Recipe for a Cyber All-Nighter: 1 Cup Ramen, 6,500 Mouse Clicks

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Recipe for a Cyber All-Nighter: 1 Cup Ramen, 6,500 Mouse Clicks

"Sleepless in Seoul" is not the title of a movie. Rather, it's the story of thousands of young people who spend hours a day in cyber cafes, absorbed in computer games.

An Jeong-ho, 22, a college student majoring in mechanical engineering, is one of those habitues. After school, usually at around 7 p.m., a whole new world full of fantasy and strategy awaits him.

Comfortably seated in an overstuffed chair, Mr. An logs on to the Internet to play Star Craft. Dinner? Forget about it. At the moment, there is nothing as important as destroying the enemy threatening his fortress of pixels on the monitor. Around midnight, however, Mr. An gets hungry and orders a bowl of ramen, which cannot be a decent meal but is at least time-saving and allows his fingers to freely move on the keyboard or mouse while he eats.

After having a cup of coffee, available for free at most cyber cafes for dessert, he hurries back to his seat. It's half past two in the morning and his cell phone rings a couple of times, calls from his angry mother and girlfriend. He cannot go home, however, for the bus is not available at this time. Mr. An takes a look at those around him. The room is still crowded; some people have come to spend the night at a "reasonable" price, for they had nowhere else to go. At 6 a.m., Mr. An is physically, though not mentally, too tired to play anymore. He pays the special fee for night-time users, which is 7,000 won ($5.40) from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., and finally he leaves for home.

Mr. An is not some delinquent. Rather, he is a straight-A student at Korea University. "I'm just being diligent doing what I like at night," Mr. An said. And he is not alone: Every night, the scores of cyber cafes in Seoul are filled with young people engrossed in computer games. "There are now more than 25,000 cyber cafes prospering in Korea," said Cho Sam-kwon, a secretary general at the Korea Internet PC Culture Association. The Internet server for the game Fortress now has more than 900,000 people registered as members. "I once dreamed about being a professional game player, but I am only ranked at around 100, so I gave that idea up," Mr. An explained.

Until two years ago, playing computer games was considered a mere pastime, but now it's a different story. Lim Sung-chun, 22, a professional game player who regards playing computer games as his natural vocation, explained, "I earn my annual salary of 18 million won mostly by participating in competitions." Though the pay is decent, Mr. Lim believes he still has a long way to go when he sees competitors such as Guillaume Patry, 21, a Canadian professional game player based in Korea, who earns 30 million won a year.

Star Craft, an American simulation fighting game involving strategy, is easily the most popular game in Korea. Since its release in 1998 in Korea, it has sold more than 2 million copies, which is one third of worldwide sales.

Said Mr. An, "The game makes me feel like a king."

by Chun Su-jin

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