Joomi, the Life-Long Gamer

By: Niki Fritz

When Joomi Lee was in middle school, she made plans with some of her online gaming friends to meet up in a PC videogame one night to go on a big “hunt.” The group was big; almost 30 other Korean kids were virtually meeting Joomi at night to beat a beast. And Joomi, as the healer of the group, had an important role. But that night as she was playing, her mom insisted she turn off the game and go to bed. Joomi refused and her father got involved echoing her mother. Joomi again refused, trying to explain to her parents that 27 other virtual players were relying on her skills.

Joomi’s dad was not buying it and after arguing with his daughter he got fed up and threw the entire computer tower out the window. Joomi was furious. She stormed out of the house to the nearest cyber café, where she continued the game.

Joomis laughs about it now saying, “It was more important to me to finish the game. It may have not been the best behavior.”

As Joomi grew up video games remained an important part of her life, although the types of games she was drawn to started to change in high school.

Joomi remembers one scene in particular that forever changed the way she viewed video games. She was playing a multiplayer game and had just come back from a hunt. She was wandering through the village when she came across a campfire. There were other players sitting around the campfire cooking and sharing food and playing instruments. Even though it was just a pixelated fire, Joomi felt the warmth of the community there. After that experience, she started to gravitate towards more cooperative and pro-social games, games that had less killing and more brain involved.

“Since high school, I’ve lost my interest in games with killing because they are all similar. For me, it just seemed like all the updates for were only for graphics but the play style was the same,” Joomi says.

In college, Joomi started playing more simulation games. She says she was “drawn to the brain work” of the games, things like building complex cities or interacting with others.

The bright virtual environment Joomi created for her thesis project.

The bright virtual environment Joomi created for her thesis project.

Since coming to the United States, Joomi continues to play Korean games in her free time. She explains that Korean and Japanese games are starting to shift towards more mobile devices. She also says that Korean and Japanese gamers are more focused on the character’s appearance, wanting cute or sexy-looking characters. “Characters have to be cute and customizable or the game won’t be successful,” Joomi says.

To illustrate her point, she showed me a game she is currently playing on her tablet. The character she was playing was indeed adorable, even when the little girl was slaying monsters with a sword. Joomi also showed me the group texts she was participating in with other players in the game. Sometimes players meet up for a group gaming adventure and sometimes they just chat. Joomi says that all online games have communities with their own rules and norms, just like in real life.

All of her video game experience has led her to develop some ambitious research goals.

“I want to explore the spaces in games. Since I’ve become interested in games that don’t involve killing, I’ve seen how virtual spaces are not just for killing but they can be used for all other behaviors, like communication, therapy, even traveling,” Joomie says. “I see possibilities. If the space is 3D, it can be used for almost every human behavior. I’m not sure if it’s good or not but it’s happening.”

The dark environment Joomi create for her thesis

The dark environment Joomi create for her thesis.

Currently Joomi’s thesis is looking at how a player’s physical and virtual environment may impact his or her startle response. She is manipulating the valence and darkness of environments in Skyrim. She sent me a few screen grabs and the rooms are beautiful.

Despite how Joomi has shifted her gaming hobby into an academic pursuit, she still doesn’t think her parents would approve of her studies.

“My parents will be disappointed if I say that I am studying video games because they think that I am still playing games,” Joomi says. “Although there is a big population of gamers in Korea, the overall society still regards games are evil and waste of time, perhaps due to its obsession with competitive education. So it would better for me to say that I study human interaction with the media, not mentioning games specifically.”

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