It conjures images of a fantastical James Bond script in which 007 is tasked with subverting the evil overlord of a communist empire builder. Or, perhaps more apt, it gives life to an alter-reality in the guise of, say, Dr Evil’s Mini Me, of Austin Powers fame.
Step forward Kim Jong-un, son of North Korea’s until-recently reclusive leader Kim Jong-il and the mastermind behind the Juche empire’s bloody takeover of the United States in 2027.
Sounds like the nocturnal meanderings of the North Korean dictator as he paves the way for his son’s third generation dynastical succession, right? Wrong. This was a plot dreamed up in New York for the latest North Korean-themed computer game, Homefront.
In real life, Kim senior, of course, embarked last month on yet another trip to China – his third in just over a year, itself seen as unusual for a notoriously shy traveller who rarely ventures overseas.
With Kim’s trip being viewed as a sign of the North Korean regime’s increasing desperation amid tough US-initiated international sanctions, the premise of Homefront serves as a greater parody than any Hollywood spoof ever could.
In it, Kim Jong-un is the man controlling a re-unified Korean state – all the way from the existing Chinese border in existing North Korea down to the port city of Busan at the foot of the South. He’s pitted against a band of US resistance fighters, the role assumed by players.
The reunification feat has been achieved in 2012, the symbolic year – in the real world – in which the North is set to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of founding father and ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il-sung, Jong-un’s grandfather. Tellingly, this is also the year by which Kim Jong-il has promised his people that their country will be ‘a great and prosperous nation.’
Yet, as 2012 approaches, UN World Food Programme officials report fears over catastrophic famine on the scale of the one in the 1990s that’s thought to have claimed anywhere from 1 to 3 million people.
Back in Homefront, by 2027, the US has succumbed to Jong-un’s powerful military advances. ‘Her infrastructure shattered and military in disarray, America has fallen to a savage occupation by the nuclear armed Greater Korean Republic,’ says the game’s trailer. ‘Abandoned by her former allies, the United States is a bleak landscape of walled towns and abandoned suburbs. This is a police state where high school stadiums have become detention centres, and shopping malls shelter armoured attack vehicles.’
In the real 2011, meanwhile, the North Korean state is arguably as deeply entrenched as it has ever been – typified by the sight of Kim Jong-il’s armoured and heavily guarded train coursing its way through China, ostensibly, say reports, for lessons in economics.
Recent reports, too, suggest the number of domestic dissenters is on the increase. According to an Amnesty International report, recent satellite imagery compared against stock from 2001 indicates a ‘significant increase’ in the scale of the North’s reputed political prison camps, home to an estimated 200,000 detainees. And in the South, the number of North Korean defectors who have made the precarious journey fleeing their homeland is said to have been increasing every year since 2005, recently surpassing the 21,000-mark.
It all adds up to give the lie to a game obviously intended as some outlandish fun. But some don’t see things that way, even if Kim senior’s recent travel frenzy suggests a rogue state limping to a halt.
‘The plot can serve as great publicity for Kim Jong-un,’ Dong Yong-seung, a senior researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, told the South Korean government-run news agency Yonhap News. ‘I’m not sure if the creators took aim at that or not, but to the audience, it effectively promotes Kim Jong-un.’ And, although it has sold more than a million copies since its release, it was banned in South Korea.
It also does not escape analysts who point warily to what Kim Jong-il’s 2012 promise bodes, particularly amid the spectre of the North's ominous nuclear arsenal.
Others point to recent North Korean aggressions. Last year, the Kim regime was blamed for sinking a South Korean warship near the sea border of the rival states. Then, later in the year, a sleepy island outcrop governed by the South and located in the same disputed waters went up in flames after an artillery barrage from the Northern mainland.
Indeed, the game makers laud their product as part of ‘a terrifyingly plausible near future world.’ Perhaps, they might say, in the world of Mini Me.
Bryan Kay is a Seoul-based writer