly aligning themselves with the radical feminist community that formed around the now-defunct website. The Korean Game Developers Guild claims that a total of 10 women, mostly illustrators, and 10 men have been under fire for these allegations.

Megalia's logo.

Although Megalia's userbase has dispersed, its reputation for radical, man-hating feminism seems to have overshadowed other pockets of feminist thought in the country. A lot of Megal advocacy is nothing out of the ordinary - posting signs reading "NO UTERUS, NO OPINION," advocating against hidden camera pornography, and raising money for single mothers.

A grassroots Megalia campaign helped shut down a child porn website.

That's not what gets people talking. More radical users have also advocated for women pregnant with sons to get abortions and allegedly outed gay men married to women.

A Megalia user's post about a teacher who said she wanted to rape a kindergarten boy went viral.

These users' governing principle was to exact on men the kind of oppression they believe men have exacted upon women throughout history, so-called "mirroring." Megalia's reputation in South Korea is widely considered antisocial and radical.Uniting all affiliates is the Megalia logo, a hand with fingers separated by just an inch, mocking Korean mens' penis sizes.


Nonprofits and human rights organisations have long noted South Korean women's struggle for equality. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index ranks Korea 118th on a list of 144 countries (the United States ranked 49th). Of 38 nations surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea has the largest wage gap between men and women.

Women who receive abortions in Korea can be sent to prison or fined over a thousand dollars. After noting this, Human Rights Watch's World Report on South Korea reads, "Discrimination against women is widespread in South Korea.

Gender-based stereotypes concerning the role of women in the family and society are common - including widespread social stigma and discrimination against unmarried mothers - and are often unchallenged or even encouraged by the government."

In Korea's famously intense gaming sphere, which has produced top players for every big esports franchise, several instances of apparent gender discrimination in games indicate a severe, gender-based power imbalance.

Although industry tracker Newzoo reports that 42% of gamers in South Korea are women, only a quarter of game developers are women, according to AFP.

Top Korean esports teams spanning Starcraft, Overwatch and League of Legends have taken few steps toward including women, and when women do scale the ranks, they become targets.

When an impressive gameplay clip from a 17-year-old South Korean Overwatch player named Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon made the rounds last year, two pros publicly accused her of cheating. She made a video proving she was the real deal and, now, plays on the Overwatch League team Shanghai Dragons.

Years earlier, South Korea's first female Starcraft 2 pro, Kim "Eve" Shee-yoon, was brought onto a team "for her skills and looks," according to her manager, and left after allegedly encountering sexual harassment.

A Famerz sign advocating pro-choice politics.Photo: Famerz (Tumblr)

The National D.va Association, now known as Famerz, formed from female Korean gamers' desire to feel recognised and represented in a world where Korean women who play Overwatch are often told they're "bitches" and "whores," according to a Kotaku report on South Korea's Overwatch culture.

In Overwatch, D.va is a young Korean girl named Hana Song who, according to her lore, was a hugely famous professional gamer and operates a mech suit. "We get sexually harassed in gaming situations where it becomes known that we are female in voice chat," said a representative for the Association named Anna.

"Game streamers and male gamers are continuously coming up with new misogynistic buzzwords." She cited "Song Hee Rong," a portmanteau of D.va's name "Song," and "Hee Rong," which, said together, sounds like Korea's term for "sexual harassment."

It also references the Overwatch strategy of preventing D.va from regaining her mech suit after losing it, which, if considered abstractly, keeps her helpless.

After fans went after IMC Games' concept artist, her boss Kim Hakkyu conducted an investigation and decided not to fire her. He did, however, publish an interview with her about the controversy. Hakkyu grills the artist on why she followed Megal-ish accounts like "Women's Sisterhood" on Twitter.

Kim admits she just wasn't thinking about it that hard, citing her interest in improved access to menstrual pads. "Why did you tweet the word 'hannam?' " he asks. "I didn't retweet it because of the word 'hannam,'" she responds.

