Anonymous 22-01

The author of this paper prefers to remain anonymous. They can be contacted at:

northkoreangames at

This article has been translated into Korean, and can be found here.

Reverse Engineering North Korea's Gaming Economy: Intellectual Property, Microtransactions, and Censorship

by Anonymous 22-01


This article looks at the history of the North Korean video game industry and its reliance on piracy. Most video games sold in North Korea today are modified versions of popular foreign games. The extent and content of these modifications is analyzed through reverse engineering. This analysis reveals that modifications aim to adapt or implement monetization systems such as micropayments for the games and to censor sensitive elements in order to replace them with nationalist or socialist content. Pirated North Korean video games are thus shown to embed two diametrically opposed ideological directions: supporting the country's nationalist, post-colonial socialist ideology while at the same time fostering capitalistic consumption and profit-maximization.

Keywords: North Korea, piracy, reverse engineering, microtransactions, censorship



[T]he dear respected Marshall Kim Jong-un was cautiously examining a combat flight simulator that was in front of a pirate ship battle arcade game. At the bottom of the machine, there was a sticker that read ‘NO STEP!' in English. After having inspected the other arcade machines the respected Marshall turned to the workers and explained to them affectionately that the ‘Do not step' sign on the flight simulator and the ‘Caution' sign on the pirate ship game were written in English and that they would have to be replaced by signs in our language, Korean. (Han, 2020, p. 146)

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is better known for autarkic nationalism and its ideology of self-reliant socialism (juch'e) than for its video game industry. And yet, over the past decade, the increasing availability of portable digital devices such as smartphone and tablets (Yoon, 2020) coupled with increased public support for leisurely activities (Evans, 2018) have made video games a common past time among the urban North Korean upper- and upper-middle-class. Along with educational software, games now constitute the bulk of the software on sale in the country's IT retail stores [1]. While a few entirely locally produced games are available, the majority are what I will call "localized imports": foreign games translated and modified to varying degrees by state-sanctioned studios in order to suit the North Korean digital ecosystem.

Such modifications are technically in violation of the DPRK's still recent copyright legislation, as well as the international copyright treaties to which it is a party. That situation in itself is not particularly unique: copyright laws are known to be more loosely enforced in the developing world where piracy is sometimes even encouraged on anti-imperialist and nationalist grounds (Wang, 2003).

While similar rationalizations can be found in the DPRK (from the need to remove foreign, imperialistic ideology in games through censorship to economics-based critics of the unfairness of intellectual property rights), they coexist with an extremely stringent technological and legal system of copyright protection aimed at preventing "officially" pirated games from being themselves pirated. Not only must every piece of software distributed in the country be registered with the state's "Central Guidance Organ of Software Industry," but all digital devices are prevented, at the operating system level, from running applications that have not been cryptographically signed by the institution. Copyright legislation has also provided the basis for something more unexpected in a socialist economy [2]: monetization strategies such as in-game purchases that "interpellate" players as capitalistic consumers (Žižek, 2006; Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter, 2009) and nudge them to spend money on artificially scarce digital items.

The present article offers a study of ideological plasticity and resilience in technological artefacts through an analysis of the development of the video game industry in North Korea. Games, like all technological artefacts, are social construction shaped by the ideological and economic context in which they appeared (Bijker, Hughes & Pinch, 1987) or are imported (Choi, 2017). But what happens when the ideological landscape in which games are imported is different from, or event antagonistic towards, that of their original production site?

In North Korea, through reverse engineering (the analysis of a program's compiled binaries to understand, modify or disactivate its features), games become a tool of resistance against the perceived imperialism of the countries in which they were originally developed. Like other foreign cultural imports, video games have been accused of "infiltrating" North Korean culture to render it subservient to (mostly American) imperialists (Ra, 2005, Kim 2009). The penetration of the local market by foreign firms or the payment of royalties by North Korean importers have also been denounced as imperialistic practices (Hwang, 2017). By removing foreign cultural elements, injecting domestic propaganda, and claiming full ownership of the modified software, piracy seemingly removes both these threats.

Yet, some of the ideological elements embedded in the original games can still be found intact or even amplified in localized North Korean versions. Micropayments and the patterns of continuous consumption they induce are merely adapted to match the country's infrastructure. Not unlike large corporations in capitalist economies, the North Korean state has also embraced the potential of licensing systems for games and other cultural products to enable mass digital surveillance (Stallman, 1997), using them to monitor and control the content that can be transferred to digital devices.

Piracy, Game History and Reverse Engineering

Video game piracy encompasses a large array of actors, practices and technologies, from the simple unauthorized copy of a digital file to the "cracking" of advanced protection schemes, the production of emulators for cross-platform compatibility or "modding" games by changing or adding features. It has developed in parallel to commercial video games and has received significant attention from both the industry (International Intellectual Property Alliance, 2021) and game studies scholars (Postigo, 2003; Kretzschmar & Stanfill, 2019).

Early studies of game piracy emphasized the libertarian or anti-establishment ethos of pirates (McCandless, 1997; Tetzlaff, 2000; Goldman, 2005; Coleman, S., & Dyer-Witheford, 2007) reading the "silently subversive hoisting of the digital Jolly Rogers" (Kline et al., 2003, p. 217) as an anti-establishment or anti-colonial stance -- a gesture of financially disinterested resistance to global capitalism, transnational corporations and the unfair enclosure of intellectual commons through copyright. But such accounts were marked by an overtly romanticized conception of underground networks and informal economies (Nicoll, 2019) and uncritically echoed the self-characterization of a few groups of almost exclusively North American and Western European middle-class male pirates (Wasiak, 2012).

The expansion of game studies outside of what was until recently seen as the center of video game history -- the United States, Japan, and Western Europe (the latter on the demand rather than supply side) -- brought new perspectives that cast piracy not as an act of resistance but as a banal, everyday activity with little to no subversive aspects (Huntemann and Aslinger, 2013). In late Cold War Czechoslovakia (Švelch, 2018) and Poland (Wasiak, 2014), for instance, copyright was an unfamiliar concept that remained poorly understood and never enforced. As the Communist Parties in Central Europe showed little interest in censoring or regulating the nascent video game market, piracy prospered with no corporations to stand against and no government censor to hide from. Likewise in South Korea (Nicoll, 2019; Jo, 2020) and Hong Kong (Ng, 2019) in the 1980s, or China (Liao, 2016) in the 1990s, unrestricted copying of software was the norm rather than a clandestine activity, with government intervention limited to issues of morals and rarely venturing into enforcing international intellectual property treaties.

This shift in scholarship has served to steer the study of piracy away from its previously limited, binary range of characterizations as either criminal or a form of anti-capitalist or libertarian contestation and towards a more user-centered understanding of game history. As Jaroslav Švelch (2018, p. 152) puts it, "in the 1980s, before international retail infrastructure and, later, digital distribution came into place, peripheries were arguably larger than centers, and much of the microcomputer world was running on pirated copies of games." Acknowledging the normality of piracy meant acknowledging that game history was not just the history of a few large corporations but also that of gamer communities, sharing networks, creative modders, and entrepreneurial traders (O'Donnell, 2013).

The focus on usage and users reevaluated the "periphery" as a plurality of unique sites of experimentation and innovation, highlighting the ways in which gamers all around the world appropriated and domesticated foreign technologies and content. Yet analyses of appropriations tend to focus on processes of localization and hybridization while eluding questions of ideology. Mia Consalvo's work (2016) on the localization of Japanese games, for instance, analyses in great detail the linguistic and cultural adaptations of Japanese games outside of Japan, but -- as it focuses on countries with similarly developed market economies -- has less to say about how a game's underlying political discourse and assumptions are localized in a country where they might be controversial or forbidden. In the case of socialist countries, Wasiak (2014) describes Polish crackers' preference for "Western" things over socialist ones in the 1980s but hardly questions the implication of the spread of mercantile activities or the growing cultural influence of Western Europe on the new consuming subjects of a socialist economy. Likewise, Liao's analysis (2016) of the spread of pirated Japanese games on the Chinese market mentions the Chinese's government "techno-nationalism" but remains silent on the questions of the introduction of market logic to China as well as on the issue of Japanese imperialism in Asia.

