China's Newest Hit Game 'Genshin Impact' Censors Any Mention of Hong Kong

Genshin Impact, a free-to-play action RPG, pulled off the largest-ever global launch of a game from a Chinese developer last week. In many ways it feels like the future of gaming, for better or for worse, and the latest development lands squarely in the "worse" pile: Genshin Impact censors any mention of Hong Kong or Taiwan.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xg8njz/chinas-newest-hit-game-genshin-impact-censors-any-mention-of-hong-kong

I’m going to try to bring this convo back a bit after some of the comments made by Austin and Gita on the pod Monday and this seems the only real place to do that. My intention is definitely not to turn this into a staff criticism thing but more trying to have a discourse about Genshin and Chinese games and how we should and shouldn’t engage with and criticize games based on their politics and laws of the countries they are based in.

I feel like they (despite Gita’s comment saying otherwise) are doing some slight whataboutism when they were discussing the double standard people seem to have with this game. Basically saying people aren’t out there complaining about COD having Reagan or FIFA having the same gacha mechanics. And that developers in China have to play by China’s rules so what do we expect from them?

First I would argue that people can care about both Chinese politics and human rights and the human rights violations of our own government. I understand that people in America are in a better position to influence American politics but does that preclude us from engaging in human rights violations around the world? It kinda feels like a bible quote, something like, “first remove the stick from your eye before trying to remove the sliver from your brother’s”. Which to me, absolutely is whataboutism.

I’m not saying they’re 100% wrong personally, I think there’s a point that’s somewhat fair here but it also feels like Genshin is jus a game that Austin really really likes and that FIFA is not. It kind of feels like they’re giving Genshin a slight pass because it’s a game they really like. I really like it too honestly. I’m a bit torn from that also.

I Haven’t spent money on the game yet and I’d have a tough time justifying it since I don’t feel right about supporting any Chinese developer since it directly contributes to China in a way that supporting US companies doesn’t seem to. Is that misguided? What do others think?

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I think they’re reaction is less forgiving this game its sins and more a complaint about how shitty Dudebro gamers can be towards something.

Regardless of who is in bed with which country’s military industrial complex, I don’t think #gamers are all that sincere about their issues with Chinese game companies. I got some comments when I was talking about Banner of the Maid online that “Chinese games suck”. It is a bad look to dismiss a whole country’s artistic output regardless of that country’s politics.

Plus, for many of these people, isn’t like they give two fucks about Hong Kong or even know who the Uyghur people are, those news reports justify their shitty xenophobia. I am completely suspicious of anybody’s motives when they focus all their hate on a Chinese game for being Chinese.

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This is such a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, right? Like, I think most reasonable people can agree that the CPC (distinct from the Chinese people) is a human rights violating abomination, and we are all nominally against the censorship imposed by them in media. But does that mean not engaging with Chinese media at all, thereby further isolating folks that happened to be born on the other side of the great firewall?

I just see the two sides as talking past each other here. Like for the pro-Genshin folks, I don’t think liking the game means co-signing on concentration camps. And for anti-Genshin folks, being weary of censorship does not necessarily translate to xenophobia. I mean, I’m sure there are obscure twitter accounts being straight up racist about the situation, but in the gaming spaces I frequent I really haven’t seen bigotry pop up.

In any case, I think this is ultimately symptomatic of the heightened moral scrutiny in games discourse in recent years. I feel like we’ve moved past acknowledging and discussing problematic elements in games (and how to improve on that going forward), and moved toward what choosing to play certain games says about you as a person. And while I understand there’s always going to be bleed over in conscious games discourse into morality territory, it can feel exhausting to be judging others and yourself constantly on what you choose to play for what is ostensibly a relaxing hobby. Perhaps if we all took a step back from this with-us-or-against-us rhetoric, it might allow for a more productive discussion?

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Honestly I feel this. I feel like anytime I’m going to interact with something I need to do a deep background check on who is all involved so I know if I should actually engage with it. If I engage with something I feel like I need to do research on it before even mentioning that I touched it. It’s exhausting and I don’t think there’s a good solution that isn’t exhausting. You could almost build a business around compiling lists of “this person is no good” but that leads to a real dark place.

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Man, is EVERY single game that has been released this year completely compromised?

Seems like the only ethical purchase in the big games space is Hades.

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No ethical consumption under capitalism.

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Yeah, but can that still be an excuse anymore when we buy our games? Every Japanese game is made with horrible labor practices, Ubisoft is filled with abusers and worker’s rights violations, CDPR is crunching and transphobic…

Bleh. As someone who likes to play big video games, this year has been super conflicting.

