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China’s version of the Satanic Panic has the government regulating LARPs

‘Script murder games’ must now be vetted for content

Eddie sticks out his tongue and makes devil horns with his hands in a scene from Stranger Things season 4 Image: Netflix

Live-action role-playing is hot in China’s urban centers right now, according to reports from English-language state media website Sixth Tone. But following a surge in popularity in recent years, regulators are beginning to take notice of the genre’s mature content. A story published Wednesday indicates that municipal and provincial authorities have now begun regulating content and demanding that some retailers remove certain materials from sale. The situation seems far more serious than even the darkest days of the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, which saw conservatives and even some media organizations in the U.S. making unfounded claims about the safety of playing Dungeons & Dragons.

At issue are “script murder” games, where players don costumes and act out the roles in elaborate murder mystery games that take many hours to complete. Games can take place at home, using commercially available scripts; inside retail storefronts; or at more thematic, private venues.

“China’s script murder games stem from the murder mystery of LARP games,” Sixth Tone’s Luo Meihan told Polygon via email. “We call it ‘script murder’ because it’s the direct translation in English from the original Chinese word jubensha (in pinyin), or 剧本 (script) 杀(murder). The gaming genre’s original form in China is basically similar to LARP.

“But as the industry expands, the gaming genre has developed to involve various types of scripts engaging players in an emotional or joyful experience, in addition to the process of solving a murder mystery,” Luo continued. “People can also sit around and have their respective scripts in hand to get into a story and follow the storyline as one of the protagonists, often with the lead of [a] Dungeon Master.”

According to Luo’s reporting, the southwest city of Chengdu recently become the first Chinese municipality to “introduce new rules governing the role-playing mystery gaming sector.” The stated goal is to “promote the healthy and orderly development of the script entertainment industry.” Liaoning and Shanghai provinces in the north appear to be following suit.

Here are additional details from Luo’s original article for Sixth Tone:

The new rules for offline games including role-playing “script murder” games [...] and other interactive gaming venues now require local industry associations to publish “red and black lists” of “good and problematic scripts” involving pornography, violence, and vulgarity, among others. Meanwhile, minors are barred from participating in games deemed unsuitable for their age group and only allowed into gaming venues during weekends, national holidays, and summer and winter vacations.

As a result, some store owners are now curating their selection to fall in line with government regulation. It’s unclear how this will impact the output of independent game designers inside China, but the addressable market — as with most markets inside mainland China — appears to be huge. Sixth Tone’s analysis of an industry report indicates that the number of gaming venues has increased by 400% since 2018, with $2.8 billion in revenue last year alone.

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