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Characteristics of Chinese Culture in Online Games

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Published: Mon, 05 Feb 2018


Game industry is a kind of globalizing market. This research is investigating the relationship between game art and culture. Due to each culture has an original root which influences particular cultural forms. Therefore, cultural barriers play a crucial role in the game design. In some ways, cultural barriers prevent games from globalization market.

The society of online games is formed by players who come from various culture backgrounds. Additionally, the online game which involves more interactive elements is affected by culture significantly. Players are not playing with computer but human beings. This new way of game play gives more freedom to players and designers. Meanwhile, online game has close connection with culture.

When we talk about online game industry we cannot ignore the Chinese online game industry, because China is one of the biggest online game industries in the world. The paper focuses on Chinese online game industry because of its accomplishments, highest speed of development and huge online game market. And how this ancient culture influences the new media form is crucial area to investigate.

Firstly, brief original Chinese culture will be presented for clearing an archetypal culture value. Based on Chinese online game industry, a local game named Westward Journey Online ? is examined for getting valuable methods which are how to use the archetypal cultural values into game art. From the examination on Chinese culture, value methods possible are getting for widen audiences all over the world. However, there is limitation existing in this paper which ignores other distinguishing culture contents. Further research might go more detailed on various culture forms for this particular research area. 

1 Introduction

The main purpose of this research is to examine the archetypal/universal characteristics that are expressed in Chinese culture within Multiple Massive Online Games in order to explain to a western the shared human values that are expressed in a uniquely Chinese expression of archetypal human values. The study examines the impact of archetypal cultural characteristics on game aesthetics that is important for corporations that are desirous to explore business throughout worldwide. Due to globalization might be a kind of megatrend in modern society as cultural forms, cultural barriers might exist to prevent the global distributions of games to some extent in the process of game development. There was a hot discussion about a female character in different cultural styles online (Liuduanyinsu 2008). This female character named Faith who was the heroine in Mirror’s Edge which was developed by D.I.C.E studio in Sweden (2009). Her appearance caused controversy about what kind of female character could reach the expectation from each side of culture backgrounds. When Mirror’s edge came to Japan, the Japanese players were not satisfied in the design of this character. Therefore, some of Japanese players adopted the female character depending on their own expectations. We could see the clear distinguishing features of different tastes on female beauty from figure 1 and 2. After the adaptation of the character, each side of players expressed their opinions. Both sides were not satiated to the other side’s design. The discussion presented the cultural barriers on female beauty. Exploring the question that is how the features of culture influences game aesthetics could clarify the future direction of both single Game Corporation and the whole game industry. Therefore, a high level of culture understanding is necessary for meeting players’ expectations. As a result, the cultural barriers influence game aesthetics in certain ways.

The platform of the study is set in China which is a long history country and has various mythologies which could reflect traditional culture and the process of development of each culture in some way. The culture studies could give us the solid basis of understanding of the Chinese cultural root and human values. The newest form studies of combing game art and culture open the door to explore new opportunities for fresh knowledge in this area. At the same time, the examination of Chinese culture could give a brief impression to western readers for understanding the distinct cultural form which has very different philosophy of life, attitudes, lifestyle, ideology and values from westerners. Meanwhile, it is aware that the myths influence game design and aesthetics significantly. Many myths are widely applied into game design and art, for example the characters in myths become main adopted features into game design like priest, Druid, Dragons etc both in western culture and eastern culture. Why is this situation happening? Are there same features between mythology and games so that the two things could be concordantly combined? In the research, the Journey to the West and games that were adapted from it is employed as a successful case to investigate for finding the acceptable answers. Moreover, the fast speed of development online game industry gives the research an additional benefit to unfold the examination.

According to the trend of globalization, bigger game marketplace could be opened by applying different cultural contexts into game aesthetics after the research. Moreover, the game industry gains much more attention from modern society which includes academic field and marketplace. People desire to obtain benefits from the fresh and cutting edge game industry such as entertainment and education.

The major research question is: how archetypal/universal characteristics are reflecting in online games based on Chinese culture? Afterwards, two further questions are: what is the archetypal characteristic of Chinese culture? And what kinds of archetypal could be translated into universal for more audiences in online games?

For answering these questions, multidiscipline study will be involved. There are culture studies, art, marketing and the newest one- computer games study. Depends on aims and research questions, the objectives have been listed below:

  • To establish understanding of culture for game aesthetics using creative methods in culture studies
  • To explore the relation of mythology and game aesthetics across several subjects
  • To explore the functions of culture in game aesthetics and seek possibility of combining two different cultures into game art for widen players.

