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(LEAD) (Yonhap Feature) New video game on Kim Jong-un gains popularity worldwide
By Tony Chang
SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's heir-apparent son takes over the helm of his destitute communist country in 2012. He reunites the two Koreas, for which he is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he takes further aim at world domination.

   The 20-something son, Kim Jong-un, who in real life is still being groomed to succeed his father as the country's next leader, is the very villain to shoot down in a new U.S. video game currently on sale worldwide.

The PlayStation 3-version box cover art for Homefront, a North Korea-themed video game published by THQ Inc.

Homefront, a first-person shooter designed by New York-based Kaos Studios and published by THQ Inc., is the latest North Korea-themed video game in which Kim Jong-un assumes the role of the virtual bad guy under such a highly speculative premise.

   Since its release in North America, Australia, Europe and Japan starting in mid-March, more than 1 million units have been sold worldwide, with 2.4 million copies shipped to retailers, according to THQ's latest tallies.

   "We're very pleased with strong worldwide shipments and sell-through for Homefront, and we continue to fulfill new retail orders for the game across the globe," THQ President Brian Farrell said in a statement.

   What distinguishes this new video game from previous North Korea-themed ones is that Kim Jong-il's third and youngest son outstrips his in-the-flesh counterpart to the ultimate commandership and even leapfrogs his father in becoming a charismatic and ambitious leader akin to Adolf Hitler.

   The real-life son made a trumpeting worldwide debut last year by being named a four-star general of the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) and was appointed to other top posts of the ruling Workers' Party.

   Kim Jong-un's two older brothers apparently fell out of favor for reasons outsiders only speculate about.

   Other than the Pyongyang-propagated information, very little is known about Kim Jong-un except that he studied in Switzerland when he was a teen and is a big fan of retired American basketball player Michael Jordan.

   Many outside analysts equate Kim Jong-un's debut in the video game industry to his debut in the sea of pop culture zeitgeist, in which the image of his 69-year-old father has been no more than a maniacal, unapologetic dictator.

   Being a mind-numbing shooter at heart, veteran screenwriter John Milius who had penned such attention-arousing films as "Apocalypse Now" and "Red Dawn" fleshed out the Kim Jong-un video game, with consulting from Tae Kim, a former CIA field operations officer.

   In the game, the player assumes the role of a group of American resistant fighters in a fictional 2027 continental U.S. that has become occupied by the Greater Korean Republic, the name of the unified Korea, under Kim Jong-un.

   The new North Korean dictator even wins the Nobel Peace Prize for reuniting the peninsula, but his ambitions don't stop there,

Kim Jong-un delivers a speech before a United Nations gathering within the fictional Homefront universe. In the game, Kim reunites the two Koreas soon after his father Kim Jong-il dies from illness.

The unified Korea, under the name Greater Korean Republic, builds a massive alliance in East Asia and eventually takes over all U.S. states west of the Mississippi River. Throughout the game, players are constantly reminded of -- through storytelling and graphic presentation -- cold-hearted violence and human carnage that ensues during war and occupation.

   Jumping back to the real world, Kim Jong-un's sudden rise in North Korea's power hierarchy sets the stage for the third-generation power transfer in the country. Kim Jong-il took over the throne when his father died in 1994.

   While the extreme nature of North Korea as portrayed in the plot serves as a strong selling point of the video game, some analysts in Seoul note that it may offer a sense of legitimacy for another father-to-son power succession in the isolated country.

   "The plot can serve as great publicity for Kim Jong-un," Dong Yong-seung, a senior researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said in an interview. "I'm not sure if the creators took aim at that or not, but to the audience, it effectively promotes Kim Jong-un."

   Dong said, however, that the publicity from the video game can cut both ways, good or bad.

   While noting the "nonsensical" nature of the plot, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, pointed out that even an American game company is seemingly interested in developments in North Korea.

   "It gives off a sense of promoting Kim Jong-un through an official (pop culture) debut," said Yang.

   The game, which runs on the premise that Kim Jong-un is a gruesome but charismatic leader, also stokes questions regarding his as-yet-untested leadership and temperament.

   "The portrayal of Kim Jong-un and the KPA in the game, according to what I've read, seems to be built upon the preconceived character of his father in the Western pop culture," said Lee Woo-young, who also teaches about North Korea at the same university.

   "The stereotype notion that Kim Jong-un is probably not much different from his father seems only natural," since the world has little knowledge about him, Lee said.

   Despite its dominant position in the world's online gaming industry, South Korea has yet to see Homefront released in its market.

   According to South Korea's state-run Game Rating Board (GRB), THQ has not filed the required paperwork for the game to be sold here. By law, all video and computer games must undergo a review from the GRB before being sold here. Queries sent multiple times to THQ via e-mail received no reply.

   The South Korean game rating board in the past has blocked sales of North Korea-themed games, such as Ghost Recon 2 and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which depict North Koreans as diabolical enemies.

   The strict regulatory control, however, does not mean that South Korean gamers have no access to Homefront. They can easily purchase smuggled versions through local game parlors.

   Yonhap News Agency had no problem purchasing a copy of the game at a videogame retailer in Seoul, but some shop owners were clearly discreet, worried about a possible crackdown by regulators.

A game parlor in southern Seoul where smuggled copies of Homefront can be purchased. The Homefront is banned from sale in South Korea as it hasn't been rated by the state game rating agency.

An owner of one shop in an electronics shopping arcade in southern Seoul said that anyone who sells the game can face up to a fine of 15 million (US$14,000)
"It's impossible to have the game on for advertising purposes, as shoppers can hear profanity in Korean coming out of the television," the owner said, asking to remain anonymous.

   When asked about the game, another shop owner offered to sell a used copy but soon rescinded the offer and refused to be interviewed.

   Responses here are generally mixed, with some taking note of how grisly Koreans are cast as war criminals. Others laud the plot as refreshing, noting that Americans are cast as the weak, as opposed in real life.

   Kim Myung-min, a South Korean gamer, wrote on the gaming Web site that he was disturbed by the image of Korean soldiers who kill civilians in a way comparable to that of the Nazis during World War II.

   What was more alarming, he said, was the fact that the antagonists aren't just North Koreans soldiers but of the unified Korea.

   "I was very worried that the antagonists were bluntly called the Korea Army, not North Koreans. I'm very concerned that gamers would absorb the images (of the brutal Koreans) at their face value," he said.

   Another gamer who used the alias "cyrene" praised the developer for offering a "differentiated world in Homefront compared to other conventional shooters."

A fictional North Korean officer and soldiers seen in the beginning part of Homefront. The antagonist Korean Army is depicted in a diabolic and menacing fashion.