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Even putting aside the nationalism being forced into the game, I don’t think you can ethically promote a game that has gacha mechanics, period. It’s a structure that thrives off knowing that 0.01% of people will become addicts that pay in exorbitant amounts of money to avoid FOMO.

Just because the five-star characters are barely necessary for anything in the game (and only marginally more so for endgame content) doesn’t matter, the lure of compulsive spending still comes into effect and the developers knowingly profit from it by not creating any upper limit to how much you can put into gacha pulls.

It doesn’t matter if it’s China, Japan, Korea, or America that abuses these tactics. It’s morally bankrupt no matter what.

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Every chicken nugget and burger you eat has an even worse story behind it. You’ll go insane trying to find the best and most moral way to live in evil times.

As they said in the podcast, the only fights you can reasonably hope to have are the local ones. You can do more to 2K, EA, and Activision than you can to a Japanese or even Chinese company.

Or just don’t buy video games anymore.

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while the blanket statement “no ethical consumption…” is true, i tend to feel like it removes some of the nuance of things and people often use it to absolve themselves of any guilt they may feel about their choices…

you mention burgers, for example. beef is arguably bad to eat, period, based on how resource heavy it is to produce. but if you buy beef from a small farm instead of from macdonalds or some factory farm, in all likelihood there will have been less suffering made in its production. all burgers, like all video games, aren’t created under the same circumstances. if i ate beef, i’d feel more comfortable knowing that the beef i was eating wasn’t basically tortured to get to me. it’s also nice to feel like the video games you play are torture-free, though it is very difficult in the AAA space especially.

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Do y’all remember when Siege was going through the Chinese cert process and, in order to avoid any roadblocks, Ubisoft implemented a number of minor universal changes to UI and UX? I believe they were principally focused on eliminating visual taboos (skulls, etc.) that Chinese censors historically take umbrage with. Anyway, Gamer Internet in general and the Siege subreddit in general caught fire with a weird mix of PragerU aggression and neo-McCarthyism: people were posting videos of themselves smashing their PS4 and Xbox discs, uninstalling, writing nasty tweets, saying that the CCP were worse than the Nazis, you know, pretty much everything that you’d expect them to do. I always wondered how many of those gamers went out within the week and dropped $60 on a new disc. After all, with cloud saves, the only thing they were losing was time and a little FunkoPop money.

Make no mistake, as much as the American media likes to jump at Russian shadows, we’re deep in the midst of a cold war–economic and cultural–with China. The sudden humanitarian tacks that spineless worms like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio take when talking about the Uyghurs (for example) is, to borrow a phrase, a kind of jingoistic virtue signaling. Anything that the US can do to bruise China’s reputation in the global marketplace–video games included–they will do. And nearly every for-profit journalistic outlet has as vested an interest in fighting on the American side in that culture war as our government and industrial sectors do.

I’m not accusing Vice, broadly, or Waypoint specifically (or any of its constituents) of playing into that conflict. But crucial to recognize is that China, not unlike the United States, is a world power. It may practice a slightly different form of late-capitalism than the US, but, stripping away the labels and theoretical pretense, that economic horse sense is as extractive as any other.

Our… consumption of slick, mega-industrial media forms that could only exist in economies as bloated, uneven, and extractive as this one is, when you do the ethical calculus, as callous as playing the lyre while Rome burns. It is the capitalistic pact we affirm every time we go see a blockbuster, buy a new car, a new phone, or put a new part in our PC.

Does that mean I’m advocating for people to stop playing games altogether? No. And neither does it mean that, having noted that broader ethical calculus, we should hand-wave smaller, more personally-agonizing calculuses about abusers, or inhumane working conditions.

But it does mean that, as much as sometimes people use “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” as a kind of fatalistic hand-wave (mostly on twitter), we should not stop engaging with that particular chestnut. After all, it’s true.

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That’s why the nationalism is very low on my list of problems with the game. I’m not interested in hearing consumerist Americans try to dictate what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of brutal imperialism.

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[obligatory leftist mention that there’s more nuance to many of these political issues than most American reporting on the subject will address, yada yada yada]

Regardless, the question inherent in “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is one I think I will always struggle with. It’s so hard to find the balance.

On the one hand, it is not healthy to drive yourself mad with the weight of the exploitation caused by capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and other hierarchies. If you spend ten minutes in Bed, Bath, and Beyond googling where Kitchenaid sources the iron for its stainless steel can opener, you’ll likely find horrible answers and no alternative solution. The OXO isn’t any better. It’s better to join a union, join the IWW, block ports and railways, protest, etc. than to follow the production chain on every little thing you need to survive, especially if you are also exploited and cannot afford the mildly more moral all-purpose flour if you want to make enough bread to eat this week.

