Monday, April 21, 2014

The Game “Go-Stop” in Korean History (Project: Localizing “Go-Stop” #1)

In a previous post, I talked about my ideas regarding the project for localizing some niche Korean entertainment products called “Korean Americana Project”.  The first idea that came to mind to gauge the waters for interest in this was the Korean card game called “Go-Stop”.


On my recent jaunt to my local Barns & Noble, I stopped by the card game section next to the more serious board game shelves. There were several Poker variants and even a card game version of Mahjong being sold there. In addition to the more standard card games, there were some Japanese theme games using dice and even a Sudoku variant card game on the shelves.  However, there was no “Go-Stop”.

But Why no “Go-Stop”?

If the other odd Japanese games were not there, I would have just thought it was the American market thing. But considering that there were other Asian originated or at least themed games sold at a major U.S. outlet, the situation made me think.

The game of “Go-Stop” has a rather weird history in Korea. The biggest thing is that it is not a Korean game at its origin. It is a Japanese game that had been popularized during the Japanese occupation.  The cards used in “Go-Stop” are called “Flower cards”. The illustrations on those cards are basically a flower themed calendar of Japan’s natural scenery.

Is this not weird?
Think about it for a moment!

If you know anything about Korea or have watched Korean drama, you may have guessed that there is a feud between Korea and Japan over a little thing called the “35 year occupation of Korea by Japan”. With this background in mind, think about the fact that “Go-Stop” is basically the most popular card game in Korea other than the poker variants.

It would be like the Irish playing a Poker game with cards that have the Kings of England on them.
It would be like the French playing with cards with the faces of German general on them.
It would be like Vietnamese using cards with the states of America on them.

While flowers and the Japanese seasonal scenery may not be as provocative as these examples, there are still not very comfortable subjects for Koreans since the Japanese cultural fetish of flowers is well known. That is a Japanese thing. While Koreans liked flowers, they are not as prominent to our cultural identity as in the case of the Japanese.

So, it is an odd thing that “Go-Stop” is so prominent in Korea. Well that does have some relations to the fact that a lot of what we call Korea is built upon the Japanese institutions and culture left behind. Simply put, early westernization in Korea equates to Japanization.

Leaving this fact of history aside, what I find odder is that fact that you do not need the Japanese “Flower cards” to play “Go-Stop”. “Go-Stop” is an abstract card game with no theme in the way it is played. The illustrations of Japanese scenery such as the flowers of April have no contextual meaning to the game.  You could just replace the illustrations with 3 digit combinations of numbers and letters and you play the game without changing anything.

Think about the custom poker cards with let’s say… Playboy Playmates on it. The fact that Playboy Playmates are on the cards do not actually change the game. It just an irrelevant factor that odds some odd flavor.

So, the fact that the Japanese “Flower cards”  are used to play “Go-Stop” should be evidence of rigidity and resistance to change of Korean society and culture. Leaving this discomforting recollection aside, this is sad since the Japanese “Flower cards” are an antiquated card design that actually hinders the wide spread dissemination of the game. The card design is the main hurdle for newcomers to the game of  “Go-Stop”. The actual game mechanics are just a variant of the basic game of “Go Fish”. So, it is not actually that different from many card game actually being played in the American market.

This leads to my conclusion which is that, by simply redesigning the cards, you could make “Go-Stop” more palatable to the American market.
Will discuss more in the next post.

Thank you.

Next Post
The Game “Go-Stop” and its image in Korea (Project: Localizing “Go-Stop” #2)


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