While I argue that such processes of localization through piracy are as much about ideology as they are about technology, this is not akin to the simple conflation of piracy with resistance. Rather, I follow more recent work showing how pirated technologies can operate both within and against certain ideological framework. For instance, Nicoll's work on how South Korean game piracy (2019) operated both within and against "neocolonialism" [3] or Lobato's analysis of pirated film markets (2012, pp. 74-75), which shows that piracy can be read both as a practical critique of economic liberalism and the "quintessential form of free entreprise." I argue that piracy in the North Korean game industry serves as a way to resist global capitalism while nonetheless reproducing many of its aspects within the country. While censorship removes symbols of capitalism and nationalizes foreign-looking content in the name of cultural preservation, games nonetheless contribute to the adoption of an intellectual property legislation modelled on that of the capitalist world, the fostering of consumerist impulses among players and the use of digital platforms for user surveillance.

The practice of video game piracy in North Korea is marked by an intense nationalism that itself evolved as a reaction to both past Japanese colonialism and contemporary American neo-imperialism (Shin, 2006). On one hand, the concepts of copyright and intellectual property themselves have routinely been vilified by North Korean economists as examples of the "discriminatory nature" of "imperialistic monopolies" (Hwang, 2017, p. 62). Disregarding copyright restrictions, in this context, constitutes an act of resistance to foreign financial interests. On the other hand, as will be further explored below, the reappropriation of pirated games through modding often imbues them with a fiercely nationalistic discourse and, in some cases, anti-Japanese or anti-American elements. The reclaimed games can therefore serve as ideological weapons against these perceived outside threats.

But one cannot take these radical postures entirely at face value. As Mbembe reminds us, postcolonial states' publicized attempts to overcome old colonial relations of subjection and power often merely concealed the reproduction and consolidation of these very relations under a different guise (Mbembe, 2011, p. 45). Likewise, the lexicon of decolonization and anti-imperialism has been used by authoritarian regimes, globalizing corporations and self-commodifying "ethnopreneurs" (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2009) for reason that have less to do with popular liberation and sovereignty than economic or political dominance (Irani & Philip, 2018).

North Korea's pirated game industry functions against a globalized market logic while fostering a capitalistic marketization of the local economy while its resistance to foreign domination also operates as an attempt to foster internal subjection. The present paper explores this phenomenon through a contextualized analysis of pirated mobile games currently sold on the North Korean market and collected over the past five years. Because the observation of external features of the games often proved insufficient, I used reverse engineering to bring the analysis at the source code level when necessary. If piracy has become a well-trodden research area in game history and reverse engineering is the main method by which piracy is conducted, there have been no attempts of applying reverse engineering to the study of pirated games and, more generally, to the academic study of games [4]. Yet, as the following sections demonstrate, the method can offer a clear map of the modifications made to a game's binaries by a pirate and insights into how ideology is translated into computer code.

North Korea's Gaming History and Contemporary Ecosystem

Scientists and engineers from the DPRK have been working with electronics and digital technologies since the early 1960s. The country's first digital computer was produced in 1961 at the National Academy of Sciences based on a Soviet design (Hŏ, 1961). More computers would be imported from both the socialist (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, etc.) and capitalist (Japan, France, West Germany, etc.) worlds throughout the Cold War (Berthelier, 2019). But the machines were intended for economic planning, scientific research, and industrial applications alone (Orłowski, 1985). Access to them was consequently strictly restricted and monitored, leaving little room for ludic usages to emerge.

The first game to arrive in the DPRK was not played on a general-purpose computer but on a specialized arcade machine. In 1980, the lobby of a Pyongyang hotel was equipped with Taito's Space Invaders arcade cabinet which had come out in Japan two years before (Kim, 1980). The game, like the hotel itself, was however only accessible to foreign travelers as it required 100 yen coins to play. No other machines would be imported for the remainder of the decade.

Yet by 1990, changes in Party policy and new developments in the Japanese arcade industry would lead to the opening of the country's first game rooms. In the preceding years, both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il had started to emphasize the need to "computerize" (kyesan'gihwa) the North Korean economy to overcome a decade long productivity slump (Kim, 1995; Kim, 1990). In 1987, the country's third seven-year plan called for the digitization of the DPRK's industries. To train a new digital intelligentsia would require emphasizing science education and helping younger generations become familiar with computers. It is thus with the goal to "foster young self-reliant, versatile revolutionary talent who can skillfully handle contemporary science and technology in line with the world's latest scientific trends" (Chosŏn Ilbo, 1991) that Kim Il Sung sponsored the opening of the country's first arcade room in 1991 -- a 700 square meter space in Pyongyang's Man'kyŏngdae district equipped with over 100 machines.

The Party's new digital ambitions, however, were not the only factor at play. The arcade room's machines, some of which are still in service in Pyongyang today, were first generation games such as Western Gun (Taito, 1975) or Submarine (Bandai, 1978) which had been gifted by "patriotic traders" from the Korean diaspora in Japan (North Korean Central Communication Agency, 1992, p. 205). With the arrival of better hardware and new games on the Japanese market in the mid-1980s, these machines had become uncompetitive in Japan. They were thus decommissioned and sent over to Pyongyang through the diaspora's representative organization -- Ch'ongnyŏn -- which had held tight links to the DPRK since its creation after the Korean War (Ryang, 2016). More arcade games would make their way to Pyongyang's amusement parks, shops, and restaurants over the 1990s (Kyunghyang Sinmun, 1992) but while the titles and signs on the cabinets were sometimes translated to Korean, the game themselves remained in their original language.

Indeed, there were no signs of interest, among the nascent domestic software industry for modifying or even producing games. The DPRK's two main software development centers, the Korea Computer Center (KCC) and the Pyongyang Informatics Center, both launched in 1990 had devoted their efforts to building industry and business-oriented applications that could directly contribute to the economy: radar signal processing systems, office suites, CAD software, expert systems, and process automation (Department of Defense, 1996; 1995). Even though none of these strategic areas may have seemed particularly conductive to the development of games, the two centers also conducted research on artificial intelligence (AI).

As Allen Newell once noted, "computers programs that play games" have always been "[a] favorite area of research in artificial intelligence" (Newell, Shaw & Simon, 1963, p. 37), and the KCC's engineers would indeed, in the late 1990s, produce two games based on their AI research: Silver Star Go (1997), a go game, and Ryugyŏng Chess (1999), a traditional Korean chess game. The games went on to win several awards at international game AI conferences and were successfully commercialized in South Korea and Japan, where they are still sold to this day [5] (Nam 2002).

Figure 1: The game Boy General commercialized by the Pyongyang Informatics Center in 2005. Click image to enlarge.

Foreign consumers became the main, if not the sole, target of the games developed over the next decade; a goal in line with the strategy followed by the rest of the DPRK's software industry. With few computers and even fewer potential consumers domestically, export markets offered much more lucrative prospects along with the opportunity to obtain foreign currencies. After opening a string of joint ventures throughout Asia, the KCC started monetizing an online version of their go game in 2002 (My Baduk), followed by building online casinos [6] (DK Lotto, DK Casino & Jupae) in partnership with a South Korean businessman. Offering poker, slots, blackjack, and lottery, the casinos gained popularity among South Korean customers before issues with the South's anti-gambling legislation forced them to shut down in 2005 (Choe, 2004). The same year, the Pyongyang Informatics Center used a Singapore based subsidiary to release Boy General (Figure 1), an English language mobile game targeting a global audience and adapted from a popular comic book and animation series, which follows a Koguryŏ-era (37 BCE-668 CE) boy defending Korea against invaders from Japan and China. By 2008, North Korea had started outsourcing Macromedia Flash and mobile game developers through a joint venture with Germany called Nosotek (Williams, 2010; Campbell & Lim, 2010).

