lørdag 7. august 2021

No cults, no politics, no ghouls: how China censors the video game world

In the years after it was founded in 1999, the Swedish video game company Paradox Interactive quietly built a reputation for developing some of the best, and most hardcore, strategy games on the market. “Deep, endless, complex, unyielding games,” is how Shams Jorjani, the company’s chief business development officer, describes Paradox’s offerings. Most of its biggest hits, such as the middle ages-themed Crusader Kings, or Sengoku, in which you play as a 16th-century Japanese noble, were loosely based on history.

But in 2016, Paradox decided to try something a little different. Its new game, Stellaris, was a work of sprawling science fiction, set 200 years in the future. In this virtual universe, players could explore richly detailed galaxies, command their own fusion-powered starship fleets and fight with extraterrestrials to expand their space empires. Gamers could choose to play as the human race, or one of many alien species. (My personal favourite dresses in a lavish golden cape and has a head like an otter’s, with soft reddish-brown fur, dark eyes and a black snout. Another type of alien is a sentient crystal that eats rocks.)

The game was an instant hit, selling more than 200,000 copies in its first 24 hours. Later that year, Paradox decided to take Stellaris to China. This would mean navigating the country’s notoriously tricky censorship rules, but given that China was, at the time, home to an estimated 560 million gamers, the commercial appeal was irresistible.