2 The background information of Chinese online game industry

2.1 Localization of Chinese online game industry

Chinese online game industry has a fastest speed of development and gives a great influence on the globalization game marketplace. From the research of the three nations that are American, Korea and China, it could be discovered that the income of American online game came from games exporting, and Korea is developing the exporting outside and locally operating, the income of China online game mainly came from locally operating. Therefore, a part of income in American and Korea online games came from Chinese online game marketplace (iResearch 2009). The report from iResearch (2009) evinced that the revenue of Chinese online game market occupied about 27 percentages of global game market and it is ranked the second position, American online game industry is 29 percentages to take the lead and Korea is the third position as 21 percentages. Due to the fact about the data sources of game exporting, it is aware that Chinese online games industry is localization because of the lower export level. The reasons might be the strategy of government, cultural barriers or limitation of development.

However, the Chinese online game industry is the biggest game marketplace in the world that is gradually getting more and more important status in international game industry by reason that the Chinese market size is 30.4 million dollars which occupies 27.1 percentages of the gross income of global online game marketing in 2008 according to the iResearch China Online Game Research Report (2009). In addition, China online game industry has the fastest developing speed. The report also predicted that the occupancy of Chinese online game market will continually increase at the speed of 5 percentages based on the research. Additionally, it is expected that the occupancy of Chinese online game market will be close to 50 percentages, and reach to 45.9 percentages (iResearch 2009). So it will become a big importing point of international online game industry.

2.2 The reasons of localization of online games boom in China

The localization of Chinese online game industry is possibly caused by multiple reasons. Are the Chinese players easily accepting the games which are set in other cultural contexts? The answer is negative. Local games with strong cultural contexts could get sympathetic attentions by players who live in the cultural environments. The cultural barriers caused game marketplace in certain ways. Based on the research about the developing areas of online games which are paid great attention in Chinese online game industry by Baidu (2009), the highest attention rate of place of online games’ developers is China, the 49.65 percentages, following the second place is Korea which is 43.82 percentages, then there are American and Europe occupied 5.36 percentages and Japan is the lowest attention rate which is 1.18 percentages. So we can see the major online games are developed by local Chinese developers and Chinese neighbour-Korea which has similar culture with China. The similar cultures shared common online game market.

And online game industry meet the situation in China, it is getting more and more advanced support from government and other objective supports. Since the operating of Chinese government’s strategy named reform and opening-up, the political climate became enlightened and loosened so that people’s concepts are diversity and more easily accepting new things and globalization environment is established as a result of that popular culture could gain opportunity of booming (Xiaolin 2008).

Moreover, why could the online games get improvement in China rather than console games? One main reason is the pirate. In China, players could spend just few money to get the illegal copies from peddlers. This becomes a bad habit in Chinese players. And the pirate brings a negative influence to the console and computer games. Therefore, Chinese developers cannot get deserved profits from developing videogames and console games. The intellectual property of game developers is not protected. The failure sales of videogames and computer games give more space to online games development in China.

Finally, huge population forms the largest marketplace in China. It is reported that there are more than three hundreds millions cyber citizens in China until 17 July 2009 depending on the update database of China Internet Network Information Centre (2009). Thanks to the development of hardware and cyber technology, the disseminate internet is continually growing. More and more people use internet in China, and there are more potential players on internet.

Based on the investigation of Niko Partners, there are forty six million online game players who spent seventeen million dollars on online games in China (Sina 2008). This great circumstance for online games creates more and more opportunities for online game development. Following on the fast developing speed of Chinese online game industry, the further potentials need to be explored by the industry insiders.

3 The background of Chinese culture

3.1 The collective and discriminative culture

In different situation, the definition of culture has different explanation. The research mainly discussed art and culture for the latter investigation of game art and culture. Therefore, the definition of culture related to art or aesthetics is the focal point; it does not mean we ignore other important comprehension of culture studies, all the necessary study also is considered through the whole process of investigation. For the later research, which definition of culture is properly suitable for investigating the relation of culture and game aesthetics might be sorted out.

Firstly the definition of culture in dictionary must be considered. The ‘culture’ in English involves several meanings as a noun. The one of major definitions in Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary (1990, p.284) of culture described that ‘all the arts, beliefs, social institutions, etc characteristic of a community, race, etc’. In Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary (2004), there are similar explanations of the term ‘culture’ that are ‘ culture consists of activities such as the arts and philosophy, which are considered to be important for the development of civilization and of people’s mind’, ‘ a culture is a particular society or civilization, especially considered in relation to its beliefs, way of life, or art’ and ‘the culture of a particular organization or group consists of the habits of the people in it and the way they generally behave’. From there definition in dictionary, the main feature of culture is collective, a certain subject of people’s common mind. The common ground includes arts, beliefs, habits, lifestyle, customs, institutions and philosophy. So sometimes, the culture means people’s shared mind in one nation, one race even bigger in one group which has common benefits. Simply speaking, culture could be understood as a group of people who has a similar taste on game aesthetics in this field of research. This might be the reason why cultural barriers influence selling of games which involve strong cultural features.