Games produced for commercial ends contained little of the ideological content that is usually found in North Korean cultural products. However, starting in 2013 the DPRK sponsored web portal Uriminzokkiri started to gamify some of the DPRK's ideological stances with the release of a series of politically explicit Flash games (Figure 2). Playable in the browser, the series featured a whack-a-mole type game with George W. Bush and Abe Shinzō as flies that must be squashed and a fighting game in which the player must punch South Korean conservative president "Lee Myung Rat" (Lee Myung-bak). While the games were only available in Korean, their target audience was not DPRK citizens -- few of whom have access to the web -- but rather South Koreans and members of the Korean diaspora around the world.

Figure 2: Political Flash games released on the North Korean portal Uriminzokkiri. Click images to enlarge.

The number of mobile phone users in the DPRK increased dramatically throughout the 2010s and, in 2013, the "May 11 Factory" started producing an Android smartphone based on a Chinese model for the local market (Political Reporting Team, 2013). More affordable than personal computers, cellphones quickly became the platform of choice for gaming. Mobile games have become so common and popular that they are now featured in public service announcements warning citizens of the danger of video game addiction (Zwirko, 2021). But while North Korean phones are based on the same hardware and software as many other phones across the world, mobile gaming in the DPRK has evolved to become a unique ecosystem in order to accommodate infrastructure limitations and the state's control of digital media.

Since devices such as DVD & MP3 players became available in the late 1990s and allowed for the cheap and massive copying of all kinds of media (including foreign content), the North Korean state has sought to maintain its monopoly on cultural -- and ideological -- production and to exert more control over the type of content that its citizens consume. Traditional surveillance and policing quickly showed their limits and a more technical solution was adopted. A system based on cryptographic signatures is now embedded in the operating systems of most digital devices distributed in the country and prevents media file sharing across devices as well as the installation of unauthorized programs (Schiess, 2018). To be installed on a DPRK smartphone or tablet, for instance, a game would have to have been cryptographically signed by a state organ after passing through a censorship review.

In addition to governmental control, the distribution of games also has to account for the limited connectivity of many cellphone users. While internet access is rare among cell phone owners, the country's intranet can be accessed via WiFi or cellular data. Data costs and private intranet connections, however, remain expensive for the average consumer, and public WiFi is virtually nonexistent. Thus, the usual distribution channel for mobile games, online application stores, is an unpractical solution. Certain applications do allow for the purchase of licenses or in-game items via an intranet connection. But the application first has to be installed offline and, once ran, will take the user through a purchasing process that only handles the transfer of payment credentials and license files -- thus avoiding the costs of downloading an entire app.

The solution to these two issues -- government control and connectivity -- comes in the form of physical retailers. Named "Information Technology Exchange Rooms" (chŏngbo kisul kyoryusil) or "Information Technology Services" (chŏngbo kisul pongsa). The stores are licensed to distribute authorized applications and install them for consumers. In addition to offering other services such as phone or computer repair, they are the country's primary providers of games. New titles are advertised on posters hung on shop walls and customers can browse for older titles in catalogues. The stores have become ubiquitous in Pyongyang and can also be found, to a lesser extent, in provincial cities.

Figure 3: Sign advertising an "Information Technology Exchange Room" in Pyongyang (2018). Click image to enlarge.

Reverse Engineering Reverse Engineered Games: Methodology

The games that can be found in North Korean stores are not very different from those one would find on any global online application store. Indeed, the majority of games on sale very much resemble foreign titles such as Farmville, Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The reason for this resemblance is that the games actually are foreign titles -- yet they have been translated, modified, and repackaged to look like local creations to the unwitting observer. For instance, on an advertisement poster for a modified version of Fever for Speed (Agame, 2017) the game is renamed Race of the thousand li [7] cars and advertised as the new production of the Pyongyang Computer studio. A character wearing the red scarf of the Communist Youth faces the viewer while in the background the words "Our Strength, Our Technology, Our Resources" echo the state's popular slogans on national self-reliance (Figure 4). Original domestic productions do exist, but they are almost entirely limited to educational games and electronic versions of traditional analog games (chess, go, checkers, etc.).

Figure 4: Advertisement for a modified and localized version of the game Fever for Speed 3D in an IT retail store in Pyongyang. Click image to enlarge.

In the following section of the paper, I will focus on a small set of seven of such localized imports purchased in Pyongyang over the course of several trips. My intention in analyzing these pieces of software is to better understand the relationship between ideology, games, and censorship. While North Korea has the reputation for being a difficult country to access, let alone conduct fieldwork in or collect data about, that reputation is largely exaggerated. Indeed, as Andre Schmid succinctly put it (2021), "the study of North Korea may not be so difficult after all," there are large, and relatively easily accessible troves of archival and contemporary materials about North Korea in South Korea, China, Russia, the US, Japan, and Europe (a significant portion of it digitized and freely available online). North Korea has a small online presence offering additional data, and fieldwork in the country is not entirely impossible. The games collected for the present article, for instance, can be purchased freely in different North Korean cities by any foreigners on a tourist visa (provided they can ask where to buy them). The purchase of hardware is more restricted, but games and software can be installed in store on any device running a compatible Android version (4.4 in late 2019). What is more difficult, however, is learning about the actual game making process, as little information is available, and game studios are hard to visit and are unwilling to acknowledge the foreign origin of many of their games. While it is easy to talk to consumers of the games in a city like Pyongyang where they are ubiquitous, most people are unaware of the game's origin and the modifications they underwent before reaching the market.

Comparing the North Korean versions to their originals can reveal what elements censors and developers have removed, altered, or amplified. I will proceed by going from more easily noticeable cosmetic changes to alterations nested more deeply within the games' source code.

The surface comparisons of changes in game assets, translation or game flow can be achieved by running localized and original versions side-by-side and looking for differences in what happens on screen. Yet, while this method can provide valuable insights, it can only offer a partial account of the differences between the two games. If a feature in the modified version is only activated under certain conditions that are hard to replicate -- such as being connected to the North Korean intranet-- one may easily overlook them. As an example, Figure 5 shows a code snippet from the decompiled Java source code of a game produced by the Kwanghŭng studio. The code handles online purchases of game license and in-game items and is part of a general licensing library. However, games will only use some or sometimes none of its features -- meaning that a full understanding of the game's licensing process would be impossible to obtain without looking at the code. In addition to the fact that the game uses the country's intranet and QR codes to facilitate payments, we can tell (due to differences in coding style and the naming of the package) that the licensing library is a domestic product inserted on top of the original game, and that software protection and payment schemes are common (since a reusable library was created to easily add them to new games). We can also assess the level and strength of license protection schemes deployed and note that, while great care is taken to translate every word within the game to Korean, North Korean developers use English for the naming of variables, functions, and client-server messages.

Figure 5: Code snippet from a licensing library. The app connects to an intranet site via http to purchase games or in-game items if the user's balance of "points" on the site allows it. Click image to enlarge.

Thus, what appears on screen neither informs us about the modifications that were made, nor about their inner workings. This is a significant limitation in existing approaches to critical analysis of applications such as the "walkthrough method" (Light, Burgess & Duguay, 2016) which only documents "an app’s screens, features, and flows of activity," but remains oblivious to what happens "under the hood" as well as to numerous relics that live on in a codebase: undeployed features, unused functions and assets, developer comments, etc. Furthermore, by relying on the user interface to analyze an application, one can never be fully sure they haven’t missed something, whether because one overlooked it or because the conditions to enable some features were not met. To truly "open the black box" of the technological artefacts that are video games one cannot avoid the confrontation with source code. This implies the need to resort to the same digital forensics and reverse engineering techniques that North Korean game studios themselves employed to modify the original binaries of the games. Games are distributed as compiled executables, meaning that the original source code is translated to machine code, as part of an application package that also contains data files. While machine code is a series of bits and hard to read for a human observer, several tools exist to translate the machine code into an approximation of its original source code in a higher-level (more human-readable) programming language. Decompilers allow their users to extract from an executable something close to the code originally written by the developers. Not all programming languages can be easily decompiled however, and in some cases one must make do with a disassembler that will offer a slightly more readable version of the machine code in the low-level assembly language. North Korean games typically come in a similar format as other mobile games: Android packages (APK) containing an executable application (an outer layer, containing the application's interface) coded in the Java programming language, libraries for the game usually developed with the popular Unity game engine in C#, and native code libraries originally written in C or C++ (Shim et al. 2018).

