Shanghai mulls clampdown on murder mystery games on national security fears

Authorities in Shanghai are mulling curbs to a growing murder mystery games industry that has swept China in recent years, saying the fancy-dress role-play events in which players try to solve an imaginary murder could be threat to “national security.”

According to Nov. 9 draft regulations, businesses running the hugely popular events will be required to ensure that none of the content presented to guests will “endanger national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, or … national security.”

Scripted events should also avoid depicting explicit scenes, gambling, violence or drug-taking, as well as any content that could “promote cults or superstitions,” the draft rules said.

Role-plays should also steer clear of “disrupting social order or undermining social stability,” it said.

Games that use “horrible, cruel, violent or vulgar scenes” likely to harm the mental health of staff or customers should be banned, along with displays depicting animal cruelty or “human body defects,” the draft said, calling for public comments to be sent to the department of culture and tourism by Dec. 8, 2021.

Organizers should “carry the red gene and stick to the [ruling Chinese’s Communist Party (CCP)’s] ideological line,” the draft said.

“Businesses that violate these rules will be dealt with by the relevant departments,” the draft rules warn.

CCP suspicions

An estimated 10 million young people will have played one or more of the games by the end of this year, according to media reports.

A gaming enthusiast who gave only the surname Dai said murder mystery and escape role-plays are hugely popular among young people, especially college students.

“Murder mystery games have been one of the few industries to boom in the economic downturn of the past few years,” Dai said. “But during the clampdown on extracurricular tuition [and cram schools], it was also mentioned.”

“A lot of these have already been raided by authorities in Beijing … now it’s Shanghai’s turn,” she said.

Dai said she believes the CCP is suspicious of any indoor gatherings that it doesn’t control or supervise.

Current affairs commentator Wang Zheng said the immersive nature of the games is what appeals most to young people, mostly late millennials and Generation Z.

“Murder mystery games are a new social platform for young people [to meet],” Wang said. “You can make new friends doing it.”

“Some companies have also been using murder mysteries as a form of team-building,” he said. “When the murder mystery is done, everyone eats dinner together.”

Wang said the CCP appears worried that young people could use the role-playing events as a way to communicate about politics or social issues in China.

“[They fear that], once the truth gets out, it may be too late to control it,” he said.

Policy met with ridicule

Media reports say the market for the in-person version of the games could reach 15.42 billion yuan this year, with participants likely to top nine million, and thousands of physical stores run by organizers of the events.

China Media Project quoted online comments about the reported psychological ill-effects of the games, known in Chinese as “jubensha,” as ridiculing the idea.

“Yes, as soon as I go to work, I feel murderous, so how should we characterize that psychological problem?” it quoted one Weibo user as saying.

“The backlash against state media moralizing over jubensha and its supposed harmful effects prompted Xinhua News Agency to disable comments on its original … post [about the games],” CMP reported.

“The moralizing about jubensha in the Chinese media of late has been encouraged by the larger wave of greater government regulation directed at the entertainment industry, which has focused on cyberspace and such trends as fandom culture and online gaming,” it said in an Oct. 1 article.

“Despite talk of the need to protect China’s youth, these moves are primarily about ensuring that media and culture, including all manner of entertainment activities, align with … the values … of the Chinese Communist Party,” the article said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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