On the other hand, I think it is natural - good, even - to not want to contribute to a problem you are aware of. I’m not going to buy Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla; I’m not going to buy Cyberpunk 2077. I don’t buy gacha pulls, regardless of the laws in the country the studio is based in. I know there are going to be problems in the games I do buy. I know, rationally, that my $80 CAD will not make or break Ubisoft or CDPR. But I’m still not buying them because I would feel bad doing so.

I mostly just don’t judge others for where they draw their lines, with certain exceptions, and do what I can to fight the illness where I can’t always fight (or even be aware of) the symptoms.

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yea. The mainstream discussion is a switch off for me because the prominent voices I see are normally the same people who vocally supported Prevent and FBI surveillance of the Muslim community which in essence, imo, are just liberal sanitised versions of what is happening in Xinjiang. That’s not to dismiss discussions on places like here or the pod though where it’s far easier to accept good faith from everyone involved.

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I think the CCP is doing some truly awful things that are deserving of criticism, though I don’t think protesting this game accomplishes much.

So, I know Austin was referring to the (low-key and high-key) racists who’ve been using this as a cudgel when he asked “where was this heat when Call of Duty sends you to destabilise third world countries… where was this heat when Cyberpunk 2020 does some transphobic shit for the millionth time?” but I feel like it does highlight some issues with their coverage of Genshin.

Because that heat was here, on the Waypoint website, on the podcasts, on the forums. Staff have expressed a disinterest in playing these games, and when they have been reported on, they’ve always made sure to constantly re-acknowledge these aspects.

But for Genshin, apart from Jordan’s article, this is the first time I’ve heard the site discuss the issue, after how many strong recommendations on the podcast? And while I appreciate that the crew tried to address the issue in a nuanced way, it felt like their tone was much more intense when calling out the hypocrisy of certain groups than when acknowledging the imperialist messaging?

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I wanna say first off that I totally agree with you. I think there is a tendency in most people if not all (myself included of course!) to defend the art we enjoy when it is doing things that we should not defend. It is important in moments like this to acknowledge that we can enjoy things that have problems and that we can condemn parts of a thing we love without renouncing it entirely. I’d like this to be a normal thing to do, where we don’t feel judgment nor project it.

I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, so I can’t speak to the nuances of that conversation. What I’d like to hone in on here is not that anything to do with the perceived defense of Genshin Impact or the Chinese government, but rather the xenophobia found in gaming communities. This has already been talked about in this thread, but I think it’s important to talk about in regards to that response to criticism. To those who condemn both the action of the Chinese government and the US government (like myself), this sounds like whataboutism. As @Peng was saying, this feels condescending and hand-wavy. It presumes an ignorance and hypocrisy that isn’t present, and that’s really frustrating. But to those who only condemn the actions of the Chinese government and not the US government, it is addressing the xenophobia present in that position. Many “Gamers” have a rabid hatred of anything that even vaguely hints at origins in or influences from China, but are more than happy to gloss over working conditions and geopolitical propaganda in US-made games. That can only be explained by xenophobia, nationalism or ignorance, and that needs to be addressed.

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I don’t think not buying any of these games, or depriving myself of the potential fun they might allow me to have in this hell world, truly does anything. I’m going to keep buying and playing games I want to play regardless of what conditions they were made under or what they might happen to contain if they happen to be something I know I’m going to be into.

I don’t view boycotting games as praxis. I don’t think it improves labor conditions and I don’t think it changes the politics of the companies who make them.

Tbh I see people discuss the ethics of games and it reads similarly to “vote with your dollar” rhetoric and it comes across as perspective rooted in liberal consumerism.

If we want to change the way games are made we need to be revolutionary. That means unionizing, making co-ops, and opposing the systems that create the conditions these games with bad shit in them arise from.

I get that not buying a game with gross shit in it might feel like a personal moral victory over a bad corporation, but they’re still going to make money one way or another.

Tbh, play more indie titles on itch? Make more indie titles on itch?

Idk ya’ll I get real tired of this conversation happening for every single AAA video game that gets released. None of us are problematic for enjoying problematic media.

Edit: just to add, this is more general and not China related. But with regards to China I think the xenophobia surrounding this game is absurd. The US and Chinese state apparatuses suck IMO. Developers aren’t the state though.

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