For each game, I first extracted the executables, libraries, and assets from the application package using a simple file decompressor. For assets stored in other file formats (.obb, .assetbundle, etc.) I relied on DevX's Unity Unpacker tool. I then started by looking at assets to run a comprehensive surface comparison between original and localized game. One may also find files for assets that have been removed or replaced in the application but not fully cleaned in the package. I then delved into the code using decompilers for Java and C# code (Jad-x and ndSpy respectively). Native code libraries that could not be decompiled were disassembled using the reverse engineering tool Ghidra, developed by the NSA. I relied almost entirely on static analysis, which attempts to reconstruct an application's control and data flow without actually running it, as the method is not tied to a specific execution environment and also allows for a more comprehensive overview of all of the program's functions. After tracking the application's entry point, I followed the code's logic to understand what was going on "under the hood" as the game was loading and noting any differences in the code. While it would technically be possible to automate part of the process of checking for differences between original and localized binaries, the large number of overall differences and the structural variation for the small corpus under consideration made relying on existing solutions or developing a new one impractical. I also located specific features I was interested in (notably licensing schemes) and reconstructed their logic from the decompiled and disassembled code [8]. When I found, via static analysis, potentially interesting features that were disabled or required activation, I temporarily modified the executables to be able to see how they would look like to an end user.


The results from the analysis of the corpus of games are detailed below and organized in five categories. The "Reappropriation" category is based on a literal reading of the term and looks at how signs of legal ownership and copyright are replaced. "Localization" and "Ideological adaptation" both rely mostly on a surface reading of the games and a comparison of original and localized assets. Although the two categories may sometime intersect, the former category focuses more specifically on cultural translation and the latter on the transformation, addition or removal of ideological content within the game. Finally, "Microtransactions" and "Game licensing and protection schemes" rely almost entirely on the reading of decompiled code to analyze how new monetization techniques are injected in place of old ones in the games' binaries.

Reappropriation. The first thing that appears on screen when launching a North Korean game is a splash screen featuring the name of the game studio taking credit for the game as well as a message about copyright protection under the DPRK's computer software law. All other mentions of the original game developers and distributors are removed from the user interface, but identifying elements do remain in the binaries, providing a way to map the games to their original title. When contacted, none of the original game studios had knowledge of their game being distributed in the DPRK.

Localization. The games distributed in the DPRK are indistinctly sourced from around the world, and include titles from European, American, Russian, Australian, and South Korean studios (no games from China could be identified although they may exist). English-only language games are translated to Korean, but games that come with a Korean locale also require translation as they rely on South Korean spelling, expressions, and fonts. The South Korean language also uses a lot of English loanwords that are unfamiliar to North Korean users. Other elements beyond text that may be deemed too foreign are also replaced. For instance, while Featherweight Games' Rodeo Stampede (2016) features a soundtrack "infused with West African, Latin, and Nepalese flavours, as well as seasonal music for Halloween, Christmas and Lunar New Year updates" (Kopetko, 2016), its localized version Flying Zoo (Pyongyang Morning Star Technical Development Center, 2018) uses instrumental renderings of famous North Korean tunes. This replacement is not simply about consumer taste. Rather, it follows the official policy of preference for national music, which must "serve the national revolution and match popular thoughts and feelings" (Kim, 1991, p. 19).

The comparison between two sprite sheets -- original and localized -- taken from the tower defense game Game of Warrior (G-Station Studio, 2016; Kwanghŭng, 2018) in Figures 6-1 and 6-2 offers a good case study of how different elements of a game can be transformed before it is released to the North Korean public. One can notice how many of the characters' heads have been replaced with 2D drawings of characters with more Asian features and, sometimes, traditional Korean headgear (other characters, not pictured here, wear ancient Korean military costumes). The costumes and drawing styles are similar to popular historical animation and comic book series, such as the Boy General series by the North Korean SEK animation studio and denote a Koguryŏ-era historical referent. The enemies, originally "invading forces" in English are named orangk'ae in Korean, a derogatory term for invaders historically referring to enemy Manchu tribes.

While the changes in costume are part of an attempt at relocating the game within Korean history, it also signals different standards of modesty and different sensitivities towards explicit content. For instance, the exposed skin of the shirtless red-headed barbarian character in the original game is covered with a dark blue shirt in the North Korean version, while the originally bare-armed horse rider wears a purple sleeve. These cover ups allow the characters to conform to "socialist morality" (sahoejuŭi todŏk), a set of behavioral rules taught at school and enforced through peer pressure, which govern manners, politeness, and dress codes. Soldiers, and men in general, are not supposed to be dressed properly without revealing skin above the elbow or below the knee. The skeleton sprite, which is displayed when a game is lost, has also been altered to be less explicit in the North Korean version. The skull is hidden behind two swords and the skeleton's arm has been removed. Skulls present elsewhere (on the belt of the barbarian character, and with a helmet on the top right) as well as some other elements (red monster's prominent teeth, horns on some helmets) have also been removed or replaced, likely because the motifs were deemed inappropriate for some audiences.

Figure 6-1 & 6-2: Original (top) and localized (bottom) sprites from the game Game of Warrior. Click images to enlarge.

Ideological adaptations. The aspects of localization we have seen up until now focused mostly on adapting the game to local culture and mores -- but culture and mores also always carry a political dimension. For instance, one of the reasons why South Korean locales are systematically discarded and games retranslated into North Korean is not just because of mutual intelligibility issues, but also because the Southern language is held to be inferior in the DPRK as its high number of foreign loanwords which reflects the South's linguistic and political subordination to foreign powers (Chong, 2019).

Furthermore, South Korean locales tend to be very literal translations of the English original while North Korean translations are much more careful about the content. For instance, Game of Warrior puts the player in the role of an expansionist commander, who, after "conquering" enemy cities turns them into "colonies" (Figure 7). The South Korean locale keeps the same term of "colony" (singminji) to refer to conquered cities despite the sensitivity of the colonial question in the country. In the North Korean game, however, conquered cities become liberated villages (maŭl) and fortresses (sŏng). The coats of arms on flags used to represent conquered and enemy cities in the original version are also replaced in the North Korean game with the words "liberated" (haebang) and "occupied" (kan'gjŏm) -- two terms that directly refer to Korea's colonial period (kan'gjŏm ki) and subsequent liberation (haebang) by the former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung (according to official versions). Coupled with the added references to Korean ancient history, the localized game thus turns on its head the original's logic of conquest and expansion to recast it as one of the most recurrent narratives of North Korean historiography: that of the liberation of Korea from the yoke of foreign invaders.

Figure 7: Tutorial instructions after conquering a city in Game of Warrior in English (left) and North Korean (right). The Korean version reads "Village Liberation -- You have liberated the village. To receive more resources improve the fortress." Click image to enlarge.

If some modifications reflect or strengthen the nationalism and xenoskepticism of the state's juche ideology, others seem to merely attempt to neutralize controversial symbols. The way money in its various forms (bills, coins, treasures) is altered in North Korean games is exemplary in this regard. On may notice that the gold coins with a dollar symbol on both sides of the sword in the left of Figure 6-1 have been entirely removed in Figure 6-2. And everywhere else in the game, the dollar coins have been replaced by gold stars. In Stupid Snail (Kwanghŭng, 2018), the North Korean version of Best Fiends (Seriously, 2014), the main in-game currency, gold bars, is replaced by yellow gems. Meanwhile, in the localized version of City Island 2 (Sparkling Society, 2014) the gold bars remain, but the US dollar looking green bills used to symbolize in-game currency are replaced by grey, blank notes simply referred to as "game points" (yuhŭi chŏmsu). In Flying Zoo, the Z slashed with two vertical bars minted on in-game coins in the original version has been removed. While there does not seem to be a consistent way of handling representations of in-game currencies, developers' constant modifications indicate that what they signify -- wealth and money -- is problematic. The modified coins, gold bars and bill retain their function as currency, yet they are, paradoxically, striped of their function as actual units of money.

