Video Game Age Rating – Localizing Games for South Korea

It’s well known that South Koreans typically like to play video games. They have a thriving MMORPG industry and the media has picked up on several infamous cases in recent years where gaming addictions have led to unfortunate fatalities. With this latter point in mind, the country has stringent guidelines as to what type of content is suitable for different age groups.

The History

Originally video games in South Korea were rated by the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB), which is responsible for rating different types of media in Korea, including movies, stage productions, and music. However, after they allegedly accepted a bribe to put Sea Story on the market, a video slot machine that had been hacked to deposit pay-outs above the legal limit, a new board was set up to deal exclusively with video games.

The new board is a governmental organization known as the Game Rating Board (GRB) and was established in 2006. Dealing exclusively in video game related content (including arcade machines and illegal distribution websites), it has the advantage of possessing specialized expertise, allowing the South Korean government to maintain strict control over age ratings in the computer gaming industry. Their website defines their mission as ‘protect[ing] the public from negative influences such as illegal gambling, excessive violence and nudity’.

The GRB’s classification system is a relatively simple, four part module that divides games into content suitable for all audiences, content suitable for those aged 12 and over, content suitable for those aged 15 and over, and content suitable for adults aged 18 and over. However, they also maintain the legal right to ban any video games that may have a negative influence on the South Korean public.

Sensitive Content for the Korean Market

There was a time when games publishers had to worry about the contextual content of their games if they wanted to sell on the Korean market. Prior to 2006, South Korea systematically banned any game that depicted or mentioned the war between North and South Korea. This was an attempt to prevent exasperating existing tensions. Examples of this include Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (2005) and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005), though the ban was later lifted by the GRB who now allow such content in accordance with freedom of expression.

In fact, the GRB has lifted several bans originally imposed by the KMRB. Grand Theft Auto III (2001) and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) were both banned for their depiction of extreme violence and cruelty. When the GRB took over, they lifted these bans and the games are now available across South Korea. This demonstrates a slight shift towards a more liberal and relaxed attitude with regards to video gaming.

This does not mean, however, that the GRB do not filter violent games. 2007’s Manhunt 2 was banned for its “gross, unrelenting, and gratuitous violence” while, more recently, Mortal Kombat (2011) was also banned for extreme violence and cruelty. As a country, modern day Korea is now reasonably liberal with its attitudes towards gaming, but excessive violence still causes problems for publishers.

While the GRB maintains control over the country’s games, one thing that it struggles to regulate is mobile gaming. With its convoluted approval process and the sheer number of mobile gaming apps that are created every day, controlling the flow is somewhat of a problem, rendering the GRB akin to a buckling dam. Apple and Google have both side-stepped the issue by simply not selling to the Korean market.

In 2011 South Korea introduced a curfew imposed on children under 16, preventing them from playing online games between the hours of midnight and 6am and, with the rise in mobile gaming, many parental associations are calling to extend this curfew to mobile phones. Indeed, in 2013 the curfew will be extended to gamers playing networked games on their mobiles.

Possible Issues with Localizing a Game into Korean

While the GRB does not methodically ban every game to mention the conflict between North and South Korea, it did ban Homefront in 2011. Homefront is a military game where players fight directly against a futuristic North Korean army and the depiction of such direct hostility towards North Korea is most probably the reasoning behind banning this game. References to or contextual depiction of the conflict, however, are now mostly acceptable to the GRB.

Of far more concern is video game content that includes violence and/or gambling. While the rating system provides strict guidelines for how to rate violence (slight representation for over 12s, indirect and restricted for over 15s, and direct and graphical for over 18s), extremely violent and ‘cruel’ games may still receive a complete ban. Publishers of excessively violent games should consider toning the violence down for a Korean localization.

Interestingly, the GRB are particularly sensitive towards games that depict gambling. While subtle depiction of gambling is restricted to players aged 15 and over, most direct content is rated 18. Extreme cases of loss and/or gaining of assets may receive an outright ban. It’s important to remember that, no matter how conservative the content of your game may be, if it contains themes relating to gambling it will almost certainly be age restricted and possibly even banned. Consult the table below for more information on age rating in South Korea.

 

Classification Explanation Examples Language Violence Sexual Themes Gambling
   Suitable for all ages  Pokémon White 2, Wii Sports Resort  None  None  None  None
    Suitable for ages 12 and over  Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai  Slight  Slight  Slight  None
    Suitable for ages 15 and over  The Sims 3, Dead or Alive 5  Improper language and expletives  Indirect and restricted  Indirect and restricted  Low
    Suitable for ages 18 and over  Grand Theft Auto III, Call of Duty: Black Ops II  Improper language and expletives  Direct and concrete graphical representation  Direct and concrete graphical representation  Reproduction of gambling spirit; excessive use of gaming money is okay, but no real gain/loss of one’s assets

(Table based on data from the Game Rating Board’s official guidelines)

 

At MO Group International, our game localization team has years of experience in localizing video games for the Korean market, as well as for many other countries around the world. We can advise you on how to meet the requirements for certain age ratings in different countries, enabling you to reach as wide an audience as possible and target the players that you wish to target. Our localization process will provide you with a linguistic and culturally accurate translation.

Wait no more: contact us today to learn how we can help you expand your market.

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