Chinese Net users share the novel ways in which they observe holidays online

By Zhang Yihua Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/24 19:43:39

The attraction of festival-themed online games as an alternate way of celebrating holidays lies in their ability to recreate real-life festivity. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The attraction of festival-themed online games as an alternate way of celebrating holidays lies in their ability to recreate real-life festivity. Photo: Li Hao/GT

"Oh, no! What is this? Do not come near me!"

Shang Ling's voice trembled with tension and excitement as she battled a warrior in a black cloak with a jack-o'-lantern for a head on October 13.

The cloaked warrior is one of the new Halloween-themed characters recently released in Overwatch, a video game developed by US-based game developer Blizzard Entertainment for Halloween.

Shang, a 28-year-old graphic designer based in Ji'nan, Shandong Province, was among the early experiencers. As soon as the new version came out, she could not wait to see the difference.

"The overall color and tone were dark and scary; the supply crate was in the shape of a pumpkin, and a hero even had a pumpkin head. [Also, the] characters sometimes let out a savage howl," she said. "The special effects were amazing! It really felt like Halloween."

In recent years, many youngsters like Shang, are starting to celebrate festivals, such as Christmas, Valentine's Day and Halloween, which is in a few days, using virtual technology and platforms.

The main virtual resources are online games, live stream and virtual reality (VR) videos, the popularity of which lies in their ability to recreate real-life festivity, reach more people, and boost viewer enjoyment.

According to the young participants, celebrating holidays and events via virtual services allows them to surpass the limit of time and space and multiply their happiness. Experts say, the popularity of virtual celebrations has grown for a reason, and they run the risk of keeping people apart in real life.


Many Chinese youths enjoy festival-themed virtual games for their rich festive environment and sensory appeal. Photos: IC

Many Chinese youths enjoy festival-themed virtual games for their rich festive environment and sensory appeal. Photos: IC

Unlimited play

Shang used to dress up in costumes and attend parties to celebrate Halloween when she was studying for her bachelor's degree in the US. But as few people in China celebrate Halloween and the festival often falls on weekdays, it was impractical for her to throw parties, dress up and have fun.

She had almost given up all hope of ever celebrating Halloween again when, one week before Halloween 2015, she accidentally opened the Web page of a game site that had just launched its Halloween-themed offerings.

Out of curiosity, she logged into the game and entered a new world. The game was in orange and black, and it offered traditional Halloween activities like trick-or-treat in the form of missions where players could play a trick or wreak havoc if they do not get candy.

Shang became addicted to the game. She played it for at least three hours at a time and would play it every night when she returned home from work.

She kept up this habit for about a month. During that month, she felt like she was completely immersed in the Halloween atmosphere.

"It was even better than when I was in the US where the air of festivity could not last for over a week and most people just celebrated the festival for one night," she said.

"In the virtual world, the festive atmosphere was greatly prolonged, and I could take part in whichever activities I liked even on a weekday night."

The game also helped Shang feel less lonely because many players celebrated the festival with her either as partners or enemies on the missions.

"Either I was fighting for candy with my partner or trying to launch tricks on my opponent, I felt we were celebrating the festival together in our own way, regardless of where we were physically."

Since then, Shang has started to try games with different festival themes at different times of the year.

"I enjoy playing the games as they are not only entertaining but also enriched with cultural elements," she said.

Happiness multiplied

Zhu Xin, a 25-year-old Beijing-based secretarial assistant, started live streaming half a year ago. As Halloween is approaching, it occurred to her that she could do a Halloween makeup live stream.

She had seen a few video blogs on YouTube where many female vloggers shared their Christmas looks, so she thought it might also be fun to show others how she did her makeup for Halloween.

So, she launched her live stream page, "my Halloween makeup," two weeks ago.

"When I finished my makeup, I was just like a ghost, except for my orange lips," she said.

Zhu's Halloween live stream attracted hundreds of people, and some of her viewers even left comments saying they liked her video and would try live streaming during festivals.

Commenting on the number of hits she got for her video, Zhu said she was content.

"In real life, I could hardly reach dozens of people, let alone hundreds," she said.

"Knowing that many people appreciated it and were even inspired by me multiplies my happiness."

Besides Halloween, Zhu has also done a live video on Chinese Valentine's Day where she and her boyfriend played a game called "guess which part of your body this is."

It attracted almost 1,000 viewers, most of whom commented that they could not stop laughing throughout the entire video.

Zhu said before she tried live streaming to celebrate festivals, she did not actually celebrate them.

"Doing live videos gives me another opportunity to think about what each festival is really about because I always need to arrange different activities based on different themes," she said. "It makes me feel happy and even more fulfilled if my videos make people feel happy and reflect upon the true spirit of festivals."

Technology embedded

Qin Yu, a 20-year-old college student in Beijing, still remembers how excited he was last Halloween as he played Affected, an immersive VR game by UK-based game developer Fallen Planet Studios.

"It felt like I was physically in those dark and scary places where ghosts could shriek right into my ear at any time," he said. "Because of VR, the horrifying effect was dramatically intensified. My heart was beating very fast, and my hands were sweating. But isn't that Halloween all about?"

Virtual celebrations have changed Halloween for Qin. "The festival no longer just means pumpkins, candy and costumes to me," he said. "Now, it means real excitement."

Qin is thankful for the technology because, as he put it, the special effects that before could only be seen in movies are now ready to be experienced by average people like himself in real life.

He heard that for Halloween this year, YouTube had done surveys to find out the scariest weather, time, location, characters, and incidents and prepared a lot of VR videos that they claim will scare viewers to death.

"I cannot wait. I'm so going to watch those videos," he said.

According to Lin Xinyi, the marketing manager of a game development studio in Beijing, the primary reason virtual ways of celebrating festivals, especially online games, are gaining popularity in recent years is the growing interest in digital devices, like computers and mobile phones.

He said the festival-themed activities introduced in games are largely based on Western festivals because fewer Chinese celebrate them in real life, and the games act as an alternative platform for people who are interested to experience the freshness and fun.

He added that virtual games related to the theme of Chinese Spring Festival are rare as "people are too busy celebrating it in real life and thus do not have time for virtual celebrations."

Besides the lack of celebration in real life, he said the popularity of Western festivals in games is also due to people's eagerness to know more about foreign culture as more Chinese start to go abroad to study or travel and more Westerners come to China.

As more game developers take advantage of the business opportunities created by festivals, the pursuit of innovative ideas and perfecting existing services will be the focus of many.

"Therefore, it is foreseeable that celebrating festivals on virtual platforms will attract more people," said Lin.

However, he conceded that although celebrating festivals via virtual technology can be appealing, it has certain risks, with a major one being addiction. "Some people may get too caught up in the games and do not have time for gatherings with families or friends."

Lin added that as virtual technology becomes more popular, people's way of living will inevitably be affected.

"Many people find themselves addicted to virtual celebrations, and in daily life, interpersonal interaction also relies heavily on virtual platforms for some," he said. "It is a manifestation of the virtual world invading people's emotional space. People, thus, need to constantly remind themselves to try to keep a balance between the virtual world and real life before the former completely takes over from the latter."

Newspaper headline: Cyber celebrations


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