On Tuesday of this week, South Korea will come to a standstill. The streets will lay abandoned, as though in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Vital public services will atrophy. Little children in playgrounds throughout the country will look around in bewilderment, wondering where the hell their parents disappeared to.
All this won't happen as a result of some global financial calamity, or a particularly violent Kim Jong Il mood swing. No, this is a video game thing.
On Tuesday, StartCraft II comes out .
For those of you who wasted the late 1990s going to parties and getting exercise, StarCraft is a real-time-strategy game. You basically start with a small base and a handful of low-level units. You then spend the rest of the game collecting various resources. The game is very hierarchal, so you use those resources to build tool sheds, which you need in order to build factories, which you need in order to build giant, city-destroying battleships that you use to obliterate your opponents, and so on.
The world was a different place when the original StarCraft debuted in 1998: The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was just beginning to set the gold standard for political hilarity; otherwise sane people were dumping millions of dollars into a tech venture called Pets.com; and airline security had not yet morphed into a strange burlesque of mandatory shoe-removal and full-body scanners. It was an innocent time.
StarCraft changed all that. Well, not really, but it did go a long way toward establishing the kind of gaming experiences most folks take for granted today. For one thing, the game let players choose between three different races -- Terran, Protoss and Zerg. But unlike most big-budget games up to that point, StarCraft's three races actually functioned in very different ways. Before StarCraft, it was pretty much a given with a lot of games that the player would get to choose between John, Steve and Lisa: except Steve was just John with a different-coloured shirt, Lisa was Steve with a pony-tail and it didn't make any difference at all which one you picked.
But more importantly, StarCraft also revolutionized multiplayer gaming. Blizzard, the company behind the title, has since managed to perfect the concept of the soul-draining, endless video game (Exhibit A: World of WarCraft). When StarCraft came out, Blizzard allowed gamers to play alongside or against each other in multiplayer games over local networks or the Internet using a piece of software called Battle.net. Even though that service was launched a year earlier, Battle.net didn't really explode in popularity until StarCraft came along.
Suddenly, people cared more about the multiplayer experience than the original game. A single-player game lasts, what, 10 hours? 100 hours? With StarCraft, you could spend weeks at a time repeatedly having your armies slaughtered by a never-ending string of ruthless Koreans with lightning bolts for fingers (You ruined our teenage years, IceZergLettuce84).
And make no mistake, chances are it was a Korean doing the slaughtering. The original StarCraft has sold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11-million copies, making it one of the best-selling PC games of all time. But almost half those copies were sold in South Korea -- one out of every ten people in that country owns the game.
The obvious question is: why? The truth is, we have no idea. Fortunately, the Internet is the kind of place where a guy can set up a Web site called "Ask a Korean" and explore that question in excruciating detail .
Regardless, today StarCraft is pretty much a major-league sport in Korea. There are televised games, big-money tournaments that attract hundreds of thousands of spectators, and C-level celebrity status for the game's best players.
(To get a feel for StarCraft madness, take a look at this video from a pro game . It has everything: screaming, crying fans in the audience, a criminally enthusiastic play-by-play announcer, an emotional come-from-behind victory. It's just like a big-league sporting event, except the contestants are doing very little physical activity).
That's why all hell is going to break loose on Tuesday. In truth, most of the big-name players in Korea probably already have their hands on early versions of the StarCraft sequel. But on Tuesday, StarCraft 2 comes to the masses around the globe. And the game that gave nerds everywhere the perfect catchphrase to use in any social situation where things take a dramatic turn for the worse ("OMG, Zerg rush!") will experience its golden renaissance.
On an unrelated note, Globe Tech HQ will be unreachable for, oh, let's say the next 16 months. We will get our revenge, HamZergular81.