China’s murder mystery rooms draw on red history, traditional culture
Inside the game
Published: Jul 25, 2021 07:28 PM
Promotional materials for <em>Game of Shark</em> Photos: Courtesy  of iQIYI

Promotional materials for Game of Shark Photo: Courtesy of iQIYI

Promotional materials for <em>Game of Shark</em> Photos: Courtesy  of iQIYI

Promotional materials for Game of Shark Photo: Courtesy of iQIYI

Merging traditional Chinese culture, red themes and immersive experiences, the multi billion yuan live action role-playing game industry in China has been seeking out more creative means to further increase the appetite of young Chinese for murder mystery-themed escape rooms.

Following the trend toward themes involving traditional culture is Game of Shark, a reality TV program that invites famous celebrities to take part in a live action murder mystery. 

"Different from similar shows, we've come up with a brand-new immersive experience with more details, better sound effects and unique editing techniques, and more importantly, stories with a traditional cultural background," show director Yu Hangying said at a fan event for the show on Tuesday. 

The first episode of the series, which aired on Chinese streaming site iQIYI on July 10, presented a story based on traditional Chinese Kunqu Opera, a form of ancient Chinese music drama from Kunshan, East China's Jiangsu Province.

The reason for choosing a theme based on Kunqu Opera, according to Yu, came from a sense of "responsibility to keep promoting this kind of traditional culture among young Chinese people in the form of a TV show."

"In order to make the plot more realistic so audiences would become more involved in solving the case at home, we actually invited two actors from the Jiangsu Kunqu Opera Troupe to perform a Kunqu opera as part of the plot," added Yu.

In China, live action murder mysteries are called juben sha, or "script murder." They usually involve a group of two to 10 participants putting on costumes and playing different characters to solve a crime together. 

The genre didn't really take off until the Chinese variety program Who's The Murder popularized it in 2016. Since then, the industry has been constantly coming up with innovative game modes to bring in customers. 

Apart from the innovative TV program, murder mystery role-playing venues have been turning to patriotic red-themed stories, in which players can participate, for example, a story set during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). 

Just like red movies, red murder mystery games have also swept the hearts of young people, especially as 2021 marks the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.

The industry is expected to continue growing, with the number of venues in China expected to reach 60,000 by the end of 2021.

An owner of a live action role-playing venue told the Global Times that "the industry was quite prosperous last year as it kept attracting more people to invest. However, this is also a very competitive industry and only 5 to 10 percent of all venues nationwide have been profitable since the beginning of this year."

Meanwhile, the popularity of the murder mystery genre has led to an increasing number of online apps with that theme, a trend that was further boosted by the pandemic.

In May 2018, the I am Mystery app was launched. Since then, a variety of online apps with a murder mystery theme, such as The Great Detective and The Script King, have also received widespread attention, with multiple top apps laying claim to 8 million and 10 million users during the pandemic.

"You can't normally ask all of your friends out to a script murder venue at the same time. And I'm not a fan of playing with strangers. I'd rather play with my friends through apps," Zou, a script murder enthusiast, told the Global Times.

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