While monetary symbols are neutralized, games whose goal is profit maximization retain the same logic. In Flying Zoo, the goal of the game is still presented as the increase of profits (suip) by capturing rare animals to improve one's zoo and bring in more customers, while in City Island 2 the player has to maximize their net worth through savvy real estate investments.

Microtransactions. The attempt to neutralize representations of money appear all the more paradoxical when considering the fact that in-game currency can be purchased with actual money in North Korean games. While the localized games remove the ads of the original versions and links to monetization platforms such as Google Play, the in-app purchase monetization methods remain. They are, however, altered to match the infrastructure available in North Korea and redirect revenue to local actors of the industry. How this is done is not apparent at first glance, but a look at the source code of the game allows us to map how the new micropayment system is intended to work.

In most games, the microtransaction system is taken entirely offline via a system of serial numbers or key files secured by cryptographic methods. When a user wants to purchase an item, the game will generate a text key or a QR code that can be taken to a physical store and exchanged, against payment, for a serial number that will unlock the item. The text key / QR code is generated by applying a cryptographic hash function over several unique identifiers of the user's device (IMEI number, time and identifier of the operating system's build, etc.). This ensures that users cannot use the same serial number to unlock items on several of their devices, and, more importantly, that they are unable to give or resell the serial number to a third party. This monetization system thus limits the ability of end users to gain ownership of their purchases in order to ensure a monopoly on distribution (the physical app stores). It also secures ownership over a stream of revenues that flows upwards from users to distributors and studios, rather than horizontally between users via a secondary market.

Reverse engineering the games distributed by the Kwanghŭng studio reveals that online payments for microtransactions are also available for some games when the user's device is connected to the national intranet. Payments are not made with electronic payment cards. Instead, the game connects to the user's account on the studio's intranet site and deducts points from their account for the purchase. Presumably, the points on the account can be bought through an electronic payment method or, most likely, with cash at an offline store. Just like for offline purchases, online purchases tie user accounts to unique device identifiers to prevent sharing and reselling.

Game licensing and protection schemes. In addition to microtransactions within games, games themselves are monetized as they can be purchased in offline IT stores. To prevent unauthorized copying and distribution, the games rely on a system of license key files secured by strong cryptographic methods (4096 bits RSA). The licensing systems are often additionally secured by other software protection methods such as file integrity checks (preventing someone from reverse engineering and modifying the binaries to bypass the license file checks) and code obfuscation (making decompiled or disassembled source code unreadable to someone attempting to reverse engineer the binaries).

The configuration and strength of game protection schemes vary slightly from studio to studio, but all of them rely on advanced methods to prevent their games from being pirated. This, in turn, suggests that -- in addition to the licit piracy of foreign games by state-sanctioned game studios -- unauthorized piracy of the studio's localized pirated games is widespread enough to warrant such serious preventive measures.

Within the North Korean game monetization and licensing systems, the physical app stores effectively act as a platform interfacing between game developers and users. This economic middle layer interestingly exhibits characteristics of "platform capitalism" (Srnicek, 2017) similar to those of digital app stores: walled garden and user lock-in techniques that enclose the ecosystem, maintain a monopoly, and control content and capital flows through gatekeeping strategies. However, unlike in platform capitalism, neither game developers nor app stores derive revenue from user data collection and the game and in-app purchases are their sole source of revenue. Digital devices still collect data on a large scale, but for the sole benefit of the state.

Copyright, Surveillance, and Consumption

The North Korean game industry manifests two very different attitudes towards copyright. Game studios systematically disregard the copyright status of various elements of the foreign video games they reverse engineer, modify, and resell on the local market, despite North Korea being party to several international copyright treaties and one of the oldest members of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Yet, the same studios also clearly signify to their customers that their games are subject to copyright laws and deploy sophisticated techniques to prevent piracy and monetize their intellectual property. This duality is not specific to the gaming industry. Looking at the DPRK's main academic journals for law and economics, one can see that it has pervaded economic and legal discourse on intellectual property for the past 50 years [9].

North Korean scholars have since long denounced copyright protection as an unfair practice aimed at enriching already developed nations at the expense of poorer, less technologically advanced ones (Hwang, 2017). South Korea's decision to comply with international copyright regulations at the end of the 1980s, for instance, was described as yet another extortion scheme imposed by "American imperialists" via the South's "puppet regime" (Chŏn, 1988, p. 82). Copyright, patents, and intellectual property laws have been described as "a second enclosure movement" by one economist, due to their constant "misuse" by capitalist nations (An, 2015, pp. 139-140). International copyright laws are also condemned for threatening national sovereignties by allowing powerful nations to demand the enforcement of their national rules on independent foreign territories (Chŏn, 1988; Chŏng, 2004; Lee, 2013).

However, since the late 1990s, much more positive assessments of copyright and intellectual property have started to appear, describing them as essential for "the construction of a knowledge economy" and pushing for more systematic legislation (Kim, 2014). This was accompanied by a constitutional amendment recognizing copyright in 1998; the ratification of the DPRK's first copyright law in 2001 followed, in 2003, by a Computer Software Protection Law. The same year the country became party to the Berne Convention. This sudden legislative shift towards copyright protection is generally understood to have come from reforms to the legal definition of property following the country's economic collapse in the 1990s and to have intensified with the so-called Sunshine Policy of inter-Korean reconciliation (Shin, 2005). The rapprochement resulted in the increased commercialization of North Korean cultural products in the South and, with it, the potential royalty payments. In 2005, a South Korean publishing company that had published a North Korean novel was sued by its copyright holders for unpaid royalties (Lee, 2005).

There is nothing fundamentally contradictory about these two positions, particularly when considered through the lens of the DPRK's ideology and its emphasis on the primacy of national interest and sovereignty. The critique put forth by North Korean economists and legal scholars echoes Richard Stallman's characterization of intellectual property laws as "legislative colonization" (Stallman, 2006, p. 335) and is only targeted at rich nations' use of copyright against less wealthy ones. It therefore does not apply to the DPRK itself. Much to the contrary, North Korean right holders seeking to enforce their copyright claim overseas would be defending the national interest against more developed, capitalist countries.

But what is noteworthy is the DPRK's domestic, rather than international, use of copyright. Both the refusal to honor developed nations' copyright claim and the pursuit of national copyright claims overseas can be cast as acts of resistance or defiance towards economic and cultural imperialism. The same cannot be said, however, for the application of copyright within the DPRK. Domestic copyright enforcement is as much, if not more, about control than it is about compensating creators. The Computer Software Protection Law passed in 2003 stipulates that the registration of all software, foreign and domestic, with a national authority -- the Central Guidance Organ of Software Industry -- is necessary to ensure the "scientificity, objectivity and timeliness" of software and an absolute prerequisite to guarantee the developers' property rights. While the registration process is presented as necessary to ensure the originality and safety of the software to be distributed, it effectively gives a centralized state organization the power to control the distribution of software and censor any work deemed "contrary to the manners and customs of our Nation" (Computer Software Protection Law, 2003, p. 6). Thus, copyright acts as the legal and institutional counterpart to the technological system of cryptographic signatures used to monitor software flows and prevent file sharing. The protection of intellectual property provides a seemingly acceptable rationale for a system of mass surveillance and preventing users from using their digital devices as they see fit.

Copyright also provides the justification for the capitalistic logic of in-game transactions in an economy where prices are typically derived from labor value. As digital goods with no marginal cost of production, software, and games always proved problematic to North Korean economists (Lee, 1998). But, in turn, that difficulty to connect units of software to a fixed amount of labor value allowed for much more flexible pricing models. In the case of games, it allowed for the proliferation of microtransaction-based monetization systems: instead of being erased as other ideologically problematic materials during the localization process, these systems were instead expanded upon and adapted for the local market. This particular aspect makes video games unique in the DPRK's cultural landscape because they interpellate their users not only as national citizens (through localized features or ideological references) but also as consumers.

