North Korea releases first computer game
Pyongyang Racer offers tour of capital's monuments
Vid Just popped a Wii U under the tree? You poor, poor fool: this Christmas your kids won't clamour for Nintendo's latest, the thumb candy they really want is "Pyongyang Racer", the very first North Korean Computer game!
We make that assertion because the in-browser Pyongyang Racer is, at the time of writing, down. Servers at Koryo Tours, an organisation that arranges visits to North Korea, seems to be experiencing server problems as westerners rush to enjoy the tour of downtown Pyongyang and its magnificent monuments the game offers.
The name “Racer” is something of a misnoner – those who've made it onto the server report it doesn't offer an actual race, but as you'll see from the video below players are instructed to collect fuel lest they run out and are forced to end the game.
The game was developed by Nosotek, a company that bills itself as “the first western IT venture in DPRK (North Korea)” and says its "software engineers are selected from the mathematics elite and learn programming from the ground-up, such as assembler to C#, but also Linux kernel and Visual Basic macros.
After assessing Pyongyang Racer, Vulture South feels Nosotek's team of 50 coders could also knock out a decent game for the Sega Master System.
A colossal business process outsourcing industry on India's scale can only be a year or two away, surely? ®
On the bright side, it's the first city racing game to accurately reflect real-world rush hour traffic.
Re: Nosotek is accomplice to crimes and should be judged accordingly
I get your point, but you can't punish everyone even tangentially related to a country as if they perpetrated the worst crimes its government has committed. By that logic, anyone who works for Bushmaster is an accomplice to the Sandy Hook murders.You could make an argument that if you work for a company making assault weapons, and you know that they're sometimes used in homicides, you bear some responsibility - but in my mind, there are some mitigating factors:
1) Was your product or action instrumental in the incident? Did you design the gun, or did you just do IT support for the secretaries who assisted the sales team? There's a difference.
2) Could you have prevented the incident by your action (changing what you did on the job) or inaction (refusing to work for the company)?
3) Was the incident reasonably predictable? Was it specific?
4) Is the product the company makes intended specifically to perpetrate said incident? For example, if you build a car that's used by a woman to run over her philandering husband, it's clear that cars aren't built specifically for that purpose; likewise, if you build a cruise missile, it's fairly clear that the idea is to kill people. With guns, the case is less-clear-cut; they can be used for sport or as a deterrent - Bushmaster doesn't make guns with the specific purpose of mass murder.
5) Personal risk of action or inaction. If you'll be financially ruined and your family harmed if you take a moral position, but that position is based not on the certainty of harm but a general feeling of 'something bad might happen', I think there's an argument to be made that you have lessened responsibility. Asking an assembly-line worker to take on the might of a huge company and lose his job in the name of abstract good is asking an awful lot. For a wealthy CEO with a golden parachute, however, the standards are different.
So if you look at, say, the Sandy Hook killings:
If you're a low-level grunt, you don't bear much responsibility. You couldn't have done anything to stop or alter the circumstances; your leaving your job wouldn't have prevented the product from reaching the killer; the weapon isn't specifically meant to mass-murder people, and mass-murders, while known to happen, are still rare, and it's entirely plausible for a given kind of weapon to never be used in such a crime.
On the other hand, if you're the CEO or a board member, things are a bit different. You could possibly have done something to stop or alter the circumstances - say, by not producing semi-automatic weapons. If you were high on the totem pole and quit because of your concerns, making a public issue of it, it might have altered the company's actions and product line. But - both of those are fairly unlikely. CEOs don't just get to say, 'No more assault weapons'; quitting on principle might generate no publicity at all and might even result in your replacement enhancing programs to build assault rifles. So, it's clear that a CEO has *more* responsibility for the use of his company's products, but not *necessarily* a significant personal culpability. There are cases, however - Bhopal, say - where the actions or inactions of one or two individuals might have cost or saved hundreds of lives.
OK, so, where do our programmers come in? I don't think they're very high on the culpability scale.
1) Their product has almost nothing to do with the crime. The most serious argument you could make is that the game makes people feel more positive about DPRK, and in so doing encourages the government to keep its current policy. But you could also argue that the less isolated the DPRK is, the more likely it is to soften its actions - or, conversely, you could make a pretty good case that the software in question will do more to cause mockery than sympathy, in which case the programmers have harmed the DPRK rather than helping it.
2) If any given coder or artist (and I use the terms loosely) had quit or spoken up (which would be the same as quitting, really) it would have had basically zero impact on prison camps. Nobody would have said, "Shit, I was going to beat this prisoner, but the Pyongyang driving simulator isn't done yet, so I can't". Even if the entire team had quit, or the company had never signed on, the project either would have gone to another company or would have been shelved - in neither case measurably affecting the scale or seriousness of NK's crimes.
3) DPRK committing serious crimes is a given and a constant. The programmers knew damn well who they were dealing with; no skating away on this particular point.
4) Obviously the driving simulator's purpose is not to harm prisoners - the only people it harms are Westerners who have the misfortune of trying it. As bad as it is, that's still not as bad as murder.
5) It's impossible to say what personal risk any of the developers faced, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they didn't have a ton of lucrative projects lined up. They probably had a lot to lose if they didn't take the gig.
One more point - one could also argue that having the DPRK pay you to make a useless piece-of-crap game is, on balance, a good thing; it's less money the DPRK has to spend on nukes and prison camps.
In the end, the developers couldn't have made anything better by doing things differently, they didn't help (and probably harmed) the regime and/or its reputation, and the individuals may well have suffered serious personal consequences (financial, career, political possibly?) if they had balked. I think it's unreasonable to condemn them as accomplices.
...yeesh. How's that for a rebuttal, eh?
Re: For a second, I thought this was one of those antique code articles!!
I think you mean "fewer happy people"...
"less happy people" would suggest they've had bits removed.
Oh! Hang on - it's PyongYang. Maybe you're right after all...
The 80's called and would like their programmers back....
That's 8 mins of my life that I'll NEVER get back!
And considering I only have 34 mins left before the Mayan Apocalypse that makes me very unhappy
"Any nation that has the word democratic or peoples' in the name is neither."