When he asks why she "pressed 'like' on a post containing violent Megalia opinions," she responds, "I thought it was just that post. On the timeline, when there is a lot of writing, oftentimes they are hidden below. I only just learned that the hidden writing contained extreme opinions and I did not check back then before I pressed 'like.'"

Hakkyu concluded, "She was mistaken in retweeting a tweet with the word 'hannam,' being unable to tell the difference between Megalia and feminism in its original definition." (IMC Games did not return multiple requests for comment).

Girls Frontline.Graphic: Sunborn Games

A week earlier, Korean anti-feminist vigilantes shone their spotlight on another woman in the South Korean games industry. The Chinese game Girls Frontline had hired a Korean character artist to make anthropomorphic guns for the mobile strategy game. K7, an unreleased character, is a stern girl with long, white hair, cat ears and thigh-high socks. Two hours after K7's announcement, gamers dug through her creator's tweets and Twitter "likes."

What they found was a comic parodying "hannam" she'd retweeted and another retweet about how women fear hidden cameras. The studio's Korean branch  immediately vowed to suspend K7.

Its Chinese headquarters said they'd investigate the artist's alleged "extreme tendencies," adding that "So far, there has been no evidence that any K7 illustrator belongs to a certain extreme feminist organisation." Girls Frontline studio Sunborn Games has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Around the same time, a swarm of anti-feminist gamers went after the male Korean game developer Somi, who made Replica, a left-leaning game critical of the Korean government, for liking and retweeting several tweets about sexual education in schools and offices.

Thumbs-down reviews appeared on Replica's Steam page, reading, "Megalia wild boars made this game" and "A top Korean feminist made this game."

In solidarity, a friend of K7's creator, who works at a tiny Korean games studio called Kiwiwalks, tweeted out her support for her disgraced industry colleague. That's when, according to Kiwiwalks' CEO, Girls Frontline community members proceeded to root through the friend's tweets and discover that she, too, had retweeted tweets about women's rights, specifically pertaining to abortion. That led to widespread calls for the illustrator's dismissal.

A significant portion of Korean games developers and publishers who employ women targeted by anti-feminists have complied with critics' calls to dismiss or rebuke employees. A plausible reason why shows up in the comments below games companies' posts about the controversies: These critics are vocal about who they do and don't want to be making their games. And these critics are also a large portion of their consumers.

After two freelance illustrators on the failing Korean-made online game SoulWorkers were accused of having Megal-like Twitter feeds, and harassed as a result, SoulWorkers developers announced on March 26 that they'd replace the illustrations.

They also said they'd begin "preliminary inspection" to make sure that these sort of "problems" didn't occur in the future. In the next few days, a flood of new users overwhelmed SoulWorkers' servers. It's hard to prove causality, but SoulWorkers did seea 175% increase in players.

Overwhelmed devs working around-the-clock to keep the servers up received box upon box of snacks, nutritional supplements and presents from players. (The illustrators have threatened legal action their harassers.)

Snacks sent to SoulWorkers' studio.Image: SoulWorker

When I asked the Korean Game Developers' Guild why developers are on board with these "ideological verifications," a representative told me that, because men make up the majority of Korean games companies and most Korean games consumers are men -- and because feminism and so-called anti-male Megalian feminism are conflated so often -- shaming radical feminists is a lucrative business decision.

"The current market's core consumers are men in their 40s and younger, and the game companies are forced to focus on their perception in reality," the representative explained. They added that, "If you look at the response of the this subculture consumer group of men, it is assumed that they have established [the belief], 'Since feminists are trying to suppress our freedoms with their ethics, we should grind the freedom out of them with our own ethics before that' as a logical response."

There has been some resistance to the anti-feminist attacks. Suyoung Jang, the CEO of Kiwiwalks, did something different from industry colleagues who buckled under consumer pressure to punish these alleged radical employees: He stated publicly that he would not investigate or dismiss his employee.

In an email to Kotaku, he explained that "The employee did not take any action using the company's account or name. She was simply retweeting about her individual interests on her personal account." He continued, referencing Megalia, and adding:

"There is a growing number of men who respond very sensitively to even a simple remark about women's rights. Especially among those who play games. But the content of the employee's retweet was related to abortion. Even though there were some radical expressions aimed toward men mixed into that content, the issue of 'abortion' is one that any woman can relate/empathise with."

