The Role of Video Games in Chinese Youth Culture

September 30th, 2010

We’re all aware of the role video games have within a US and European cultures, but rarely do we know or hear very much about the importance of video games in other countries. In China, where I live, video games play a huge role in modern culture, particularly youth culture, and much of its effects I’ve noticed first-hand at the school I work. Video games are an outlet in a life otherwise full of great social pressure and hard work. In this regard video games take on a completely different form than what we may be comfortably use to.

In my school, we have an area with roughly 22 dedicated computers for students to use in their breaks or for parents who want to kill time while their child is in class. In a recent staff meeting, one of my colleagues complained about the negative influence the “computer lab” has over students. The teacher griped that many students would rush upstairs to play games on the computers during the 15 minute down time punctuating each hour of study and then subsequently loose track of time and arrive late to the second period. Obviously this is a real problem for our classes when students arrive 5 minutes to even half an hour late as they have done, and in fact regularly do, in some of my classes. (The half an hour example was, however, a once-off instance). Other teachers chimed in to the discussion, citing video games as a negative influence upon the children. The discussion moved away from the lab and into how every male student invariably uses the phrase “game over” instead of “die”, how video games seem to instil a violent tendency in some of the boys or how students could surprisingly reference a rich English vocabulary for firearms and weapons.

These are in fact real problems and as a teacher, they impede on my role as an educator. Never mind the irritation caused from comments like “teacher you’re game over”. However, video games, just like alcohol, film, junk food, pornography and literature are largely innocent on their own and further, it as not as though we can simply remove them from society. It is how society prevents possible issues that may arise from these things that is of larger importance. In which case, these issue is more of an indictment of China’s wider social problems as opposed to an intrinsic harm of the video game medium*.

*It should be noted that, equally, there are some issues on the other side of the fence too, regarding the design of maliciously addictive games.

In order to deal with the massive amount of children being educated in schools across China, the Chinese government employs heavy standardisation largely through the means of traditional examinations. Examinations play such an important role in Chinese education, culminating in what is called the gaokao 高考 (high test). The gaokao is the end-of-high-school/university-entrance examination sat around the nation every June. In the Chinese education system, your score in the gaokao represents your entire academic worth and ultimately acts to place you somewhere within China’s hierarchy of tertiary institutions. Get a good score in the gaokao and you may be accepted into one of the country’s better universities, giving you major advantage when lined up against the innumerable number of applicants gunning for the same job come 4 years times. Get a bad score and your prospects in life are all but shattered.

So obviously tests, and particularly the gaokao, are a big deal. Fail at the gaokao and your fate at the bottom of the ladder is partially sealed. Mass population and a system of standardisation built around examination and thereby ROTE learning are of great detriment to the development of critical and creative thinking, the arts as well as quality of life. And this is where video games come in.

In this world that I’ve just painted, escapism is a precious commodity. And in this modern world, nothing does escapism quite as well as video games (or the internet for that matter). With such an imbalance between work and pleasure, it’s no wonder my students are so memorised by video games. They desperately need an outlet and when they finally get it, the worth is invaluable. In this light, we can somewhat empathise with the reports we hear about Chinese people and video game/internet addiction.

The imbalances between work and relaxation are perfectly viewable from within the classroom. The majority of my students enter the class tired and exhausted. We have classes for kids that are 7-8 years-old which run until 9pm at night. With an open-minded foreign teacher replacing their unruly Chinese teacher, they treat our school like a social club, a reprieve from hard work. This is perhaps the reason why they’re so reluctant to knuckle down in our classes.

Another side of this social issue is the lack of moderation over what children play. If you thought the generation gap between you and your parents was a big deal, consider the changes that have occurred throughout China over the past 30 years. Parents of Chinese children today grew up in the decade Chairman Mao died, the Gang of Four were imprisoned and Deng Xiao Ping introduced sweeping economic reform. Thirty years later and their children are growing up in a world of mass population and accelerated capitalism on a scale the world has never seen where the rich are enormously wealthy and the poverty-stricken incredibly poor. The generation gap is massive and a significant part of that is the digital divide. Chinese parents, unlike their western counterparts, have had so little background experience with technology, that monitoring their children’s consumption habits of digital media is a challenge entirely new to them. When you have the combination of the parents unfamiliarity and the children’s almost religious like worship for video games, given that they can get access, the potential consequences for abuse are quite serious. Moderating children’s play time and actively engaging with a game together with a child is an important social responsibility threatened by the wide digital divide.

In our world, video games are a form of escapism from life’s troubles. In China, where the youth face enormous pressure in academic life due to overwhelming importance of the Gaokao and the immense amount of competition as a result of the large population, escapism is all the more precious and thereby so too are video games. Since video games are a means to escapism, they are often pinpointed as the reason behind social unrest. However, video games highlight the lack of reprieve from work in Chinese culture, bringing to light social issues such as the need for mediation between work and pleasure, the enormous digital divide and the phenomena of media addiction.

Overseas Gaming Journal: Survival Guide

August 9th, 2010

When living overseas, we often have to make concessions for the comfort activities we enjoyed when at home. Maintaining our interest and hobbies is a way for us to re-connect with an identity that can sometimes feel suffocated by the new environment and its surrounding culture. Currently, I’m working abroad in China, so for me, playing video games is a way for me to temporarily relieve myself of my predetermined role as an outsider, a foreigner. Video games, as with long distance phone calls and family photos, are comfort food for the soul, and that’s pretty important. Maintaining a hobby like video games abroad is rather tricky though, so I’ve written a list of suggestions that may help others in their relocation overseas.

