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Nexon workers in conflict with umbrella union over stance on feminism

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Feminist groups hold a press conference in front of Nexon Korea's headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. Courtesy of Korea WomenLink

By Park Jae-hyuk

Unionized workers at Nexon indicated their intention to leave the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), as the umbrella union supported feminists who condemned the company for its countermeasures against a controversial hand gesture spotted in promotional videos for its games, according to industry officials, Friday.

"The KCTU held a press conference without discussion and understanding of this issue," Nexon union leader Bae Soo-chan said in a statement, Wednesday. "We will reconsider whether we really need the KCTU."

Their conflict started as the KCTU joined Tuesday's press conference in front of Nexon Korea's headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Feminist groups claimed in the press conference that the gaming firm is unreasonably bullying its employees and Studio PPURI, which created animated videos to promote Nexon's games.

The animation studio has faced a strong backlash from male gamers, who spotted characters making a gesture — featuring a pinching thumb and index finger — in promotional videos for multiple games of Nexon and other companies. The users claimed that the gesture is associated with defunct online feminist community Megalia who used it to mock Korean men's genitalia.

Nexon employees went to work at 3 a.m. on Sunday to take down the videos in question. Management of Nexon and other gaming firms apologized to their customers as well, promising every effort to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Studio PPURI also said it will take responsibility for all scenes that raise suspicions and make necessary modifications. The employee in question will not participate in any future editing work or ongoing promotional videos, according to the studio.

Seen is an animated video recently captred from Nexon's popular game MapleStory in which a character makes a finger gesture, which is associated in Korea with misandry. Screenshot from video

In contrast, feminist groups argued that the gaming firms and users are in a state of "collective illusion."

"A groundless rumor led users to regard a perfectly natural hand gesture as the symbol of a certain ideology," one of the participants in the press conference said.

If Nexon's union leaves the KCTU, it will join the unions of POSCO, Coupang, Lotte Chemical and KEPCO E&C, which decided to withdraw from the umbrella union. They criticized the KCTU for focusing more on political activities than on efforts to protect the rights of its members.

Meanwhile, controversies over the hand gesture have not been limited to Korea's game industry.

Convenience store franchise GS25 apologized in 2021 after a large-scale boycott movement in response to a camping event poster that included a hand gesturing similarly as it appears to reach for a tiny sausage.

Park Jae-hyuk


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