After Kim Hakkyu's interview with his employee, he wrote a summary of the conversation for readers and fans of his games. That way, they will know his stance on the issue of radical feminism and be assured of the preventative measures his company will take to ensure no such public ideological slip-ups will happen again.

His employee's Twitter activity, he said, "originated from ignorance or indifference to a very sensitive social issue."

Additional reporting contributed by Kotaku social editor Seung Park.

Note: Several quotes in this article were originally written in Korean or Chinese but have been translated into English by speakers fluent in both languages.


Comments

    While living in South Korea I saw how tough it can be for women in some situations and how, compared to Australia, there are so many expectations placed upon them. So many ideas about what they should and shouldn't do, and how they should behave. Sometimes it seemed like an oppressive environment to live in.

    Very interesting read. Its still suprising that in this day and age attitudes like this still exist

    It saddens me to see that countries are still holding such 'witch hunts' in this day and age.

    People should be free from persecution based on their beliefs and ideologies as long as those same do not harm others.

    It is worse in this case in that simply following someone else who may have unknowningly had controversial subject material can get you in trouble.

    Is it just a guise though for keeping women supressed?

    I think people need to eat some conrete. Toughen up, and at the same time foster some compassion. How would they feel in that situation being vilified.

    I see so much progress in the world and then see things like this.

    This isn't surprising, it is pretty much par for the course for the region.

    And? "Feminists" (please note the quotation marks) have been doing it for years. Getting people fired for something said or "liked" from more than a few years ago on social platforms.

      The people you're talking about were fired for holding sexist views. Many of the women this article is talking about were fired for having an opinion on women's rights and issues like abortion. You don't really think those two things are comparable, do you?

        In terms of the tactics used, yes. That is where the comparison is.

          The comparison is meaningless if you ignore the context surrounding it. Otherwise you might as well compare 'stopping a thief entering your house' with 'blocking voters from accessing a polling station' because they both use the same tactic of 'physically denying someone access to what they're after'.

          I condemn any kind of sexism, regardless of who it's from and who it's towards. But that's not what the article is talking about, it's describing how what is superficially a backlash against a misandrist group expanded to target women who were simply expressing their views on issues that affect them and weren't being sexist at all.

            So you don't think tweeting something that is straight up sexist towards men is good enough? Ok then. I see how it is.

              The answer to your question is in the post you replied to, and it's not the answer you've incorrectly assumed.

      While I agree that there are western feminists that use this tactic, a quick squiz at the people involved shows that it wasn't really the same. Nuance is everything my dude, if you want to complain about people you should probably attempt to not simultaniously validate their approach through hypocracy.

      Did you even read the article?

      Or did you just jump straight to foaming at the mouth just based on the word "Femenist" being the title?

      Perhaps read the article next time so you dont look like a pillock.

        Methinks you're the one that started frothing from the mouth when I referred to "feminists". Did you even read my comment or just fly into a blind rage?

        My comment was critical of the "tactics" used. Hence the "and?"

          Your comment is you just having a sooky la la about femenists just because the article contains the word femenists.

          This article is about a legitimate issue and you took it as a chance to sook using the age old tactic of "Whataboutism".

      Without using Google, name three. (You can't but bonus points for saying that you did).

      Using Google, find fifty examples across the last five decades, across the entire Western World, that have substantiated evidence proving malice with no just cause.

      Of course you won't, because your expert 'knowledge' comes from chain emails in comic sans font sent around by your Uncle Steve, in between him bitching about his divorce and 'the Muslims'.

        Ooo love the triggered responses... You forgot Uncle Henry (I don't have an uncle Steve) complaining about "the gays" also. ????

          So that's a 'no' then.

            That's a "can't be arsed". Why don't you? Oh wait.. of course you won't. blah blah blah. Should tell the missus to take it easy on ya, no need to be so butthurt :-) Have a wonderful day

    My littleness bro lived in SK. He’s been saying how shitty guys herb whenever women get a 1-up in general. Apparently the dad’s are quite big on having their daughters be subservient.

