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15 Minutes of Fame: From Romania to Korea via World of Warcraft

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

This is the story of Apathius, a Romanian student of languages who's made World of Warcraft her entree to the Korean language and culture. "A year ago, I used to be a slightly hardcore raider on the EU realms," she writes. "Being a big fan of anime and all that stuff, I opted for a chance to study abroad in Korea. (Japan was out of the question, sadly, but Korea was pretty close, culture-wise.) So at the start of 2010, I hopped on a plane and came here to start a 'new life,' so to speak. But still, there are huge cultural differences between the Asian world and the west, and for fear that I might not adapt to this new environment, I decided to make WoW one of my mediums for permeating Korean society."

"I thought I knew WoW well enough to get the hang of things quickly, but I ended up having to re-learn a lot of things, especially PVE-wise," she continues. "'Korean Style!' my guildies told me when I first asked them why almost no one raids as a guild here. I was surprised when I heard they PUG heroic raids like Alone in the Dark and Lich King 25-man. But that doesn't mean they're hardcore, as even the casuals do very well. For example, people who had never seen Putricide before went from a 80% wipe to a 5% wipe after three tries. Also, if you're a top-end raider, you can earn about 5,000ish gold per week from raids, because the DKP here is gold, and only gold. The weirdest part about it though, I really get the feeling they take the PVE side of WoW as fun, not as competition, not as something to be taken seriously, just as a means of getting imba gear and seeing new fights."

Join us for one player's quixotic journey through an American game on a European realm from her Romanian homeland to a new home and new realm in Korea.

Main character Apathius / Apathia
Guild Guild of Avengers
Realm Norgannon (KR-H)

15 Minutes of Fame: Where did the journey through Azeroth all begin for you, Apathia?

Apathia: I'm originally from Romania, and I remember there was a big hype about WoW when it came out. By the time The Burning Crusade hit, it was my time to give in as well. I found a nice, quiet server on WoW EU and started playing shortly before Black Temple came out. At the time, I had just entered college and was enjoying being independent at last. And what better things for a freshman to do other than dedicate a lot of time to playing WoW? After Sunwell came out, I became a raider and loved almost every moment of it.

So how did you come to live on the other side of the world in Korea?

The main reason I ended up here is because one of the things I was studying in college was Korean. Initially, it was something forced on me rather than a choice out of passion, but soon after, I decided it would be an exciting experience to learn an exotic language. After two years of college, an unexpected opportunity was offered to me: a scholarship to study the language in South Korea. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and in the spring of 2010 I was off to study on what seemed to be the other side of the world. Before I left, I also decided I would cut down on the "bad habits" and cancelled my WoW account, determined never to play it again. I guess I was wrong about that ...

How well did you speak Korean at that point?

When I got here, I was familiar with the basic grammar and I knew how to make sentences, but there was still a lot to learn. I started to study the language, while also experiencing many things this exotic culture had to offer. However, I also missed the good times I had with my guild on WoW EU. At that time, guilds were hard at work in Icecrown Citadel, and many were competing for server-first kills on Lich King heroic, still. I had never gotten to see the Lich King and really wished I could raid again. With nostalgic thoughts in mind, it didn't take long for the old WoW addiction to surface again.

Ha! What was the hook that reeled you in?

In Korea, you've got either StarCraft, Warcraft or WoW advertised all over the place, and every day after coming back from language class, I would pass by a couple dozen PC Rooms advertising one of the three games. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I entered one which had a big poster of the Lich King next to it, curious as to what was inside. There were around 50 high-spec computers, and the room was full of people playing online games. Just the first sight of all the gaming enthusiasts made me weep of joy. I sat down, made a WoW Korea account and started playing.

Tell us what your first few weeks of Korean WoW life were like.

It did not have a computer of my own at the beginning, so for around two months I played at a PC Room. I loved powerleveling, and I loved the environment of a PC Room; you were provided snacks and hot beverages that they would bring to your table. Naturally, everything was in Korean -- the quests, the UI (as well as the addons), the audio of the characters -- and it was curious to hear lines that I had heard in English a thousand times be said in Korean.

In the first few days, I remember checking out how Koreans translated WoW and being pleasantly surprised by the brilliant voice acting. The Undead sounded even better in Korean, and most of the voice acting was so similar to its English counterpart that I was jokingly thinking they had probably picked the same people for the job. Except for the Humans -- they sounded awful! As I had been playing WoW EU a lot, I knew what most things in the interface meant, so leveling up wasn't a confusing experience.

I powerleveled my way to maximum level by the use of dungeons and didn't really speak to people along the way. Sometimes, they would say things to me, and I would try to reply to the best of my ability. Occasionally though, I could not, for the life of me, understand what they were trying to say, so I did not reply at all. Needless to say, some players weren't happy about that ...

What would you say is the most remarkable difference between EU/American playstyles and the typical Korean approach?

I'm not an expert when it comes to WoW Korea, so please consider this merely a westerner's perspective on the matter. The main difference, in my opinion, is in how united the players are. It's really a thing you notice as soon as you start grouping up in lower-level dungeons or battlegrounds. People go together. You never have someone go on his own without a good reason; people move as one in dungeon groups, and people prefer rushing the opposite faction's base as a group in battlegrounds.

