China Tries to Stifle Murder Mystery RPGs

China’s efforts to control its sprawling entertainment industry extend to include so-called scripted murders, a billion-dollar gaming sector that features groups of gamers solving fictional murder mysteries in person or in line.

Participants in a scripted murder — or jubensha in Chinese — adopt the personas of the characters, then spend hours together, online or in person, solving fictional murders using clues scattered throughout scripted scenarios.

The creators of the most popular games have become celebrities and the competition to develop the next hit is fierce. Games can cost between $15 and $60 to play. According to the Chinese market research firm iSearch, about 40% of players are between 26 and 30 years old.

The games provide “a participatory experience and a way to socialize, which many young Chinese people lack in life,” said Kecheng Fang, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The New York Times.

But the savage world of scripted murders has caught the attention of the Chinese government, which embraces President Xi Jinping’s position that the Chinese Communist Party must control all aspects of life. To that end, the government has cracked down on the tech industry, video games and effeminate male celebrities.

“Human Demons”

On October 27, authorities sent a notice to owners of script killing clubs, asking them to inspect their offerings and “resolutely resist scripts that violate laws and regulations.”

The request came after the official Xinhua news agency described the murder scenarios as “puzzling” for young players who are immersed in the scenarios, “resulting in psychological problems”.

FILE – This photo taken on Aug. 13, 2020 shows a player taking part in a live-action murder mystery role-playing game, ‘The Haunted Mansion,’ at a studio in Shanghai. The friends sometimes use phones to help them with clues, but they mostly read scripts and debate who the killer might be on the loose.

September 22 Xinhua remark also criticized the games as violent. “There must be correct values ​​in these scripts,” the article said, adding that some content was too scary, such as storylines featuring “human demons”, “nightclub murders” and “people with possessed eyes”.

In April, the state Chinese Youth Daily published an article calling for regulation of the industry. “The freedom to write whatever they want has made the industry a breeding ground for pornography and violence,” he said.

Western origins

Scenario murder games originated in Europe and the United States in the 1930s. They emerged in China in 2015 when the online media platform Mango TV aired the South Korean show “Crime scene,” which is based on actual murders. A year later, Mango TV premiered “Who’s the Murderer”, inviting Chinese celebrities to solve scripted murders.

This show launched the current craze. According to a June report from the Meituan Research Institute, script killing game clubs in China have grown from around 1,000 in 2017 to 45,000 in April 2021.

In 2019, the scripted murder game industry generated $1.6 billion in revenue, an increase of 68% compared to 2018.

iResearch ranked script killing as the third most popular form of entertainment for Chinese people, after watching movies and participating in sports. In one report published in April, the company predicted that the revenue of the scripted murder game industry would reach $3.7 billion, or RMB 23.9 billion, in 2022.

FILE - This photo taken on August 13, 2020 shows players dressed up in costumes before taking part in a live murder mystery role-playing game, "haunted mansion," in Shanghai.

FILE – This photo taken on Aug. 13, 2020 shows players dressed up in costumes before taking part in a live role-playing murder mystery, ‘The Haunted Mansion,’ in Shanghai.

No social aspect

Jiaqi Qu, 29, a public relations professional in east China’s Jiangsu province, told VOA Mandarin that she enjoys the excitement and sense of accomplishment the games bring.

“I love the process,” she said. “If it’s a good script, you’ll be surprised every step of the way, and it brings out a sense of accomplishment if you find out who the murderer is.”

Arrow Zou, 23, screenwriter and owner of Just Play Media Co. Ltd., told VOA Mandarin that for a six-person storyline to resonate with players, “every character needs to feel that ‘I’m the main character.’ .You can’t have fringe characters.” VOA Mandarin uses the English version of Zou’s name as it prefers.

There are many types of scripts, he said. Some focus on reasoning techniques, others on emotions. “Those who come to play emotional stories are often here for social purposes,” he told VOA Mandarin, as each game requires four to 10 players.

Qu told VOA Mandarin that she knows many people who enjoy the social aspect of scripted murders. “It’s a really easy way to start talking to someone, because you all have to complete a project together,” she said. “We usually have a meal together after finishing the game, so it’s a great way to get to know people outside of your social circle.”