Video Game in China: from niche to public

Joyce Shi

The launch of Nintendo’s new console “Tencent Nintendo Switch” in mainland China brings video games to some people who have never been part of the target audience of the console game industry before.

It was a bomb.
No one could predict that the collaboration between Nintendo and Tencent became such a success. If you go to any Tencent NS counter in Shanghai, you will see people gathering and playing games there. On the first day of launch, the console got sold for over 10,000 copies, and Nintendo’s stock price raised to the highest point ever among the past 19 months.

While this sudden shock, bringing more people to the gamer community, also brings conflicts and challenges to us, the “old gamers” who have been occupying this niche group for years.

First of all…Who are they? Who are we?

They, the targeted audience of Tencent Nintendo Switch, are portraited clearly: families, young people, kids and friends who meet each other in person and play games in a light way.

While the portrait of old gamers seems to be more mysterious. Who are we?

There are sure local events that celebrate the video game industry in China. But it seems that there are way more gamers who prefer to stay alone and only share the bond with other gamers online. We are known as our online ids and avatars. In our daily life, we can be students, husbands, daughters, engineers…But when playing games, we are only gamers. Games define our identity in a special way.

In comparison, when playing games with their families and friends, they are still who they are, just having fun with the people around them. In the Tencent NS ad, it is easy to see each character with an identity of “husband”, “wife”, “kid”, or “friend”. To the new gamers, games are merely a catalyst. It does not change one’s identity but just adds on to who one already is and makes life more fun.

While to the old gamers, we identify themselves and others as “gamers”, in which case game is the central theme.

What do they think of when we are talking about Nintendo Switch?

An independent reporter and gamer known as “dagoupz” posted an article on sina weibo recording the observation and talk he had with people at several Nintendo Switch counters in Shanghai.

He mentioned that the online gamer community mostly consists of those who already know the industry well, while those whom he saw at the counter were mostly people who wanted to try console games for the first time. In the article, dagoupz mentioned that he saw mainly parents buying consoles for their kids, and young couples who wanted to play games together.
“I know that there are fewer choices compared to the foreign version. But we don’t really need that. I’d rather choose something that is more convenient,” said a father in his 40s. He himself owns a PlayStation3 bought long ago. Though he does not play games anymore, he still would like to try, and mainly buy it for his daughter, knowing that the collaboration between Nintendo and Tencent makes him feel reliable.
Other people who have not decided on whether to buy one or not will also gather to just try playing games on the console. Some said to dagoupz that they had played games when they were young, and hadn’t been engaging in the new trend for years. This time, somehow, they reestablished interest in games and wanted to buy one to see how it’s like.

His observation fits well with what Tencent planned with its target audience: families, friends, young couples…They don’t necessarily need to become “gamers” in order to enjoy gaming.
What makes us reject the out-comers?

Of course, there are plenty of old gamers welcoming the potential expansion of their community. While there are also some voices challenging the newcomers, saying the way they treat games is sacrilegious.
To those people, playing games is an action that requires lots of energy and a sense of ceremony. When we are playing games, it is as if we are appreciating an art piece, and engaging ourselves into another world, a world of fantasy. Playing games is no longer merely a form of entertainment, and what we are looking for is not joy only. We would like to suffer, to experience all the subtle moments and finally come to an end of one meaningful journey. We devote a lot.

And as the gamer community in China, close enough to a subculture group, has often been niche, there is almost an agreement on that. Those who do not agree on it don’t call themselves gamers.

