Pump-it-Up: Paying a Premium to Play a Popular Pastime Particular to Korea

Authored by:
Chase E.

Chase E.

    In a foreign country, under the constant threat of becoming stressed or lonely, I think it’s important to keep oneself active and engaged in the new environment. There is a lot to gain from developing a new hobby to really dive into the culture! One of my friends here has taken up archery, which is surprisingly accessible in the entertainment hubs littered across Seoul. Her aim rivals that of Artemis. But while she spends her time drawing arrows, I dance my heart out...kinda.

    Pump-it-Up (referred to as 펌프 in Korean) is an arcade rhythm game originating from Korea. Many Americans are familiar with DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), which is a good point of comparison, but the two are very different. To play, you press four directional arrows and one center button with your feet to the beat of the music.

    I first fell in love with this game back in NYC at a tiny arcade in Manhattan around the Chinatown area. After my restaurant job, I would step into the dimly lit, apartment-sized den, with loud arcade machines of all kinds assaulting my ears. While I waited my turn, I would gawk at the speed and talent of the veteran players. I would pay one dollar for no more than seven minutes of play, which is a serious investment for an undergrad student, but has always been worth it.

    Arcades in Seoul are leagues above those in America. Oftentimes, there are three floors full of crane games, dart boards, racing games, hoop games, air hockey, and my favorite, rhythm games. As an individual with some degree of ADHD, the lights, music and yelling here bring me a sense of calm and control, with there being constant activity and excitement (as counterintuitive as that sounds). I love bringing a friend here to show them all my favorite ways to spend my precious few won, and furthermore connect with them. This is especially true of my native Korean friends. 

    Pump-it-Up has a tight-knit, passionate community here. Groups of friends dance it out to see who gets a better score, and crowds gather around the best players late into the night to see if they can pass the hardest songs in the game. Online, there are long forums containing tips, clips and tricks to the game, which get their fair share of views. The hype is real, and as a foreigner trying to immerse myself in the culture, this is an avenue through which I can easily do so. It feels so good to do well on a song and, subsequently, for someone to applaud my performance and say a word or two, and vice versa.

    I may never be a true pro at the game, but that will never stop me from gripping onto the back handlebars and “tryharding” a 200 bpm, difficulty level 15 song while sweating off the, shall I say, *excessive* meal that was definitely worth it. I hope you might one day get the chance to try out the game yourself!

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