Between 1942-43, Nazi Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels composed a series of documents outlining his mass control theories. Though insidious in nature, these 19 “Principles” have become central to the literature of propaganda studies.
The reason for their popularity is simple: they work. Their model has since been implemented in various settings, from government and the military to education and advertising, and in most cases, the primary instrument of dissemination remains unchanged: mass media.
It is here that the Chinese gaming industry is badly failing.
At a convention last summer, China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) announced various measures to incorporate “topics of national interest” into the gaming scene. The resulting “red games” are meant to stir patriotic fervor amidst a population that overwhelmingly prefers foreign products: South Korea and the U.S. produce the nation’s three most popular games, for example.
Chinese video games are notably unpopular: “All the interesting [ones] are developed by foreign companies. Why [can't] Chinese companies develop good games[?]” complains one young man. Others gripe about the games’ “lack of reality,” partly because of their tendency to ensure Chinese forces and characters always emerge victorious. Naturally, this detracts from their difficulty and entertainment value.
Photo Credit: Stefan Landsberger
In a country with an estimated 300 million active gamers, this propaganda failure is inexcusable. Even Chinese efforts like Glorious Mission, modeled after such increasingly popular military-developed training games as American Army (courtesy of the U.S. Army) have been apathetically received. “I’ve never [even] heard of this game,” says Chinese gamer Liu Cao. Apparently, this is often the case.
So what can Chinese “red game” developers do about this? I’m hesitant to aid propaganda machines of any kind, but it seems logical to point them toward the theories developed by Goebbels.
In the sixth of his “Principles of Propaganda,” the Nazi official states, “To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.”
The Chinese have the right idea in utilizing all media means at their disposal, and because of their popularity and interactive nature, video games are ideal channels for the dissemination of propaganda ideas.
Photo Credit: Polygon
But Goebbels also recognized that people respond better to entertaining programming than straightforward “instruction.” Translated to the gaming world, this directly opposes how Chinese games often function. By presenting players with an inevitably victorious outcome, they effectively rob themselves of that which makes them entertaining: the audience control factor.
Because at their most basic level, video games are beloved because those who play them control their outcome. And when represents a core source of value, not much is left when it’s no longer a factor.
If media history teaches us anything, it’s that audiences absorb and internalize messages more thoroughly when the ideas are massaged into them instead of hammered. By ensuring victory, “red games” are basically telling gamers how things should be, and this is a mistake. Set up the parameters and let them figure it out for themselves.
Any other way frankly reeks of authoritative insecurity.