Of all the games released this year, few have been met with as much criticism as Electronic Arts and DICE’s Battlefield 4. Gamers are angry over the buggy online mode, investors are suing over the continued problems, and even dedicated fans have been forced to confess that the game has some significant technical issues. To that list of dissenters, you can now add the government of China.
In regards to Battlefield 4’s China Rising, the government of China, especially its military, didn’t take kindly to being portrayed as the bad guys. In an editorial published by the Chinese military newspaper Zhongguo Guofangbao, which was then reported by Polygon, the piece claims that the game is part of an “ongoing culture war” meant to mislead the young by “discrediting China’s image abroad and distorting the truth.”
The China Rising DLC casts a rogue Chinese general as the bad guy, and puts you in the shoes of a freedom-loving capitalist who fights the good fight. The Chinese take issue with that, and consider the video game medium in general to be suspect.
“The use of video games … to discredit one country’s image in the eyes of other countries is a new form of cultural penetration and aggression.” It went on to suggest that due to China’s growing strength, games are casting China in the light of a “common enemy.”
“When western countries would make war games in the past, they would settle on Russia if they needed an imaginary enemy,” the editorial continues. “But in recent years, with the boosting of China’s national strength, China threat theories run rampant, and foreign companies are increasingly keen to put the Sino-US conflict in their games as a gimmick to attract attention.”
It is, of course, completely right on that point. Developers making military games set in the realistic(ish) world are probably going to continue to feature China as the bad guys. It shouldn’t been seen as an insult though. Developers cast China as the bad guy because they are one of the few credible threats when it comes to global war games. A few years ago it was terrorists in the Middle East, and before that the Soviet Union. If the World War II genre hadn’t been so thoroughly exploited, we’d still be seeing countless games casting the Germans, Italians, and Japanese as the enemies; odds are we will again, once gamers get over their exhaustion with the setting. The alternative is to create a fictional enemy, just as Call of Duty: Ghosts did. That, however, requires a fair amount of explanation and world building. It is more a product of the style of game than a political statement.
Another reason developers and publishers may use Chinese as the bogeymen is that most Western games never appear in China, so there isn’t much hesitance to risk offending the gamers there; it isn’t the target audience. The opposite is true of the film industry, which more and more goes out of its way to avoid making China look bad, in order to debut films in the country. One example of this is the recent remake of the film Red Dawn. The remake needed to modernize the original plot that featured the “Red” Communists of the Soviet Union invading the US, and the obvious first choice to replace them was China. Filming was completed with the Chinese as the antagonists, who were then later digitally changed to North Koreans to avoid angering the Chinese government, who control what studios can release films in China.
Like the film industry though, the gaming industry may slowly be heading in the same direction. With the ban on consoles lifted and the Xbox One reportedly heading to China in 2014, it may signify a shift – however gradual – that could allow more Western games and hardware into the country.