Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tibetans Fair Game In China

A new online game in China is feeding off the recent nationalist upsurge over the uprising in Tibet by offering rewards for ‘patriotic’ gamers with the suggestion that they are killing ‘Tibetan separatists’.

In the game, participants are required to track down and kill an evil force called ‘Zang-Du’ “hiding in the northern region”, the gaming literature says. The name – Zang-Du – is a play on words: it sounds like the Chinese words for ‘Tibetan independence’, but can also be read, as the literature does, as “Concealing Dangerous Drugs”.

But diehard gamers know what the name game implies. Says Houston Wu, a Shenzhen gamer, “The intended message is: ‘Kill Tibetan separatists and win rewards’, and all of us know it.”

In the promotional material, the company that offers this game is less coy about turning on the jingoistic rhetoric and pitching an anti-Tibetan line.

“We support the Olympics with our unique online game content against Tibetan independence,” it says. “We provide new services for China’s youth to vent their bilious rage.”

It also calls on “patriotic players around the world to spread the true red heart of patriotism, support the sacred flame and oppose Tibetan independence.” A gamer who kills Zang-Du also gets rewarded with a ‘certificate of patriotism’.

This isn’t of course the first instance of popular ‘art’ imitating life — or even of online games encouraging gratuitous violence in the virtual world.

The latest release of the action-adventure video game Grand Theft Auto IV has been criticised as violent and profane, and perhaps of condoning drunken driving’. An earlier version of that game depicted Hare Krishna devotees as victims of some other mindless form of violence.

Sociologists have long criticised the violence depicted in online games as contributory factors to real-life violence. The 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in the US was orchestrated by two students, who were believed to be obsessed with violent games. Families of victims in that shooting initiated lawsuits against manufacturers of games like Doom.

In a 2001 study on the effect of violent video games on children’s behaviour, psychologists CA Anderson and BJ Bushman offered empirical evidence to link online violence to aggression in children.

Yet, for all its attempts to tap into resurgent Chinese nationalism, it’s not clear how popular the Zang-Du game will be. Online polls on gaming websites appear to indicate that it’s not exactly a big hit. (DNA)

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