While consumerism is not unheard of in socialist economies (Betts, 2014; Gerth, 2020), a combination of centrally planned production, disdain for sumptuary or unnecessary spending, classlessness ideals, and a dearth of consumer goods made it a rare phenomenon (Stitziel, 2005; Tsipursky, 2016). In the DPRK in particular, consumer goods are supposed to fill an actual need of the population, while attempting to "artificially promote buying desires" to increase profits are condemned as capitalistic practices that "disfigure material cultural life" (Kim, 2015, p. 32). Consumption must be purposeful rather than an end in itself. Economist Mun Ch'ungwan, for instance, notes that when a capitalist company like Sony produces computers and video games it does so regardless of the products' "real use case" (silchejŏk in ssŭlmo) used. By contrast, in the DPRK, the same products would be designed for the expressed goal of education or managing a productive venture. (Mun, 2009). One can find traces of consumption for its own sake within DPRK history (Schmid, 2017): state propaganda posters, magazines, and stores, for instance, have all exploited the aesthetics of commodities and possession, staging, and showcasing products for the visual pleasure of consumers [10]. This form of consumerism was common and encouraged, as it still served to represent the material abundance achieved by the state's socialist mode of production (Dobrenko, 2007, p. 282). Conspicuous consumption, too, is common -- if unofficial -- and literature gives us numerous examples of rare or expensive consumer items serving as status symbols (Ch'oi, 1991).

Yet, the microtransaction model of games is significantly different from these previous modes of consumption. As has often been noted, in-game purchases evolved to foster continuous consumption patterns and sustain the rent-seeking marketplaces of platform capitalism (Nieborg, 2015; Almaguer, 2018; Joseph, 2021). The profit maximization logic of these microtransaction-based systems remains intact in North Korea, where players are likewise incentivized to pay to bypass artificially created paywalls such as "time lapses" (Burroughs, 2014), locked levels, and purchase-only bonuses. The platforms of the capitalist world have merely been replaced by the monopolistic, offline platform of the state's Central Guidance Organ of Software Industry.

Previous modes of consumption always had to negotiate between the reality of physical resources' scarcity and the promises of material abundance and fair distribution through a planned economy. But scarcity does not apply to microtransactions as item counts can infinitely increase without additional storage or computing power requirements. Items are also already coded in the original game and, in a pirated version, do not create additional development or design requirements. This means that user purchases would be paying solely for the labor that went into designing the game's localized payment system; i.e., paying for the right to pay. The form of consumption tied to games, therefore, becomes independent from the labor used to develop the product, as well as from the injection of purposeful consumption. Instead, it focuses on the extraction of financial profit.

The localization of foreign games through piracy in the DPRK may be seen as an attempt to limit foreign influence and resist the unfairness of intellectual property regulations from the perspective of a small and impoverished post-colonial state under geopolitical and economic pressure. Yet the preservation of microtransaction based monetization systems shows that games are fostering consumerist and profit-seeking behaviors that are at odds with the country's professed orthodoxy. The appearance of such behaviors in closed socialist society like the DPRK may be hailed as a sign of its liberalization. The rise of monetized games could indicate the increased agency of users and producers as they engage in "unsocialist" behaviors reminiscent of the USSR's second economy. This new ludic economy, however, is far from subversive as it is entirely controlled by a single agency that uses it within a tightly monitored system to maximize state revenues. If anything, the speed and facility with which intellectual property regimes and their associated monetization schemes have been embraced by the North Korean state should serve as a reminder of their entanglement with mass surveillance and consumer exploitation.

The popularity, in the DPRK, of games whose mechanics synecdochally mirror capitalist economic logic -- profit maximization, capital accumulation, monopolization, etc. -- and are integrated in the aforementioned monetization system also raises further questions about the cultural and ideological nature of ludicity. From the competitive nature of liberalized markets to the gamification of stocks and options trading on Robinhood and the mixture of decentralized finance with traditional gaming in cryptocurrency-based play-to-earn games, many have already noted the game-like nature of capitalism (Giddings and Harvey, 2018). But does the enthusiasm of North Korean users for such games stem from inherently ludic characteristics of capitalism? Or has the gamification of capitalism served to make it more common sense -- so natural that its ideological nature would remain imperceptible, even to North Korean censors?



[1] Based on an informal survey of the software catalogues of 6 retail IT stores in Pyongyang in 2019 and 2020. See also Sigley, 2019.

[2] I use the term socialist economy to refer to a system in which the majority of domestic commodity prices are set not by private actors via market mechanisms but by a centrally planned authority in accordance with an expressed (but not necessarily realized or effectively pursued) political goal of ensuring greater equality among members of society. I disregard the question of the ownership of the means of production (and of whether state ownership constitutes an acceptable proxy for workers' ownership) as well as debates on whether the implementation of such economic systems in North Korea, the USSR, China or other socialist republics constitute an adequate actualization of what socialism meant to Marx (or other thinkers who used the term). I do not use the term communism, except when it is part of the name of certain organizations within socialist countries (e.g., the Communist Party, Communist Youth). This general definition of socialism is of course insufficient to account for the many disparities in how different socialist countries administered their centrally planned economies and how cultural factors influenced what was deemed properly socialist. Nor can it account for the historical transformations (themselves numerous) of economic systems within each of these countries: Kim Jong-Un’s economic policies differed from that of his grandfather Kim Il-Sung, and both also pursued different policies at different points in time. For this reason, I will provide additional historical context and examples when discussing the specificities of North Korean socialism with regard to issues such as national sovereignty, consumption, or private property.

[3] Nicoll, drawing on Cho (2016), describes the adoption of videogames and baseball in South Korea as a result of Japanese and American “neocolonialism”: combining elements of cultural imperialism (Mohammadi, 1995) through the values, symbols, and aesthetics vehiculated by games from these former colonizing or occupying powers and economic imperialism through the original domination of the domestic and global market by Japanese and American corporations. Nicoll goes on to show how that the Korean game industry that spawned from this piracy still participated in that process, all the while subverting it through the reappropriation of games as national -- and nationalistic -- symbols.

[4] The practice is, however, ubiquitous among non-academic video game preservationists.


[6] The products’ websites were hosted at,,, and and are still available on the Internet Archive.

[7] The li is a traditional East Asian unit of distance approximately equal to 400 meters.

[8] For an in-depth presentation of the methodology and tools used, see the full analysis of source code alterations and cryptographic methods used by a North Korean reverse engineered game published at:

[9] The journals used here were Kyŏngjae yŏn’gu [Research in economics], Chŏngch'i pŏmnyul yŏnʼgu [Research on political law], and Kim ilsŏng chonghap taehak hakpo [Annals of Kim Il Sung University].

[10] See, for instance, the various photographs of department stores or the Industrial and Agricultural Exhibitions in the magazine Korea Today during the 1970s: nos. 194 (1972), 201 (1973), 203 (1973), 12 (1974).



DPRK: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

KCC: Korea Computer Center



Agame. (2017). Fever for Speed [Android]. Digital game published by Agame.

Almaguer, J. C. (2018). Gamer Resistance to Marketization of Play, Markets, Globalization & Development Review, 3(3).

An, C-J. (2015). Hyŏn sigi chabonjuŭi kiŏp tŭl ŭi t'ŭkhŏ kwŏn ramyong kwa kŭ pujŏngjŏk hugwa [The current misuse of patents by capitalist corporations and its negative effects]. Kim ilsŏng chonghap taehak hakpo : ch'ŏrhak kyŏngjehak, 4, 139-141.

Berthelier, B. (2019). Computing in Our Style: Information Technology and Juche Ideology in Cold War North Korea. Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context, 13(2), 125-48.

Betts, P. (2014). The Politics of Plenty: Consumerism in Communist Societies. In S.A. Smith (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Communism. Oxford University Press.

Bijker, W. E., Hughes T. P. & Pinch T. J. (Eds.). (1987). The Social Construction of Technological Systems. MIT Press.

Burroughs, B. (2014). Facebook and FarmVille: A digital ritual analysis of social gaming. Games and Culture, 9, 151-166.

Campbell, M. & Lim B. (2010, September 13). Kim Bowled for Murdoch's Dollars With Korean Games. Bloomberg.

Cho, Y. (2016). Double binding of Japanese colonialism: trajectories of baseball in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Cultural Studies, 30(6), 926-948.

