Thursday, September 22, 2005

This week's column follows.
It's no surprise that in Beijing's struggle to ``correct'' and control mainland popular culture and the Internet that video games are causing the Party faithful to fret.
Internet cafes come, go and sprout up again; search engines are fine-tuned to exclude pernicious terms like ``June 4, 1989,'' Falun Gong, and ``Taiwan/ Tibet independence'' while chat rooms are scoured to expunge creeping independent thought that could disrupt ``social harmony.''
The dangers of online gaming addiction are trumpeted in woeful mainland news articles featuring distraught parents who discover their once-promising scholar son has blown his mental and physical health, not to mention hard-won tuition and food money on the likes of 27-hour binges on World of Warfare as a spell-casting, wolf-riding Orc.
What's a parent to do? Well, when the great and powerful concern of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) is aroused it can do plenty.
Using guidelines developed by authorities for whom Pac Man is still cutting edge, it defined playing for less than three consecutive hours as ``healthy.'' Playing three to five consecutive hours is ``tiring,'' and after five consecutive hours it's downright ``unhealthy.''
GAPP's prescription? The compulsory installation of a Nanny device in every mainland online game to reduce the powers of Orcs, Dwarves and The Foresaken after three hours before breaking the spells at five hours.
That's the stick. Here's the carrot.
Goodbye Lara Croft. Hello Lei Feng. And Zheng He, Bao Zheng, Yue Fei and Zheng Chenggong. If the names aren't familiar it's because you probably weren't schooled on the mainland or, in Zheng He's case, haven't read The Year China Discovered America. He's the eunuch admiral (1371-1435) whose memory was resurrected by former Britisher submariner/author but is now celebrated by Beijing (as one Western commentator aptly termed it) in a ``flowering of patriotic kitsch.''
The others, save Lei Feng, are more or less equally ancient. Bao Zheng's (999-1062) claim to fame was as a judge who battled corrupt government officials. Yeu Fe (1103-1142) was a Song Dynasty general who was martyred after being framed on false charges and Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662) is ``the liberator of Taiwan'' who seized the island from the Dutch.
To some cynical Western minds the rough equivalent might be video games featuring the exploits of 19th Century US General Winfield ``Liberator of Mexico'' Scott or maybe Neville Chamberlain, the man who gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.
Not exactly competition for Grand Theft Auto.
Lei Feng is in a class by himself, however.
For those unaquainted with him and despite some doubt that Lei actually existed, his memory was originally promoted by Mao Zedong in a long running ``Learn from Lei Feng Campaign'' as an unassuming, selfless People's Liberation Army soldier and unquestioning Party member who -- this part isn't exactly celebrated -- died ingloriously in 1962 at age 24 when a telephone pole fell on him.
Lei's burning ambition was said to be nothing more than to be ``a revolutionary screw that never rusts''. Though many younger Chinese may regard him privately as a joke, his earnest fur-capped image still hangs in lots of mainland school rooms and Beijing periodically dusts him off as an evolving model for changing times and new campaigns.
According to Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Pages web site, ``he has been promoted as a homeowner, as the possessor of a savings account, and in many other modern guises that seem to clash with his original revolutionary `screw spirit.' Most recently, he even was touted as a possible patron saint of the private entrepreneurs.''
Now he's going to be a video game hero and if a small, completely unscientific opinion poll I took at the Ferrari Game Zone in the Dongman shopping area of Shenzhen recently is any clue, Lei Feng will need another makeover or else he's going to rust quickly as a video game hero.
With the assistance of a long suffering translator who said the mission made her ``feel like a snake head (people smuggler)'' I was able to eventually pry four male players, ages 15 to 22, away from World of Warfare, Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan (The legend of the Sword Fairy and Knight-errant) and a Japanese-made kick boxing blood bath to get their feelings on the five upcoming games.
When asked to rank them in terms of interest, the consistent loser was Zheng Chenggon, ``liberator of Taiwan.''
``Very boring,'' said Eleven Huang, 19, who said he plays about three days a week, at 5 to 6 hour stretches. ``Nobody cares what he did, I think.''
All ranked 11th century judge, Bao Zheng (nickname ``Blue Sky'') as their top pick. Reasons? Besides still being synonmous with justice, he also used unique guillotines or axes to dispatch evil doers. Commoners were decapitated with a blade decorated with a dog's head, royalty got the dragon's head treatment and tiger-headed steel fell on corrupt government bureaucrats.
``More points for dragon or tiger blades, maybe?'' said David Du, 22.
The eunuch admiral was also popular -- ranked No. 2 by Huang and Du and No. 3 by Huang Ping, 17 and 15-year-old Zeng Xiaolong.
``Many wonderful adventures,'' said Huang of Zheng He.
The martyred general also flip-flopped between second and third position for generally patriotic reasons but Comrade Lei Feng was a solid fourth, with a disclaimer.
``If they change him into a super hero, like the Spider-Man it might be interesting to play,'' said Huang. ``Give him many evil people to fight. Many powers.''
But Huang Ping, who confessed he typically plays an ``unhealthy'' 5 to 6 hours a stretch, two or three days a week, just snorted. ``If they make a Lei Feng game, I will probably stop playing,'' he said.
Note to Beijing: Forget the Nanny. Just unleash Lei Feng.
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