A ‘two-dimensional’ subculture

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/23 17:13:39

As anime, comics and games continue to become more mainstream, teens and preteens are setting new trends in the market

A young girl dressed as a character from the popular Chinese mobile game Onmyoji. Photo: IC

Nan Haozhang, 12, and Lu Tianqi, 11, are classmates and close friends. But more importantly, they are soldiers fighting alongside each other in the virtual world of Tencent's multiplayer battle game King of Glory.

Every day after they finish their homework, the two spend an hour on the game trying to upgrade their ranks. As the game prohibits children under 13 to play for more than one hour each day, the two said they are anxiously "looking forward to turning 18 so they can play more."

Nowadays, everybody knows one or two "two-dimensional" people, or people who are enthusiastic about the virtual world that is constructed by the anime, comic and games (ACG) culture. The culture used to be a niche but as the community has grown and relevant facilities have been developing over time, being passionate about ACG is no longer a rare hobby and it has become as common as liking to watch movies.

As the forerunners in the community are already in their late 20s and 30s, people and the market start to look to the younger generations who are becoming fans of ACG, the teenagers and preadolescents who grew up under the influence of the culture.

In an attempt to learn the latest trends in the community and to explore the directions that the subculture is heading in, Metropolitan has talked to several preadolescents about their preferences when it comes to animation and games, how and if they spend money on their hobby and what they think of the ACG subculture.

How they are different

When it comes to animation, Nan and Lu's preferences go different ways. Nan likes domestic works such as The Pleasant Goat and the Big Big Wolf, Bonnie Bear and Magical Fairy Barara, while Lu prefers Japanese animation such as Naruto and One Piece, both of which have gained great popularity in China.

Although they are both into animation, Nan and Lu do not consider themselves "two-dimensional" people because they think the label sounds too unrealistic. "We are realists," Lu said.

For them, the biggest difference between themselves and the older generation in the ACG community is that the younger people enjoy higher quality works.

"For instance, I still play Contra (a video game series launched in 1987 produced by Konami). But my uncle and his peers played it on a huge machine and the game had poor pixel quality. Now, [the new versions of the game] feel super real," Nan said.

According to a Sina Weibo report released in June on "two-dimensional" users, the community is huge, consisting of 153 million people that account for 20.9 percent of the entire Net user base in China. Those between the ages of 23 and 30 account for 37.6 percent of the users, and those between 18 and 22 account for 31.9 percent of the users. Users under the age of 18 account for 15.4 percent and the number is growing. 

But for young players like Lu, one's playing skills matter the most in the world of games not their age. Lu thinks it is fine for adults to still enjoy playing games.

"If they like to play, there should be no limit on age," he said.

"For the 'indoor nerds' who play games every day, there are ones who play well and are worshiped as the 'gods' [of the game by other players] and there are also ones who are too weak."

Compared to the older generations, preadolescents grow up under the influence of the ACG culture and enjoy better quality ACG products. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The cool kids

Jin Zaizai is only 11, but she has already been an addicted Minecraft player for seven years. The Swedish sandbox game has become very popular worldwide since it was first released in 2009.

Jin not only plays the game, but she and her twin brother run a Youku (video-sharing site) account together to share short videos of themselves playing Minecraft.

In her mind, anybody, either in or out of the ACG community, who is not familiar with popular games like Minecraft is behind and outdated.

Jin said she hates animation and cartoon films that are aimed at audiences her age and feels that adults often underestimate what children want and what they think about.

"All of them (the animations) are about 'somebody is caught by bad people so let's go save them.' It is always the bad people versus the good people, and it's always the underdogs who win in the end, which is so boring. I would watch them if they let the bad people win."

Although she is addicted to playing mobile games, Jin also refuses to call herself a member of the ACG community, which consists mostly of people older than her.

"We are not 'two-dimensional' people. We are the new human beings or in other words, children," she said.

To her, a typical "two-dimensional" person is a dorky "uncle" around 35 years old that does not know "who they are" or "what they are doing."

"They are like, 'the people in those comics are so great, and I want to be like them' - that is corny," she said.

New money

As King of Glory becomes a popular game among different age groups, there have been complaints, mostly from players in their late teens or 20s, about how younger players are holding teams back with their immature skills and eventually ruin the game.

Sixth-grade pupil Liang Yuting, 12, thinks the stereotype is untrue.

"I never hold my team back. I can't say that I am the best, but I have won in combat against top players," he said.

"We are young, so we are faster and more vigilant." 

However, Liang said he and many of his classmates are cutting themselves off from King of Glory. The major reason for Liang is that he cannot afford to play too many games, as he is already splitting his limited allowance on four games.

"When you start to like one of the heroes (combating characters in the game), you want to spend money and buy outfits for them," he said.

Liang recalls that two years ago when he first started to play online games, he guessed his parents' passwords and bought credits for the games, for which he got scolded by his parents and teacher. Since then, he has been spending his allowance on online games, having spent an average of 2,500 yuan ($379) on each game to date, which is impressive to many adult players.

The preadolescents already show potential in consuming ACG products. Liu Yanyan, CEO of AcFun, a video-sharing site rooted in the ACG community, said that as the post-1980s generations are not willing to spend and the post-2000s do not have the ability to consume yet, the post-1990s generation has become the major consumer in the ACG business. And as these preadolescents grow up, there could be big changes to the industry, the National Business Daily reported.

Economically, the ACG industry is growing fast. According to the 2016 Annual Report on the Development of China's Animation Industry, the gross output reached 113.1 billion yuan, and it has been estimated to reach 150 billion in 2017.

For Liang, games are not just one of his hobbies he spends money on; they are also his choice of career path.

"My dream is to become a live-streaming broadcaster of League of Legends," he said. Now he only has a dozen followers on his broadcasting account, but he has high hopes for becoming a professional cyber athlete.



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