Excepting the property of collective of culture, another crucial nature of culture is discriminative. Culture is regarded as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” by Geert (2001). If a culture loses its own distinguishing feature, it will vanish in the world. In other word, culture involves another important function which is identifying human’s origins. Therefore, different cultures exist by their identification and discrimination with other cultural forms. Applying the feature of culture into this research, the different areas in game industry could be distinguished by analysing cultural characteristics.

There is another English word ‘civilisation’ which is treated as a synonym of the word ‘culture’. It has similar definition with culture; however this word ‘civilisation’ emphasizes on the differentiation of culture. People always say ancient Egyptian civilisation, American Indian civilisation and Arab civilisation etc. When we say Chinese civilisation, the name externalizes the particular cultural form. A culture is archetypal and distinguishing. Therefore, the different culture gives distinguishing art styles to various games.

3.2 Chinese culture

The Chinese culture exists for thousands of years; it has great influences to the East area and other parts of the world. Due to the complex culture forms, it is hard to present a very clear and details of this particular culture. This paper is investigating the major root of Chinese culture which possibly affects modern new media the games. These contents of Chinese cultural root include Confucianism, Taoism and very crucial concepts of harmony between man and nature. These foundational concepts of Chinese culture give a great influence to very aspects of modern society. Meanwhile, games reflect or being reflected these traditional cultural concepts more or less. It needs to understand the cultural root for further studies of games and culture.

3.2.1 Brief introduction of Confucianism

The Confucianism is a complexity. Some people consider it is a cult, others think it is a form of learning (Xinzhong 2000). However, the research regards Confucianism is a form of culture. The content of Confucianism involves several disciplines such as moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious which reflect cultural contexts in China.

Due to the Confucianism involves different explanations in different historical periods; there is no specific definition for it. From different aspects, we could get different comprehensions from Confucianism. However, the central thought still exists and has positive impacts on modern Chinese people. Generally speaking, there are three cores themes and a crucial core concept in Confucianism. Those are “Li” – ritual in English, “De” – virtue, “Ren” – humanity and the doctrine of mean.

It is said that China is a state of ceremony because of the strict ritual from Confucianism. Some of the rituals were used into Chinese online games in order to give the local people familiar things in a virtual and realistic ancient world. In terms of original concept, “Li” is an important behavioural norm in Confucianism, and it includes traditional rituals. In Confucianism, it states that grades of people’s relationship which includes the monarch and his subjects, parents and children, older sisters (brothers) and young sisters (brothers) should be clearly distinguished, and upper position of person have superior rights than lowers (Baidu 2009). For example, in ancient Chinese imperial family the emperor could talk several wives, and the first wife’s child is the son and heir who have greatest prerogatives than other wives’ children, such as acceding to the throne as the first person selected. And in modern China, the norm involves less power, but in Chinese family there are still some shadows of the “Li” existing. For instance, children should respect seniorities. When a Chinese family have an important dinner together, the oldest family member takes a seat in the best positions around a big table. The senior people usually have a greater power in the society, others always respect them. So the “Li” developed the strict hierarchy system in ancient Chinese society.

The virtue named “De” in Chinese is a tool to measure human’s behaviours. Filial piety and Loyalty are two main contents in Confucianism (Kai-wing 1994, p.36). Filial piety means children should respect their parents. Simply speaking, offspring should give supports to their seniorities that cannot take care of themselves. These supports include mental supports and material supports. There are many legends and tales talking about filial piety in China to instruct people’s behaviours. One of the famous stories about filial piety is that the person named Dongyong sold himself for money in order to bury his father’s body, the city named “Xiaogan” which means the miracle of filial piety inspires god came from the ancient story (Wilt 2009). Ancient Chinese emperor applies “De” into ruling. The virtue in Confucianism requests governors using benevolent politics and self virtue to rule civilians. It presents using virtue to educate people for peaceful and steady society.

Humanity is a core content of Confucianism. It claims loving human, people should love each other, support each other and existing with each other. Therefore, the basic meaning of “Ren” is homage and friendship. In ancient Chinese governments always employed “Ren” into their ruling strategy, so it was developed to a kind of political strategy called policy of benevolence which advocated using the proactive and ethical human being to rule the country. It is different with western jural strategy. However, it involves some limit from contemporary viewpoints.

