Hanmadi, “one word,” is a series on Korean language and society, dedicated to exploring Korea one word at a time.
You might think you know what multiplayer means in Korean because it looks like an English word. Don’t be fooled, though: Konglish can be tricky! This sense of multiplayer has nothing to do with games.
A person with knowledge and skills about not just one field but various fields.
– The fuss these days is that it’s hard to survive if you only have one kind of skill so everybody must become a multiplayer.
– That new actor not only knows how to act well but is also a multiplayer who’s good at exercising and skilled in foreign languages.
Revised romanization: meol-ti-peul-le-i-eo
Folk romanization: multiplayer
As you can guess, this word has English roots. However, the meaning is totally different. So, how did it get into Korean and take on this meaning?
In English, “multiplayer” refers to a type of game or game mode in which more than one player can take part, either in person or over a network. Actually, this is also a meaning in Korean, as Namuwiki points out:
Rough translation: In Korea, a packaged game’s mode where you play together with other users over the Internet is generally called “multi.”
This is indeed the sense in which it first appears in the Korean media, according to a search of the Korea Integrated News Database. This was in 1993, in an article by The Hankyoreh about the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, a short-lived cousin of the Nintendo and Sega systems put out that year by Panasonic.
For several years after that, the only references are to games and other technology—usually games—and are pretty obviously unrelated to the meaning we’re talking about.
In 2001, we find the first use of multiplayer to refer to person with a broad skill set. Considering the time—the run-up to the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan–that’s not surprising. The Koreans had recently brought on board Dutch manager Guus Hiddink to lead the team, and it’s in this context that we find the word multiplayer. An October 5, 2001 story in the Munhwa Ilbo (Culture Daily) details 20-year-old footballer Choi Tae-uk’s move from left back midfielder in the first half to striker in the second half of a friendly between (I think) the national soccer team (축구국가대표팀) and the Olympic soccer team (올림픽상비군팀). (I’m a little confused about why these were too different things, so maybe I’m not getting everything.)
The story goes on to comment that this kind of move is fulfilling Hiddink’s goal of having adaptable players—“multiplayers”—a word that’s been applied to soccer players by the Korean media ever since, as in this 2014 story from Goal.com about how Korea needs to develop its young players into multiplayers:
Headline: Coach Kim’s Soccer Thought #28: Let’s develop into multiplayers
So, the sense of multiplayer we’re discussing here seems to come into Korean through soccer.
Within a year—July 15, 2002—we see it move out of the sports world and into the world of business in an incredibly boring and dense article from the Financial News (파이낸셜뉴스) attributing the success of Jinro vice president Kim Kyung Il (김경일) to him being a “multiplayer.”
I mention the business reference for a reason other than thoroughness: This is the context in which I first heard the term.
One of my duties teaching in an international trade certificate program was to coach my young adult students in English language cover letter, resume and interview preparation, in hopes that they might get jobs in international companies. We talked about the structure of letters and showing over telling, and we also went over qualities students might want to highlight as strengths. One student asked if she should tell interviewers she was a multiplayer.
“A what?” I asked. “You mean like a team player?”
That was almost two years ago, and embarrassingly, I’ve only just totally understood what she was talking about—her explanation had left me thinking she meant a multitasker. Oh, the perils of Konglish!
If I recall correctly, though, this student was the only one who got a job (at least immediately) in an international company, working for IKEA as it opened its first Korean branch. This was a big deal for two reasons: First, the high levels of youth unemployment and underemployment in South Korea today due at least partly to a glut of college graduates, which is the reason there were so many kids in this certificate program in the first place; and second, the relative drudgery of many South Korean workplaces, which leads many young people to dream of a way out. Maybe, just maybe, being a multiplayer can give a jobseeker that oh-so-vital edge.
Lee Younghun. 6 May 2014. “김감독의 축구생각 #28 멀티플레이어로 성장하자” Goal.com 20 March 2016
김도연. “최태욱, 월드컵대표팀 ‘새 별.’” 문화일보. 5 October 2001. Korea Integrated News Database System. 20 March 2016.
김지석. “전자게임시장 쟁탈전 후끈.” 한겨레. 9 December 1993. Korea Integrated News Database System. 20 March 2016.
노종섭. “[마케팅 리더-<2>김경일 진로 부사장] ‘참眞이슬露’ 신화 창조.” 파이낸셜뉴스. 15 July 2002. Korea Integrated News Database System. 20 March 2016.