Issue of the Week: Human Rights, Personal Growth, Economic Opportunity
How China censors the video game world, The Long Read, The Guardian
One of the more important cultural paradoxes of our times is that the same thing can be both ubiquitous and rarely discussed in the forefront of the public square at the same time:
This matters, for among other reasons, because as The Guardian pointed out in its Long Read this week, video games are “the world’s largest entertainment industry” and “an entire generation is learning about the world through video games.”
Wow. No big deal to talk about there.
But where once we did, now not so much.
Normally, this would seem more than odd, but in what have seemed the oddest years ever recently, to put it mildly, the once important discussions about video games receded to the background, for many reasons. Mainly, in our view, for the same reason that so many other things did–drowned out by the unparalleled toxic political noise, which itself was created by and further created a dumbing down of–everything.
The Guardian piece is a welcome reminder of the importance of video games, in many dimensions.
And it focuses on China, for good reason,
As it notes:
“China is the world’s largest market for the world’s largest entertainment industry. Today, the number of Chinese gamers, about 740 million, is bigger than the entire populations of the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK combined. Its domestic market is worth more than $45bn a year.”
The piece focuses on Chinese censorship, yet serves as a kind of primer on the whole industry, and reminds that the US and Europe have had the historical front spots in influence, often pushing their own less than praiseworthy objectives, as have others.
It also shows the interrelationship of nations, corporations, money and public opinion.
And in focusing on China as a rising power, the largest global market, and an increasing censor for its anti-democratic political and nationalistic agenda, the piece does an excellent job of presenting facts without bias per se.
Here it is:
By Oliver Holmes, The Long Read, The Guardian, London, 15 July 2021
China’s video game market is the world’s biggest. International developers want in on it – but its rules on what is acceptable are growing increasingly harsh. Is it worth the compromise?
In the years after it was founded in 1999, the Swedish video game company Paradox Interactive quietly built a reputation for developing some of the best, and most hardcore, strategy games on the market. “Deep, endless, complex, unyielding games,” is how Shams Jorjani, the company’s chief business development officer, describes Paradox’s offerings. Most of its biggest hits, such as the middle ages-themed Crusader Kings, or Sengoku, in which you play as a 16th-century Japanese noble, were loosely based on history.
But in 2016, Paradox decided to try something a little different. Its new game, Stellaris, was a work of sprawling science fiction, set 200 years in the future. In this virtual universe, players could explore richly detailed galaxies, command their own fusion-powered starship fleets and fight with extraterrestrials to expand their space empires. Gamers could choose to play as the human race, or one of many alien species. (My personal favourite dresses in a lavish golden cape and has a head like an otter’s, with soft reddish-brown fur, dark eyes and a black snout. Another type of alien is a sentient crystal that eats rocks.)
The game was an instant hit, selling more than 200,000 copies in its first 24 hours. Later that year, Paradox decided to take Stellaris to China. This would mean navigating the country’s notoriously tricky censorship rules, but given that China was, at the time, home to an estimated 560 million gamers, the commercial appeal was irresistible.
Paradox had been burned in China before. In 2004, the ministry of culture had banned another one of its releases, Hearts of Iron, confiscating CD-Roms and shutting down websites that sold the game. It wasn’t hard to see why. Hearts of Iron was set during the second world war and touched on numerous sensitive issues – not least by portraying Tibet as a sovereign country. The Chinese ministry of culture accused the game of “distorting history and damaging China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. (China argues that Tibet has been an inextricable part of its territory for centuries.)
The company was not concerned about a repeat of 2004. Unlike Hearts of Iron, Stellaris was a game set in the distant future, involving intergalactic travel and aliens. Still, to help navigate the Chinese market, the developer partnered with the Chinese megacorp Tencent, the biggest game publisher in the world. As part of the deal, Tencent bought 5% of its shares. Paradox was so confident of success that in December 2016, it took the unusual step of announcing that it would launch in China even before a licence had been granted.
“From our perspective, it should have been largely problem-free because it doesn’t deal with any nations, Chinese or otherwise,” said Jorjani. It did not pan out that way. “Working through the ministry of culture, the censorship is not a super-clear process,” said Jorjani. “It’s a bit of a black box.” Five years after its big announcement, Stellaris has never officially launched in China.
China is the world’s largest market for the world’s largest entertainment industry. Today, the number of Chinese gamers, about 740 million, is bigger than the entire populations of the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK combined. Its domestic market is worth more than $45bn a year. Yet, for decades, China has had a stop-start relationship with the entire industry.