Bring a Portable Console

A no-brainer, huh? Personally, I chose to bring my original DS along since it can play both DS and GBA games and I have games on both console to complete. The carts are quite small, so the DS is a relatively low fuss option if you’re willing to drag the media itself overseas. I didn’t invest in a carry case for my gear (I play portable games at home), so snap-lock Glad bags have proven sufficient for storying my cartridges. The DSi has an online store for downloadable DSiWare games, so there’s incentive to bring the newer model overseas, if you’re not interested in GBA functionality. Whether the online store still works overseas I can’t say, so it may be a good idea to stock up on games prior to leaving.

The PSP is another option, but one which can be less favourable if you’re less willing to bust the firmware. The UMD discs are a tricky to cart around in comparison to the DS game cards and the open-faced system isn’t exactly portable-friendly. Fortunately, the PSP does allow you to install games onto the device, but with PSP games ranging from 500mbs to 1.6gb in size, the option isn’t so ideal for storing multiple games.

The PSPgo, on the other hand, is an ideal solution with its 16gb harddrive. Topped with PSN classics and PSP Minis and you’ve got yourself a handy travel companion without the need for excess baggage. There’s also travel software like the Passport to [Europe] series and Talkman [Asian and Europe].

In an email, Sony Australia believe that the Playstation Store should be accessible while in China (and thereby most countries), so long as there is no interference from the web filter (a VPN is an easy solution for the latter). I personally would recommend modding your PSP for back ups. However, tread carefully as modable PSP models are no longer in production and the majority of new PSPs floating around on eBay only support temporary modification in the flash memory which is extremely fiddly.

Your iPod/iPhone doubles as a Portable Games Console

The iPod is probably the most user-friendly device for playing games overseas. It’s ultra portable, games are cheap, but above all else, you can access any of the iTunes stores from any country in the world. If you already own an iPod or iPhone and have iTunes and a computer/a wireless connection for internet access, then there’s little reason for your life overseas to hinder your mobile gaming.

Laptop, rip isos, use steam, plain installs, patches

Like the iPod/iPhone, a laptop, even an older laptop, is a great way to stay in tune with gaming. My Macbook has a Windows XP partition which houses my Steam collection, games installed completely to the harddrive, isos of games which won’t run without the CD/DVD, games patched to run without a CD/DVD in the drive, files from Good Old Games, some emulators and games (my Amiga 500 video outputs are busted) and a hoist of indie games. All in all, I have roughly 30-40 games on my Windows partition, enough to last any one a long time.

For Steam, I recommend downloading your games at home and then setting the service to ‘offline mode’ just in case anyone at home decides to boot up Steam and you’re account is suspend etc.

Web Games

Maybe you haven’t considered it, but there are literally bazillions of online games which can be enjoyed at home or in an internet cafe. NewGrounds and Kongregate are great sites for free flash games. Given everything else I’ve set up over here, I don’t often play browser-based games, but that’s by no means an assertion that they’re not worth your investment.


Since I’m living in China I’ve decided to secure my connection and avoid the internet filter by purchasing a year long membership to a virtual private network service. Depending on the country you’re living in, content may be filtered by the government and a popular target for internet filtering are games websites. Not just news and information websites like Kombo, but Flash game websites, websites for independent developers and general downloading sites which offer video game content.

Accept the Indie Scene

When I am away from the home consoles I like to veg out on indie games, because they’re just so worth your time. Here’s a couple of links to get you started.


On my side of the fence, being away from home offers up the opportunity to try out games which might otherwise be forgotten when at home, and there’s something very rewarding about that. I’m not a big PC gamer and I’m not as invested in the indie scene as I’d like to be, so living abroad allows me to remedy these issue, and along with the comfort food games provide, there’s really no sacrifice to my gaming diet.

Miyamoto Quote on Cultural Difference

September 9th, 2009

This year, research has become an increasingly more integral part of my writing procedure. Just today actually I researched my way out of purchasing Prince of Persia (2008). Good on me. I’ve also integrated my research habit into the posts themselves under the ‘Additional Readings’ heading. Backlogging too has become another significant part of my reading/writing habbit as of late. I’ve backlogged on Metal Gear comics and Retronauts posts. Now I’m doing a bit of both with Iwata Asks.

Iwata Asks is simply that, Mr Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, asking questions to developers within NCL’s Japanese offices. Such insight into the development of products such as Punch Out!!, Wii Sports Resort, Nintendo DSi and Super Mario Galaxy are valuable as they are obtuse to Nintendo’s prior stringency to divulging such insider information, rare exceptions omitted. These interviews are therefore akin to golden tickets into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

I recommend that you take a read through sometime. The background stories are always interesting, of course, but the interviews too are very light-hearted, constant streams of laughter. For now though, I’ve plucked a quote from the Link’s Crossbow Training interview with Mr Miyamoto, creator of Mario, Zelda, Pikmin etc.

“If there is something simple which someone can find enjoyable, the same joy can be experienced by anyone on earth, I believe. That’s what I always have in mind when I am creating games. For example, when we were working on Wii Sports, Americans kept telling me that there was no way that games this simple would sell in the States. When Wii Sports finally went on sale though, the games included appeared to have even stronger appeal in the US than they did in Japan. When you see a phenomenon like that occur right in front of you, you start to see that there really isn’t any difference in what Asians or what Westerners find enjoyable.”