Opinion | China is coming for American video games

Video game fans should pay attention to the fate of major Hollywood studios – which first ceded creative control to Chinese censors in pursuit of box office gold, then found themselves floundering when China largely closed its borders to Hollywood products – as an ally of the Chinese government the companies gain a greater stake in the global gaming industry.

It makes sense that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its business affiliates are turning to video games. The overall size of the gaming market dwarfs that of the global box office.

The biggest player in this space is Tencent, “the biggest game company in the world”. The company’s first big buy was Riot – better known at the time for “League of Legends” – and it has grown steadily ever since. But as the Ringer noted last month, Tencent has seen a wave of acquisitions in recent years, gobbling up businesses.

“In 2019, he invested in 10 game companies; in 2020, 32; then, in 2021, the number exploded to 101,” Lewis Gordon reported. Thanks to these purchases, the company realizes more than a quarter of its turnover abroad.

Consolidation isn’t unique to the video game industry, of course, as anyone who watched Disney’s absorption of 21st Century Fox or Amazon’s purchase of MGM will happily tell you. But there is a qualitative difference between a Swedish company like Embracer Group amassing a video game empire and a CCP-dominated company doing the same.

Tencent is by no means a household name in the United States. Still, some Americans might recognize Tencent’s logo as one of many labels that appear in front of movies. Titles familiar to Americans include “Monster Hunter” with Milla Jovovich, “Terminator: Dark Fate” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and “Bumblebee” with John Cena.

However, if Americans have heard of Tencent, it’s likely because of the massive controversy sparked by the company’s efforts to censor American icon Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise). Tencent was a co-financier of “Top Gun: Maverick,” the legacy sequel that grossed over $700 million at the domestic box office and over $1.4 billion worldwide.

But that bargain was put in jeopardy by Tencent’s involvement: At the trailer’s premiere, red-blooded American audience members screamed in outrage that Mav’s iconic bomber jacket had been stripped of patches. demonstrating America’s alliances with Taiwan and Japan. Following the outcry, the patches were replaced. Somewhere along the way, Tencent bailed out the partnership. It’s likely cost the company tens of millions in revenue, but it’s also allowed Tencent and its executives to avoid the hassle of a Chinese government striving to reassert control over cultural figures and social media. companies that have acquired great notoriety.

It was an illuminating incident for the public and American leaders, the moment the frog realized the water had gone from comfortably warm to boiling. Rampant censorship had left not only obvious subjects, such as Tibet, banned, but also less obvious subjects, such as time travel and ghost stories. The entire American studio system had reoriented itself around the pursuit of Chinese profit, at great creative expense.

The Chinese are trying to interfere with the art of video games in the same way, as Oliver Holmes noted in the Guardian last year.

“Back in 2011, Riot’s designer learned an unwritten rule that no video game can show characters emerging from the ground, as if rising from the dead,” Holmes reported. Game developers couldn’t show any bones or skulls. Cults were also banned. The blood might be black but not a realistic red.

China wants games to be seen not as an art form in which to excel, but as a product to be homogenized; hence the nation’s efforts to bring video games under the sway of the International Organization for Standardization. While the app was all about technical specs, it made it clear how China viewed the game as a whole – and other market players understood the danger of letting China have its way here. The Swedish games industry, a trade group, strongly pushed back against this effort; as spokesperson Per Stromback told Foreign Policy: “Video games are art. Regulating them in the same way as light bulbs would reduce the freedom of creators.

Creative concerns co-exist with a variety of other worries, from fears that China is propagandizing young Westerners via story games and other educational efforts to fears that the anti-cheat software used by Riot Games could give Chinese authorities undue access to computers around the world, allowing them to siphon off data.

Unlike the threat to artistic freedom, the reality of which is obvious to any observer of the film industry, some of these fears may be exaggerated. However, I am sympathetic to them for the same reason that I have no interest in leaving TikTok anywhere near my phone: the Chinese government’s commitment to privacy is as non-existent as its commitment to artistic freedom. . Prevention is better than cure.

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