The doctrine of mean is another crucial concept of Confucianism. Zhangxin who is a professor researching Sinology introduced his opinion about the doctrine of mean. The spirit of medium way is doing something using appropriate methods to keep the things in a reasonable and fair expectation for people. He also claimed culture does not need to meet the international standards and the archetypal culture is the universal. Medium way is a root of Confucianism and Chinese culture, it affects people’s behaviours at present. People’s characteristics might be determined by the origin of their cultures. So the characteristics of Chinese people are introverted poise and defensive just reflect the medium way in Confucianism.

3.2.2 Brief introduction of Taoism

In the research, the characteristics of China are going to discuss from the native religion of Taoism rather than investigation on religion itself. Taoism is a native philosophical and religious of China and it focus on the moral code. It came from China and has influenced East Asia for over two millennia and the West for over two centuries (James 2003). On one hand, Taoism is one of main original inspirations for Chinese games. On the other hand, it is a core of human value in Chinese society.

Taoism’s concepts could be applied into computer game design. The original religion involves several worships. Those include nature worship, totem worship, spirits worship and ancestor worship. Moreover, there is a complex system of Daoism, different branches have different leaders. These features of Daoism give great inspirations to game designers. The features have already employed into several Chinese games which used traditional themes and backgrounds. The Jianxia3 online employed many Daoism’s elements into the game play (Kingsoft 2009). Players could choose Chunyang branch which is a real branch of Daoism as their clans. There are many rooms of Daoism could be employed into game design such as celestial beings, making pills of immortality and Fengshui theory in Daoism.

Taoism affects human being’s behaviours and thoughts; from this point the conducts in Taoism could reveal the core human value in China. The noun Taoism involves different elements with Daoism, at the first place we should distinguishing the two nouns for latter discussion. Taoism is a type of thought or doctrine; it was developed by Lao Tzu who is a thinker and ideologist in ancient China. The book named Tao Te Ching is a Chinese classic text which is considered as a basic origin in Taoism like Bible in Christianity. However, the first official classic of Daoism is named Taiping Ching. Tao Te Ching and Taiping Ching plus Zhouyicantongqi are considered as the origin of Daoism’s religion and theory by current academic area. Simply speaking, Taoism is a kind of theory and Daoism is a religion.

There are the jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation and humility (Ray 1989, p.133). These conducts reflect to Taoist become a crucial belief named Wu wei which “is action without bureaucratic, competitive, aggressive, or self-serving effort. Wu wei is a way of being that comes from an internal sensitivity to the natural rhythms of the universe, similar to water flowing over or around rocks, logs, or islands in a stream,” (R. Paul 2002, p.152). Wu wei is a basic cognition of Taoism to the development of nature and human society. The general meaning of Wu wei action through inaction does not mean doing nothing but revealing things with soft and invisible power (Richard 2004). In Taoism, it is considered human’s behaviours and the way of act should obey the law of nature. The all things in the world develop by themselves, human beings cannot intervene the development of nature and all other things. This thought forces Chinese people like to stick to old ways and make Chinese characteristic becoming mediocrity. This is reflected in the characteristics is defensive and moderate temperament.

3.2.3 The relationship between man and nature in Chinese culture

This concept of relationship between man and nature reflects into game design is that the characters in games usually involve appearances of natural things like animal monsters. The situation is very different from western games which seldom apply monsters came from nature. This might be caused by Chinese original root which is called harmony between man and nature which is widely considered as the main principal part of Chinese traditional culture. In the traditional Chinese culture, the world is separated into three parts that are heaven, manpower and earth. For each part there are specific classic texts for guiding people’s behaviours. I Ching is used to guide for explaining relation between heaven and manpower. It presents how to obey law of nature to make human ideal and healthy. The analects of Confucius expound relation between manpower and heaven for instructing people making right choices. And the Sunzi Art of War is a book to be used in war it presents relations of human beings themselves. The Dao Te Ching which was mentioned in previous paragraph is employed to coordinate human and earth making the harmony between man and nature. The last one named Huang di nei Ching interprets earth and human beings for guide people to get the benefits from earth. The ancient classic traditional Chinese philosophy teaches Chinese people the major behaviours. It affects people’s choices more or less in modern society. Understanding Chinese culture, these principles have to be clarified, because when the character involves archetypal characteristics it must follows some elements from these concepts from ancient China.

3.3 The original mythology in Chinese culture

Mythology should not to be neglected because it reflects culture in some ways. William considers myth is “culturally important”, and myths are this kind of story which are created by individuals’ interpretations in discriminating special societies (William 2000). Myths demonstrate certain culture contents such as religious, rituals, customs, and people’s behaviours. Therefore, it might bring us to an articulate culture form by examining the particular mythology.