Choe, S-H. (2004, January 26). Online gambling via N. Korea leading to a web of trouble. Las Vegas Sun.

Chŏn, Y-H. (1988). Miil muyŏk mach'al kwa hwanja p'adong e mallyŏ tŭrŏ simhwa toego innŭn namjosŏn kyŏngje ŭi p'aguk [Worsening collapse of the South Korean economy caught in Americano-Japanese trade frictions and currency fluctuations]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu, 4, 76-85.

Chŏng, C-S. (2004). Chabonjuŭi muyŏk esŏ pigwan sejang pyŏgi chŏgyong toege doen sahoe kyŏngjejŏk yoin [Socioeconomic factors for the application of non-tariffs barriers in capitalist trade], Kim ilsŏng chonghap taehak hakpo : ch'ŏrhak kyŏngjehak, 2, 67-69.

Chong, T. S. (2019, December 6). Ŏhwi kusŏng ch'ŭngmyŏn esŏ pon p'yŏngyang munhwaŏ ŭi ususŏng [Superiority of the Pyongyang cultural language from the point of view of lexical composition]. Kim Il Sung University.

Chosŏn Ilbo. (1991, June 10). Man'gyŏngdae e ch'ŏt chŏnja orakkwan [First arcade room in Man'gyŏngdae]. Chosŏn Ilbo: 5.

Chosŏn minjujuŭi inmin konghwaguk k'omp'yut'ŏ ssop'ŭt'ŭweŏ pohopŏp [Computer Software Protection Law of the Democratic Republic of Korea]. (n.d.) World International Property Organization.

Ch'oi S-J. (1991). Iuttŭl [Neighbors]. Chosŏn Munhak, 10, 40-47.

Coleman, S., & Dyer-Witheford, N. (2007). Playing on the digital commons: collectivities, capital and contestation in videogame culture. Media, Culture & Society, 29(6), 934-953.

Comaroff, J. & Comaroff, J. (2009). Ethnicity inc. University of Chicago Press.

Consalvo, M. (2016). Atari to Zelda: Japan's videogames in global contexts. MIT Press.

Department of Defense. (1996, August 5). North Korean Computer Center's Organization and Products. USAINSCOM SCF 380-02, PARA 3-3C.

Department of Defense. (1995, February). Two Computer Centers in North Korea and the Development of Computer Software. DTG 272323Z.

Dobrenko, E. (2007). Political economy of socialist realism. Yale University Press.

Dyer-Witheford, N., & de Peuter, G. (2009). Games of empire: Global capitalism and video games. University of Minnesota Press.

Evans, G. (2018, April 22). How leisure time is changing for North Korea's privileged. BBC News.

Fahy, S. (2019). Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea's Human Rights Abuses on the Record. Columbia University Press.

Featherweight Games. (2016). Rodeo Stampede [Android]. Digital game published by Featherweight Games.

G-Station Studio. (2016). Game of Warrior [Android]. Digital game published by G-Station Studio.

Gerth, K. (2020). Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China's Communist Revolution. Cambridge University Press.

Giddings, S., & Harvey, A. (2018). Introduction to Special Issue Ludic Economies: Ludic Economics 101. Games and Culture, 13(7), 647-651.

Goldman, E. (2005). The Challenges of Regulating Warez Trading. Social Science Computer Review, 23(1), 24-28.

Han, Y. S. (2020). Irhwa ro ponŭn wiinsang [Great men as seen through anecdotes]. Pyongyang Ch'ulp'ansa.

Hŏ, T-C. (1961, September 7). Mannŭng chŏnja kyesan'gi rŭl chejak [Production of an all-purpose electronic computer]. Rodong Sinmun.

Huntemann, N. and B. Aslinger (Eds.). (2013). Gaming Globally. Production, Play and Place. Palgrave Macmillan.

Hwang, K-O. (2017). Hyŏn sigi injae wa kwahak kisul ŭi tokchŏm ŭl wihan chegukchuŭijadŭl ŭi chuyo supŏp [Main tactics of the imperialists to monopolize talent and technoscience]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu, 3, 61-63.

International Intellectual Property Alliance. (2021, January 28). Leading U.S. Creative Industries Identify Global Challenges To Expanding Legitimate Digital Marketplace [Press release].

Irani, L. and Philip, K. (2018). Negotiating Engines of Difference. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 4(2), 1-11.

Jo, D. (2020). "Bursting Circuit Boards": Infrastructures and Technical Practices of Copying in Early Korean Video Game Industry. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 20(2).

Joseph, D. (2021). Battle pass capitalism. Journal of Consumer Culture, 21(1), 68-83.

Kim, H-C. (2009). Hyŏn sigi palchŏndoen chabonjuŭi naradŭl ŭi saengsan pumun kujo esŏ nat'anan pyŏnhwa [Changes in the structural branches of production in contemporary developed capitalist economies]. Kyŏngje Yŏn'gu, 2, 48.

Kim, I-S. (1995). Kwahak kyoyuk saŏp kwa inmin pogŏn saŏp esŏ saeroun chŏnhwan ŭl irŭkkil te taehayŏ [To raise a new change in the tasks of public health and science education]. Speech on March 3-7, 1990. In Kim Il Sŏng chŏjakchip [Complete Works of Kim Il-Sung]. Chosŏn rodongdang ch'ulp'ansa.

Kim, J-I. (1991). Ŭmak yesullon [Theory of the musical arts]. Chosŏn rodongdang ch'ulp'ansa.

Kim, J-I. (1997). Hyŏngmyŏng kwa kŏnsŏl esŏ int'eri dŭl ŭi yŏkhal ŭl tŏuk nop'ija [Let's raise higher the role of the intelligentsia in revolution and construction]. Speech on September 20, 1990. In Kim Jŏng Il sŏnjip [Chosen Works of Kim Jong-Il]. Chosŏn rodongdang ch'ulp'ansa.

Kim, K-K. (2015). Sahoejuŭi sahoe esŏ sangp'um kwanggo ŭi ponjilchŏk naeyong kwa t'ŭkching [The basic nature and specificities of product advertisement in socialist societies]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu, 3, 32-33.

Kim, T. G. (September 19, 1980). P'yŏngyang ŭn tang taehoe chunbi ro pŏpsŏk [Pyongyang bustling while it prepares for the Party congress]. Chungang Ilbo: 3.

Kim, W-S. (2014). Chichŏk soyukwŏn ŭi hamnijŏk iyong ŭn chisik kyŏngje kŏnsŏl ŭl tagŭ ch'inŭn wiryŏk han sudan [Rational use of intellectual property rights a powerful means to push the construction of a knowledge economy]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu, 2, 25-26.

Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N., and de Peuter, G. (2003). Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing. McGill-Queen's University Press.

Kopetko, P. (2016). Rodeo Stampede.

Korea Computer Center. (1997). Ŭnbyŏl Paduk [Silver Star Go] [Microsoft Windows]. Digital game published by Korea Computer Center.

Korea Computer Center. (1999). Ryugyŏng Changgi [Ryugyŏng Chess] [Microsoft Windows]. Digital game published by Korea Computer Center.

Kretzschmar, M., & Stanfill, M. (2019). Mods as Lightning Rods: A Typology of Video Game Mods, Intellectual Property, and Social Benefit/Harm. Social & Legal Studies, 28(4), 517-536.

Kyunghyang Sinmun. (1992, December 28). T'ongil kŏri e chŏnja oraksil tŭngjang [Appearance of an arcade room in Pyongyang]. Kyunghyang Sinmun: 21.

Kwanghŭng. (2018). Chungsegi chŏnjaeng [Middle Ages Warfare] [Android]. Digital game published by Kwanghŭng.

Kwanghŭng. (2018). Udun han talp'aengi [Stupid Snail] [Android]. Digital game published by Kwanghŭng.

Lee, C-K. (1998). P'ŭrogŭram sanŏp kwa kŭ t'ŭkching [The software industry and its specificities]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu2, 41-44.

Lee, I-S. (2005, December 12). Hong myŏnghŭi sonja hong sŏkchung ssi sosŏl hwang chini chŏjakkwŏn ch'imhae [Hong Myŏng-hŭi's grandson: "Novel Hwang Jini violates copyright"]. Kyŏnghyang Sinmun: 3.

