Stephen C. Rea’s “Acceleration and Information: Managing South Korean Online Gaming Culture

What first strikes me about page 99 are the “%”s. I am not a quantitative social scientist, yet on this page alone there are twelve % symbols. A Command+F search reveals that there are 113 %s in the entire dissertation, meaning that page 99’s account for just over 10% of the total. In a 275 page-long document, this seems like an outlier.

The first time that I presented a draft of the chapter containing page 99 to a dissertation writing workshop, the overwhelming reaction was, “Why so many numbers?” To my peers it felt discordant not only with the rest of the dissertation, but also with the genre of ethnographic writing writ large. I remember being frustrated by their reaction, as I had spent countless hours arriving at those %s through assiduous coding of fieldnotes and running cross-tabulations. Had all of that work been in vain? Was I failing to perform the subjectivity of a “good anthropologist”?

In the larger context of the dissertation, it makes more sense (at least to me). Page 99 falls within a chapter where I draw upon data from the site(s) where I spent most of my time during fieldwork: PC bang, the South Korean variant of Internet gaming cafés. During the thousand-plus hours that I sat in plush leather chairs while my virtual self battled with digital monsters in online game dungeons, I diligently recorded the comings and goings of the cafés’ customers, noting gender, age, activity, duration, and whether the customer was alone or accompanied by others. On page 99 my analysis focuses on the correlation between age and group size. Demographics are not the meat of my dissertation; my argument concerns how Korean online gamers calibrate themselves and their play with sociotemporal expectations for “ethical” IT practices. Yet buried in all of the %s lies a hint of the dissertation’s connective tissue: “PC bang tempos also correlate with customers’ age grades and the likelihood that they will be in groups.”

For any other reader page 99 might seem as out of place as it did for my peers in the dissertation writing workshop. But for me it demonstrates ethnography-as-craft: the fieldwork that is often mundane in the moment, the scaffolding work involved in post-field data analysis, and the awkwardness of representing sociocultural processes in writing. In this sense, then, perhaps page 99 does reveal “the quality of the whole.”

Rea, Stephen C.  “Acceleration and Information: Managing South Korean Online Gaming Culture.” Phd dissertation, University of California, Irvine, 2015.

Dr. Stephen C. Rea is a cultural anthropologist and ethnographer of digital culture. He currently works as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, where he received his Ph.D. in 2015. Stephen has published on a number of different topics, including consumer finance in the United States, mobile money and financial inclusion in the Global South, and South Korean digital gaming culture. You can contact Stephen at

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