In terms of game design, there are many games applying mythic elements into character designs, background stories, environment designs and requests designs. There might have common senses between games and myths. Why could the mythic contents be widely employed into games? This chapter will discuss myth and find out the bonding point between myths and games.

3.3.1 The definition of mythology

At the first place, it needs to clarify that what are mythology and what kind of characteristics is involved in mythology. Williams suggested that myths are fictional but not unreal and non-empirical, however they are not incomprehensible and formed by values of fundamental mythical orientations of cultures (Williams 2000). And a common contestation of mythology is that “myths are stories about gods or remote ancestors, myths are sacred stories, myths are stories that explain how the world and humans came to be in their present forms, and myths encapsulate important information about human thought, feeling, history, and social life” (Yang, Deming and Jessica 2005). However, particular myths could be understood by people who live in the particular culture environment, it is hard to be comprehended by other person who has different culture background if he has not established understanding of the particular culture. Because each culturally mythology has distinguishing features. But myths still have universal features like the statement was presented by Stith Thompson in 1955 that myths are connecting with gods and their behaviours, creation, and the general nature of the universe and of the earth (Yang, Deming and Jessica 2005). Therefore, myths are universal and archetypal in every cultural form by using dialectic method of analysis.

Games as a creative industry need creation and imagination, however the design of games should not be incredible. The attributes of games are very similar with mythology’s which discussed above. This is not a coincidence; this is why there are so many designers employed mythological elements into the game design. There are two reasons that games should be imaginative and believable. The first one is the purpose of playing for imaginative feature of games. Players are anxious for getting entrainment from games; they usually want to get different experiences from playing games. If the environment and characters in games are same with real life, the game will be boring. Even a simulating game like series of Sims also involves other virtual elements for giving different experiences to players. Another reason is for believable; a game should be attractive to players, when players play the game they are immersing into the games. Unreal and incredible characters and environment cannot be acceptable by players. So most of successful games were adopted from real stories, the Non-players character, the monsters and the avatars for players were altered from fictional characters in mythology. Generally speaking, games and mythology have same attributes. That the reason mythologies are widely used into game design both in environment setting, background stories and character designs.

3.3.2 The origin of mythology

The origin of mythology is various. Some myths are adopted from the narratives of scripture by adding several imaginative elements and altered contents of the original scripture. And historical events are another source of mythology; the real historical case was rewritten by later people using the forms of legends and fabulous traditions which are widely disseminated. Additionally, there are other two features could describe myths which are allegorical and physical, nearly all the ancient myths are symbolical and involved some educational contents in aspects of moral, religious or philosophical truth etc (Thomas 2004).

In terms of the origin of Chinese mythology, it is generally believed that the Chinese mythology originated from the totemism of remote Chinese ancestors and legends of ancient tribes. Some Chinese myths are another form of historical records, for instance it is confirmed that the myth of Nüwa is partly true after discovering the historical remains belongs to the period of maternal tribes in China (need evidences). Moreover, the Chinese myths mirrored contents of religions; the concept of three worlds that are heaven, earth and human being in Chinese mythology is coming from Buddha. Many online games which were set in ancient Chinese environment were applied the concept of three worlds into game design. The characters in these games are generally separated into three groups which are celestial beings, devils and human beings.

The Chinese cultural concept of the harmony between human and heaven is also reflecting in the local mythology. The Chinese myths usually concentrate on explain rationalize, embellish, humanize, or historicize the mythical beings (Williams 2000 1993: 387). The Chinese myths usually involve the characters who came from nature, like various devils are transformed from animals or plants of the nature. And they involve historical events such as Yan Di who is a mythic figure that invented agriculture in Chinese history, and many devils in mythology are transformed from animals and plants so that their appearances embody the shape of original animals or plants. This phenomenon might be a kind of culture barriers existing in the form of mythology.

From the statement above, we could see the origin of mythology causes a kind of culture barrier. Mythologies of one culture are formed with local nuances. For example, the Chinese mythologies are influenced by local religions which are Buddha, Taoism and cultural ideology which is the harmony between human and nature. The local culture might determine major contents of mythologies. And mythologies were spreading by people in the different periods, during the different historical periods people’s thoughts are different and in some way reflect the certain society cognition. Therefore, the mythology is a mixture of local culture and people’s ideology of that time. Depends on distinguishing history of every culture, the local mythology is hardly understanding by other people who came from different cultural background.

3.3.3 The Chinese mythology in online games

Due to the similar points between mythology and games, they naturally combine together. Moreover, the

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