What other differences in the game culture have you noticed?

I'm mostly a fan of raiding, and since I knew that Koreans like team play, I was expecting to see a lot of organized raiding guilds once I reached maximum level. I was amazed to discover that players don't usually raid as a guild, but have dedicated teams or parties that they form every week to do some PVE. There are hardcore teams as well as casual ones.

From what I know, there are a few Korean websites where people can organize a raiding team, but I have also asked around and heard you basically have to know people to get invited into the elite groups. Having good gear and skill is also important, of course.

How would you characterize your playstyle and that of your guild?

I'm quite clumsy! I'm the absentminded healer who's always looking for a raid but can never find one. My guildmates don't seem to have trouble with that, though, since there's always at least one player raiding when I log on. There's quite the diversity in my guild: There's the hardcore PVPers, then you have a few hardcore PVEers, and finally you get the casuals who go raiding or PvPing on a weekly basis but don't dedicate a lot of time to it. We also have a "guild party," and we want to take down Ragnaros heroic as a guild, but I don't expect us to get very far with that, since people have the habit of not showing up at times.

No-shows? Uh-oh. Do the players in your guild seem to have a different attitude or approach to how seriously they take progression and PVE as a whole?

Well, to each their own; there are many people with different expectations in our guild. The guild master is very enthusiastic about the guild raids and hopes to see us get far. However, we are mostly a guild of casuals, so people mainly want to have fun. The hardcore players in our guild love progression, but they don't usually participate in guild runs unless they cannot find a raiding party for that week.

In the end, I believe there's no concept of "the best guild" in WoW Korea. Heck, over here, a PUG downed Lich King heroic, alongside other endgame bosses. It all comes down to the players. This is the reason why Korean guild progression is so jumbled up when you check WoWProgress; the elite players come from different guilds.

What about PVP? Any major cultural differences from American or EU realms that strike you there?

As far as PVP goes, it's pretty similar to its western counterpart. In arena PVP, people team up with their friends to compete, and it's no different in Korea. There are PVP competitions over here, and people do take them seriously.

So what the social conventions in game? Were there any variations that surprised you?

For one, the fact that I have to specify my age, sex and location in my guild note. I guess it's not a big deal for people over here, but as I value privacy, I feel awkward giving out such information. I also still feel surprised to see the vast majority of recruitment posts that go: "Looking for people who want to have fun and enjoy WoW together with us." I remember you scarcely had that line back home, where recruiters would say "2/7 Firelands heroic, looking for geared players."

I don't think I'm exaggerating too much when I claim that all Korean players are skilled, so there is no need to filter out the newbies over here. There are many casuals, there are undergeared players, and there are the ones who make mistakes more often than others, but I have never seen, say, hunters with spellpower gear or priests casting Mind Sear on single targets (as I have in WoW EU, dear lord!)

In addition, I don't think I've ever seen people use "noob" as an insult. In here, the general term is "retard." Added, there is a funny term that's been circulating recently, which is "Zul Mart," the place where you shop for epics. I wonder what western players call it?!

One more thing I would like to mention: People have crazy computers and internet connections in Korea. On top of that, lags and server crashes are almost never a problem, and it's because of these things that would most certainly make a WoW enthusiast's paradise that I enjoy playing here.

What about your time playing in Romania? Is there an EU realm where Romanian players generally congregate? How do Romanian players generally connect?

Out of curiosity, I looked for Romanian guilds on WoW EU around a year ago but only found a few, and they were weak in terms of progression. There's really no point looking for people from your country if most people can communicate in English, anyway.

It was mostly progression over nationality, and I came to know lots of people from different countries that way. Most people in my EU guild were British; then we had others from Sweden, Belgium, Bulgaria, Poland, etc. We preferred to consensually label one another as the elitist/floor-warmer/big-brew-loving MT/ninja-puller (that was me), etc., though. Ah, good times!

But then once you got to Korea, of course, the language barrier definitely became a true barrier. What's the mix of Korean and English on the Korean UI? Is there a standard mix, or can you change what's shown in what language/characters?

You can't change the names of the characters, but you can change the client language. I use the English client, so apart from the realm name, player names and what players say, everything is in English. Albeit, it doesn't help with language practice, but it makes it easier to farm/quest.

What was the transition into communicating with Korean WoW players like?

I had been learning Korean for one year before I started playing WoW KR, so I could manage simple conversations. Even so, communicating with other players was tough at the beginning because they used a lot of WoW slang (pull, CC, rez, etc.) that I didn't understand. I got used to it eventually, though. Learning the slang helped the most. People don't really use complete sentences that often, anyway.

I have the most trouble talking to my guildies. When they chat, they use a lot of words I don't understand, while I can only use simple words and sentences. It's not ideal, but it's enough to at least understand each other.

I've learned some crazy stuff along the way. For example, I now know how to say "Glyph of Rapid Rejuvenation" or "Power Word: Shield" in Korean. Something tells me this won't really help in real life, but it's something I can brag about, at least.

If your foreign language skills aren't quite as strong as those of Apathius, the next time you find yourself playing WoW with someone who speaks a different language, reach for WoW Insider's WoW Translation Guide -- and learn how to ask "Would you like to run another?" in languages from Albanian to Turkish!

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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