The gaming market is worth $99.6 billion and a quarter of that comes from China. It is the biggest games market in the world, even though its games have yet to hit the global big time. If Chinese games go global, it could be rebranded as a tech leader.
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Gaming is escapism. Role player games (RPGs) are the most popular. You pick your form, traits and powers, the world you battle through. You are the agent of your own fate. Wherever they live, gamers can escape into an alternative reality. In China, where the internet, even instant messaging, at once offers new freedoms but is heavily censored, the need for control and escapism can be felt more.
Gaming is connection. The explosion of massive multi-player online role playing games (MMORPGs) signals that even online, in fantastical worlds of Tauren and Night Elves, we look for human connection. In World of Warcraft, ‘guilds’, those permanent groups of players that band together to go on adventures, are hugely popular. Specific social rules, IRL (sorry, in-real-life) friendships and relationships are made, sometimes across country borders. In China, where one-child families, traditional academic values and state control is widespread, the need for social connection and rebellion can be more intense.
Gaming is self-expression. For players and developers, gaming represents a new world. Take Pixpil, a small games studio based in Shanghai – it only hires ‘partners’, understanding that every new employee must feel invested in the company to feel fulfilled there. Seasun Games call their culture ‘Big 5’ because they are forever in the fifth year of university. For a new generation, there is a stark contrast to the industrialised work practices of an old China.
Yinchaun, a Chinese ‘smart city’ was chosen as the site of the biggest sporting final of its kind. The sport? The League of Legends. Over 200 million spectators were captivated by the world’s best gamers. In the city's surrounding grasslands, nomadic people still tend to their herds.
China is changing. The government are starting to recognise gaming’s incredible growth potential and cultural significance. They are lifting the ban on games consoles, introducing the idea of ‘dianzi jingji’ (healthy gaming), investing in innovation like training developers to learn from new tech start-ups. Gaming could be China’s next big win.