However, this is not the first time that some gamers unwelcome others, even if we are in the same community. There are always people who think what they play is the best, hence they are the most superior. Gamers have this relationship of“looking down on others” since long ago, even if in the end, everyone is disdained in some way.
This time, When it comes to the new-comers, some of us seem to find a target that we all can agree to look down on.
Since the new gamers are lack of knowledge that seem so common to us, they tend to ask “dumb” questions. “How to redeem points after purchasing a game?” “What is DLC?“ “What do you mean by…Oh, go search for it myself? Why can’t you just tell me?”
It is easy to get annoyed, even if it’s not the intention. For long, the gamer community has the unspoken rule of learning things oneself before asking or getting help. This time, however, we are facing a huge amount of people rushing into the community, who of course have no idea how we maintain the balance of it.
It is also worth mention that one crucial reason why some gamers are so against the collaboration between Tencent and Nintendo this time is that Tencent plagiarised many times years ago when making their own games. I will not expand on what exactly Tencent did, but it is sure something every single gamer will know, and even a shame to us.
If you search on any social media, there will be people being “anti-Tencent”. “They only want to make money. They have no passion for games and don’t care about making good games at all.” Said those people.
Tencent seems to be the one making “fast-food games”. The lack of information in the Chinese market and the abundant financial resources allowed Tencent almost to create a monopoly, hence they could make games that are quick, easy and facing audiences that are non-gamers. The hates towards Tencent directly result in the resistance towards the expansion of the gamer community this time.
Meme of Gamers’: the Nostalgic, Celebrated History and Culture.

Oh, and, how do we feel united when we have such different languages? By saying languages, I mean the way gamers communicate online. Gamers love to use memes and “neta” from games when chatting. To others, the pictures we send probably make no sense. But it is an important characteristic of a subculture (let’s call it that way for now) group operating mainly online. Only those with abundant knowledge of video games can understand, which means only experienced gamers are welcomed in the chat. Otherwise, how can you even engage in the conversation?

The internet culture shapes the gamer community in a way that makes it less welcoming to others. This aspect, compared to a public local event, truly makes some newcomers feel the distance. It will probably take a lot of time and effort for them to enter the mainstream of the community.

These low-resolution memes we use somehow differ from the ones often seen from a regular definition of internet culture. Those memes are up to date and replaced quickly once there is a new trend emerging. While the ones we gamers have in our collections usually refer to some classical moments that we all know from the video game industry. Sure we love to make memes about new games, but somehow it’s the old ones that are used more frequently.
I asked some gamers to share memes they have and created a shared album. From the album, I see that the most frequently used and the most popular ones are probably from some old and well-known video games series. We celebrate our culture and history this way.
Despite the game itself is famous, the difference between knowing the game and understating the meme is like having heard of Pikachu and having been playing the Pokemon series for all generations. So even if the meme may look familiar to some non-gamers, they often feel unrelated at all.
A little add-ons, when there was no official Chinese translations for games back in the days, there were local groups who would Google translate the game from a foreign version to Chinese and upload the translated version online for people to play. From that a lot of memes nowadays get emerged. The shabby translations and mosaic graphics become things only the old gamers understand.
At the end of the day, this old, ugly, black and white mosaic makes us recall all the treasured moments we’ve experienced as gamers.
Deal with it, gamers.

But…did the new gamers do anything wrong? Or did we? No for both questions, I will say. But as the bomb suddenly exploded, chaos is unavoidable.

There is still a long way ahead for Chinese gamers and the industry.
It is still too soon to review whether it’s good or bad that gaming goes public. To the industry, sure it is. Only with enough people willing to get engaged in gaming and to purchase games will there be growth in the market itself. While there are still people who would prefer to keep the gamer community small. Between us and them, conflicts and cultural shocks are unavoidable, but also there can be an opportunity to form a more diverse yet balanced gamer community.
Gain experience from it, gamers, as every time we see Stage Clear on our screens and our characters grow. The 2010s is our Stage 1 and we sure have more stages in the future. I believe that solving the challenge and inviting the new gamers to join our party will make us an even more vitalised community.

I hope both the gamer community and the game industry in China can grow healthily after all the struggles, and hope games can still be the pure, uncontaminated land for gamers.

This post speaks to the meme culture, which is also mentioned in this article.
Though the theme is very different, it is still interesting to see how similar forms of visuals exist in completely different contents.