Patriot games

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-9 20:48:01

Gamers flock to the booth of online game Glorious Mission at China International Comics Games Expo in Shanghai on July 13, 2013. Photo: IC

Balls of fire and thick smoke fill the sky above the disputed islands known as Diaoyu to the Chinese and Senkaku to the Japanese. The tension increases as the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning heads to the East China Sea to "tell the Japanese they must return the stolen territory."

This is a battle scene from China's first military video game Glorious Mission designed by online game developer Giant Interactive Group (GIG) and developed jointly with the Nanjing Military Area Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) recently.

It aims to improve and strengthen players' awareness and knowledge of national defense, GIG Vice President Gu Kai told the Global Times.

"We need a game like this to man up our young men who grew up watching cartoons like Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf," Gu said. "Otherwise they might get eaten up by the big wolf."

The game was released at a sensitive time, a turbulent year when relations between China and Japan reached their lowest point in decades. The tension increased last year following the nationalization of the disputed islands by Japan, and China declaring an air-defense identification zone over the East China Sea. In late December, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine where some World War II war criminals are commemorated sent bilateral relations into deeper freeze.

The game has drawn great attention and controversy for targeting Japan as the ideal enemy. Some said that it might intensify tensions over the East China Sea, an allegation that Gu rejects.

"We are not targeting any specific country as an ideal enemy." he said. "My dream is to create a game where Chinese can be heroes."

In recent years, Chinese players have seen an increasing number of Chinese-made "red games" with a patriotic theme. However, many doubt that government-backed red games will become a mainstream trend.

Red tide

China had over 336 million online game players as of 2012. The typical profile of a Chinese player is male aged between 18 and 30, the perfect demographic for red games.

In the late 1990s when single-player games were on their way out and challenged by online video games, game developer Xishanju had already detected that there would be a market for red games due to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment.

In 1997 the company released a game titled Resistance War: Landmine Warfare. The game was set in 1942 in Zhejiang Province where the player takes on the role of a member of China's 8th Route Army attempting to wrest back Pingyang county from Japanese soldiers.

The idea came from a People's Daily's news report, in which four Chinese employees of a Japanese game developer said they quit after discovering that the games they were working on glorified Japanese militarism.

The Chinese game developer had its release ceremony at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and received a warm welcome from the local authority.

In response to criticism by some that they were making money out of patriotism, the developer said they thought a game based on a sensitive topic would sell better as "entertainment can't really be separated from politics."

In 2003, Shanghai-based ACSO studio released the video game titled Resistance War: Blood War in Shanghai. Players can shoot Japanese soldiers all the way from the Bund to the Japanese embassy during the anti-Japanese war. The game was available for free download.

Tang Yongjian, manager of public relations for Perfect World, an online game developer, told the Global Times that in the early days, red games were unable to compete in the market for long.

"Red games only make up a small part of the game industry. Without sponsorship from the government, many red games can't compete with other popular games," Tang said.

The three most popular online games in China are all foreign-made: BLESS, from South Korea; Guild Wars 2, also from South Korea; and EverQuest II, from Japan.

Among all the red games, Glorious Mission ranks top at over 2.6 million registered players, but coming in at No. 177 among 1,882 games, followed by Shining Sword, which is ranked at No. 876.

"Before Glorious Mission was available for the public, some people even wanted to join the army so that they could play the games," Gu claims.

Booming industry

For years, the Chinese government attacked online video games, saying they harmed young people's minds. In 2005, the government introduced a new system to combat addiction to online role-playing games. The system imposed penalties on players who spent over five hours on games by reducing the abilities of their characters.

Currently, the government is working on reducing the negative influence of foreign games by installing "core values" among the world's largest gamers.

In 2003, Shanghai-based gaming company Shengda created a game titled Learning from Lei Feng, a PLA soldier and a cultural icon of selflessness and modesty, which was promoted by the Shanghai Communist Youth League.

Instead of weapons or money, players are equipped with Mao Zedong's Quotations. When players complete their missions, which include helping people buy train tickets and escorting people to their homes during rainstorms, they are greeted by Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square.

Another game, Incorruptible Warrior, sponsored by the Disciplinary Department of the CPC Committee in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, requires players to kill corrupt officials and their mistresses.

Those games failed to win gamers over, as many complained the designs were "rough and poor." However, games set during the war against Japanese invasion have proven to be popular, just like the anti-Japanese war dramas that make up a third of the series shown on TV.

"Kill the devils if you are Chinese!" is the advertising slogan of Resistance War Online created by Shenzhen ZQGame in 2007. The game allows players to join resistance troops and defeat Japanese invaders. The company reportedly received over 15 million yuan in funding from the local government in 2010.

Glorious Mission also received full support from the military, ranging from military guidelines to storylines, said Gu, adding he was surprised the military would even want the game to become available to the public.

After all, it is a booming industry that earned over 60 billion yuan in 2012, up 35 percent from 2011, according to China Youth Association for Network Development.

Patriotic education

Another reason why the government is turning to producing such games is to teach "patriotic lessons," explains Tao Hongkai, a gaming addiction expert at Huazhong Normal University, adding that the game market is lacking in "healthy" games that represent true values.

"I usually don't encourage young people to play games as they might become addicted," Tao said. "But red games are another story because they are realistic and historically truthful."

Lan Tianming, a 23-year-old college student who plays red games, told the Global Times that it helps to change the way he sees the world.

"The most important thing about video games is that it makes you feel they are real, and then you start to believe the world it shows to you," Lan said. "It brings you thoughts and emotions."

The Chinese government is not the only one to have backed patriotic-themed video games. The US government also funds games to get young people interested. For example, America's Army, a series of video games developed by the US Army, aims to boost recruitment. The Russian government allows the Russian Military History Society to develop a government-funded game focused on the glorious history of the Russian army.

Foreign games, on the other hand, are not always that lucky on Chinese soil. Battlefield 4: China Rising designed by US company Electronic Arts, was reportedly banned, according to Forbes.

The game is set in 2020, and features a Chinese admiral who tries to overthrow the Chinese government with support from Russia, leading to a war between China and the US. An American hero finally manages to end the chaos by slaughtering Chinese soldiers.

China's Ministry of Culture slammed the game as "cultural invasion" and banned downloads, and China Military Online went further and called it "a threat to national security."

Liu Lin, a lawyer from Beijing Shuangli Law Firm, filed a lawsuit in 2012 against two foreign companies for developing games that insulted the dignity of all Chinese.

The game, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, was developed by IO Interactive in Denmark and purchased by Square Enix, a Japanese video gaming company. It is set in a shabby-looking Shanghai where Chinese people are objects to kill. The trial did not go ahead because the two companies issued a public apology.

"Any game that viciously vilifies Chinese people should be banned," Liu told the Global Times. "Games that give out 'negative energy' are harmful to players."

Gu agrees. "Chinese players have been brainwashed by foreign games that make China look bad. We need to let gamers know that Chinese can save the world too," he said.

This outlook is clearly reflected in Glorious Mission, where brave Chinese soldiers take over the disputed island.

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