    Both Feminists and Anti-Feminists are idiots, and the extremists from both doing stuff like this are downright mentally deficient and pathetically hateful. Equality should and does need to be fought for, there is no question about that, particularly in Asia, but it needs to be fought by those who truly believe in it and not just one side, Equalists like myself (i.e. the intelligent people who can see beyond their own nose). Because it isn't a single issue, it's just one aspect of many major and frequently disgusting issues born of established societal customs and forced agendas, for one thing to change, many have to, and it will take more than one generation to do it.

    Last edited 20/04/18 5:42 pm

      'Equalists like myself (i.e. the intelligent people who can see beyond their own nose)'

      Sorry to interrupt your self inflation there but 'equalist' isn't a thing.

      The word you're looking for is 'feminist'. That's the definition of what a feminist is and despite what you may have read in more excitable parts of the internet, 99% of feminists hold to that definition. Feminism is very simply achievement of equality through advocacy of women's rights based on the demonstrable, empirical evidence of the disparity of power between the sexes. This is a belief held by a significant percentage of (non-asshole) humanity. Those are feminists. Radical feminists and the other extreme minority groups conservatives like to demonise represent a tiny fraction of a single percentage of this.

      But *something* tells me you won't believe that as you're more comfortable with an obviously unsupportable fake narrative that's pretty much 100% about you making yourself sound good.

      Which, by the way, is pretty much the definition of a 'centrist' - that may have been the word you were looking for?

        You just "no true Scotsman".

        Do you even hear yourself?

        "Equality is the advocacy of the rights of only one group." - you

        You must be one of the Red Sash Brigade that works at MiniTruth.

        Protip, egalitarianism is not feminism. One is about equality the other is about female power.

          You're mistaken. Egalitarians are concerned with every class of equality - race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, social/economic class, disability, etc. Feminism is a subset of egalitarianism that focuses on one particular class - gender - but the objectives within that scope are exactly the same: equality. If you're an egalitarian you're also a feminist because the goals of feminism are entirely encompassed by egalitarianism.

        Protip, you need to read more clearly.

        He was specifically talking about being a gender 'equalist'.

        That's what I answered to. The terms of reference were gender, not the broader tenets of egalitarianism.

        And I can bet you a crisp $50 from this person's post that despite what they may like to think, they are most certainly not particularly egalitarian and neither are you.

        But thank you for the education on concepts I understood while you were most likely being potty trained. Speaking of which, that's not a 'no true scotsman' fallacy. People ought to understand what that is before throwing the term around. I did not make a claim that radfems etc were invalid counter examples or not feminists. They are. There is a conceptual separation between the parts of my post that your existing predisposition unsurprisingly made you miss.

        @zombiejesus see above with less snark as you probably just didn't read it, as opposed to wandering in with your own ideological axe to grind.

    From what I go from the article:

    a) Theres radical 'feminists' that use derogatory language and espouse aborting male babies, as a form of gender cleansing, and various other things that could be considered hate crimes in the western hemisphere.

    b) Employees that are liking tweets with derogatory language, or are linked to the hate crime group are getting in trouble.

    c) Apparently, for the most part, said employees aren't aware of the issues concerning the groups when they like posts on more reasonable tweets. (Well, discounting the ones with derogatory language)

    d) In the Western hemisphere, anyone that would be tweeting derogatory terms about women would likely be shamed, harassed or fired from their work of employment. People complaining about being called unsavoury names, are either using or liking similar terms for the other gender.

    e) In conclusion, beyond that, there seem to be some real issues in South Korea disassociated with the abovementioned hate group, Magelia. And it seems the smart thing to do is to not like tweets posted by them. (Echoes of Gamergate anyone?)

    So... nothing to see here?

    If you align yourself with people who want to eradicate half of humanity or who hate, literally hate, half of humanity, than you shouldn't find yourself surprised when most (including that half and more) of humanity will shun you.

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