Lee, S-N. (2013). Kuryokchŏk igo pulp'yŏngdŭng han nam chosŏn miguk chayu muyŏk hyŏpchŏng. [The insulting and unfair South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement]. Kyŏngjae Yŏn'gu3, 63-64.

Liao, S. X. T. (2016). Japanese Console Games Popularization in China: Governance, Copycats, and Gamers. Games and Culture, 11(3), 275-297.

Light B, Burgess J, Duguay S. (2018). The walkthrough method: An approach to the study of apps. New Media & Society, 20(3), 881-900.

Lobato, R. (2012). Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal Film Distribution. Palgrave Macmillan.

Lobato, R. (2014). The Paradoxes of Piracy. In L. Eckstein and A. Schwarz. Postcolonial Piracy: Media Distribution and Cultural Production in the Global South. Bloomsbury Academic.

Mbembe, A. (2001). On the postcolony. University of California Press.

McCandless, D. (1997). Warez wars. Wired. 5, 133.

Mohammadi, A. (1995). Cultural imperialism and cultural identity. In J. Downing, A. Mohammadi, and A. Sreberny-Mohammadi (Eds.), Questioning the media: A critical introduction (pp. 362-378). Sage.

Mun, C-G. (2009). Chabonjuŭi kiŏp "p'anmae ŭi 4-kaji yoso"nŭn kŭllojadŭl e taehan ch'ugajŏk ch'akch'wi ŭi sudan [The 4-P of marketing in capitalist ventures is a mean of further exploiting workers]. Kyŏngje Chisik, 1, 112-116.

Nam, S-U. (2002). Pukhan ŭi IT sanŏp palchŏn chŏllyak kwa kangsŏng taeguk kŏnsŏl [The North Korean IT development strategy and the construction of a strong country]. Hanul Academy.

Newell A., Shaw, J. C & Simon, H. A. (1963). Machines That Play Games. In Feigenbaum E. & Feldman J. (Eds.), Computers and Thought. McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Ng, B. W. (2009). Consuming and localizing Japanese combat games in Hong Kong. In Hjorth, L., Chan, D. (Eds.), Gaming cultures and place in Asia-Pacific (pp. 83-101). Routledge.

Nicoll, B. (2019). Articulations of videogame piracy: The Zemmix as a decolonial platform. In Minor Platforms in Videogame History (pp. 73-104). Amsterdam University Press.

Nieborg, D. B. (2015). Crushing Candy: The Free-to-Play Game in Its Connective Commodity Form. Social Media + Society, 1(2), 1-12.

North Korean Central Communication Agency. (1992). North Korean Central Yearbook. Chosŏn chungang t'ongsinsa.

O’Donnell, C. (2013). Mixed messages: The ambiguity of the MOD chip and pirate cultural production for the Nintendo DS. New Media & Society, 16(5), 737-752.

Orłowski, H. (1985). Niektóre kierunki rozinoju przemysłu i nauki w KRLD [Trends in the development of industry and science in the DPRK]. Techniki Komputerowe, 1, 57-63.

Political Reporting Team. (2013, August 11). Kyŏngae hanŭn kim chŏngŭn wŏnsunim kkesŏ 5wŏl 11-il kongjang ŭl hyŏnji chido hasi yŏtta [The dear respected Marshall Kim Jong-Un has visited the May 11 Factory]. Rodong Sinmun: 1.

Postigo, H. (2003). From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work. Information, Communication & Society, 6(4), 593-607.

Pyongyang Computer. (n.d.) Mallich'a kyŏngju [Race of the thousand li cars] [Android]. Digital game published by Pyongyang Computer.

Pyongyang Informatics Center. (2005). Boy General [Symbian]. Digital game published by Pyongyang Informatics Center.

Pyongyang Morning Star Technical Development Center. (2018). Nara taninŭn tongmurwŏn [Flying Zoo] [Android]. Digital game published by Pyongyang Morning Star Technical Development Center.

Ra, D-J. (2005). Sahoejuŭi wiŏp ŭn chegukchuŭi wa ŭi ch'ŏmyehan taegyŏl ŭl tongban hanŭn panje chaju wiŏp [The task of socialism goes along the anti-imperialist task confronting imperialism]. Kim ilsŏng chonghap taehak hakpo : ch'ŏrhak kyŏngjehak, 51(4), 14-18.

Ryang, S. (2016). The Rise and Fall of Chongryun: From Chōsenjin to Zainichi and beyond. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 14(15).

Schiess, N. (2018). Governmental Control of Digital Media Distribution in North Korea: Surveillance and Censorship on Modern Consumer Devices. ERNW GmbH.

Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Polity.

Schmid, A. (2021). Introduction. Journal of Korean Studies. 26(2), 169-186.

Schmid, A. (2017). Is a History of North Korea Without Kim II-Sung Possible?. Presentation at the Library of Congress.

Schneier, B. (2014, December 22). Did North Korea Really Attack Sony? It's too early to take the U.S. government at its word. The Atlantic.

Seriously. (2014). Best Fiend [Android]. Digital game published by Seriously.

Shim J-W., Lim K-W., Cho S-J., Han S-C., Park M-K. (2018). Static and Dynamic Analysis of Android Malware and Goodware Written with Unity Framework. Security and Communication Networks.

Shin, G-W. (2006). Ethnic Nationalism in Korea: Genealogy, Politics, and Legacy. Stanford University Press.

Shin, M-H. (1990). P'yŏngyang chŏnja kyesan'gi p'ŭrogŭram kaebal ssent'ŏ ka kŏnsŏl toenda [Construction of the Pyongyang electronic computer program development center]. Chosŏn Kŏnch'uk, 3, 84-85.

Shin, T-H. (2005). Nambuk chŏjangmul ŭi kyoryu rŭl wihayŏ [For the exchange of copyrighted materials between North and South], Chŏjagwŏn Munhwa, 129, 12-13.

Sigley, A. (2019, February 1). What to buy inside a North Korean app store. NK News.

Sparkling Society. (2014). City Island 2 [Android]. Digital game published by Sparkling Society.

Stallman, R. M. S. (1997). The Right to Read. Communications of the ACM, 40(2), 85-87.

Stallman, R. M. S. (2006). Did You Say ‘Intellectual Property’? It’s a Seductive Mirage. Policy Futures in Education, 4(4), 334-335.

Stitziel, J. (2005). Fashioning Socialism: Clothing, Politics and Consumer Culture in East Germany. Oxford University Press.

Švelch, J. (2018). Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games. MIT Press.

Tetzlaff, D. (2000). Yo-ho-ho and a server of warez. In A. Herman & T. Swiss (Eds.). The World Wide Web and contemporary cultural theory (pp. 99-126). Routledge.

Tonga Ilbo. (1992, October 11). P'yŏngyang tongjŏng [Situation in Pyongyang]. Tonga Ilbo: 21.

Tsipursky, G. (2016). Socialist Fun: Youth, Consumption, and State-Sponsored Popular Culture in the Cold War Soviet Union, 1945-1970. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Wang, S. (2003). Framing Piracy: Globalization and Film Distribution in Greater China. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Wasiak, P. (2012). Illegal Guys': A History of Digital Subcultures in Europe during the 1980s. Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, 9(2).

Wasiak, P. (2014). Playing and Copying: Social Practices of Home Computer Users in Poland During the 1980s. In G. Alberts & R. Oldenziel (Eds.), Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes (2014 edition). Springer.

Williams, M. (2010, June 10). The World's Most Unusual Outsourcing Destination. PC World.

Yoon, S. (2020). Talking With the 'Hermit Regime'| Mobile Media and Its Impacts on Social Change and Human Rights in North Korea. International Journal Of Communication, 14(18), 1480-1497.

Žižek, S. (2006). The Parallax View. MIT Press.

Zwirko, C. (2021). North Korea discourages computer game addiction, pushes tech in new short film. NK News.

©2001 - 2022 Game Studies Copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the journal, except for the right to republish in printed paper publications, which belongs to the authors, but with first publication rights granted to the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.