Chinese indie game sheds light on utilitarian approach of Chinese parents

Chinese Parents, an indie game that has unexpectedly become popular, once again sheds light on how attentive Chinese style parenting could be while making many grown-up gamers reminisce their childhood in the virtual world while acting as their used-to-be ‘authoritarian’ parents.

Chinese Parents, after reaching the second place on a major international gaming platform’s top seller list, has provoked heated debate on the Chinese social media. A young gamer who has posted a positive review on Steam, the platform, said he could now understand his parents’ determination to always urge him to learn, after having his own virtual kids give up pastime in order to succeed in gaokao, China’s notorious national college entrance exam, which is designed by the game as a shortcut to success.

In Chinese Parents, a player gets to plan all things for a baby boy from his birth till he takes gaokao. In the 48 gaming rounds to be passed, a player would make decisions for his virtual son on a daily basis to attend cram schools, talent or physical training, or occasionally have some recreational activities to cope with mounting stress along the way to gaokao. All the choices made would decide the virtual boy’s performance in gaokao, his career, development prospects, and even how beautiful his future wife would be.

Although more footloose lifestyle could also be regarded as decent for a virtual son, apparently, the ultimate goal designed by Chinese Parents is for the “kids” of players to be admitted by prestigious universities like the Tsinghua or Peking University that could lead to more exciting gaming experience like marrying his incredibly gorgeous classmate, or becoming a billionaire.

Many players admitted they had spent several or even over 10 ‘generations’ to accomplish the goal of getting into Tsinghua or Peking University, because in the first one or two generations, they tend to let the protagonist enjoy more carefree life in compensation for their own pastime-deprived school days in real life.

The game and its 48 rounds would start all over again only that the previous protagonist has become a parent and the new son would inherit the previous generation’s improved genes like intelligence, good memory. Success achieved by the previous generation would also make the virtual family more well-off and accumulate more resources for the new baby’s cultivation.

The core ideology of the game is believed by many players to be crossing class divide by several generation’s efforts. However, after the first several generations’ happy education, many players suddenly find out that they have all become the most-hated Chinese-style parents who tend to keep pushing their kids to pursue good grades.

For example, a player with regrets in his own life may decide for his virtual son to become an athlete, live happily without being crammed with mountains of book. However, he would find out as the game progresses that with no accumulation, the next generations could hardly become sports stars like he had wished. In most cases, the kids end up becoming sports commentators or even more obscure figures.

When the player finds his kids to be cash-strapped and himself denied access to more exciting gaming experience, he would automatically change his mind, and begin to work on passing down good traits to the next generation.

After every generation becomes a father himself, the parent would teach his toddler not to “fall into the same old trap again,” which well depicts the common expectation of many real-life Chinese parents—for their offspring to be better off than themselves.

In the game’s design, the shortest way to success is through gaokao. Most players agreed that by learning hard, merely three generations’ accumulation would send the protagonist into Tsinghua or Peking University. And from there, they could land the best-paid jobs like doctors and IT programmers. Meanwhile, those kids cultivated as athletes or artists need more generations’ build-up to become successful.

Some netizens who claimed to be parents themselves accused that the game is purposely stigmatizing Chinese-style parents to be eager for quick success and instant benefits. In reply, Yang Geyilang, a producer of the game, told media that he did not regard the ‘examination-orientated’ parenting as all bad. “On the one hand, they do put quite an emphasis on school marks, while on the other hand, they’re always ready to sacrifice for their kids.”

The state-run People’s Daily has published a commentary about the popular indie game, indicating it is of social significance considering many players could learn from the designed scenarios that their parents have conquered hardships to cultivate them and that China’s education has painstakingly come all the way to finally harvest good results.”

Meanwhile, amid growing incidence of teenage suicide in China, quite a number of citizens and online commentators put the blame on mounting academic pressure and sometimes unduly demanding Chinese parents. They talk about the three ‘original sins’ that are typically pinned on the group.

First, they spare no effort whether big or small when it comes to caring for their children. “The result would be for the kids to be put under pressure and for the Chinese society to be burdened by a growing number of ‘giant babies’ who could not stand on their own feet forever,” a netizen posted.

Second, Chinese-style parents are accused to be too ‘control freak’ to admit their children in a rapidly changing society may form their own distinctive values and their own perceptions may be outdated.

Third, many Chinese parents have high expectations of their children, and they just could not accept the fact that their kids may be just as common as themselves.


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