A few weeks ago reports surfaced of an online game called “Incorruptible Warrior” (清廉战士) that had been released by a local government in central China. (This is the link to download the game but although you can download, the game doesn’t run, or at least I couldn’t get it to run). The game was set in ancient China (hence the grim visage of the famously upright magistrate Judge Bao above), but had a very contemporary theme (or an ageless theme for China, depending on your point of view) , the battle against corruption. Players took on the role of famously upstanding and yes, incorruptible, officials such as Bao and accumulated points by eliminating corrupt officials. Although the game had crude graphics and the server was dodgy (not to mention that much of its framework seemed to be, ahem, borrowed from other games) , it became an overnight sensation and attracted both media attention and players, not bad for a game produced by the Communist Party Discipline Inspection Commission of Haishu District, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province etc etc.
But the incorruptible warrior has been retired, it seems. While it isn’t exactly clear why the game was closed down or by whom, it may have been a little too bloodthirsty and salacious. Players gained their points not by arresting officials but by killing them and their entire families as well as their mistresses, who were in the habit of walking around in their bikinis before getting the chop.
Obviously, the very things that made the game popular also doomed it. And anyway, who says the players would actually learn “correct thinking” and not just enjoy a little vicarious revenge on officialdom. As a sniffy commentary from China’s official news service Xinhua noted today:
The idea of training video game players to battle corruption is worse than a mediocre doctor who only knows how to give painkillers to treat pain. It is like treating the right foot when the left foot hurts. …. We have to admit the theme of the game is more positive and healthy than the ones that promote violence. But as experts point out: “The core group to be educated in fighting corruption is those who control the levers of power. It is certainly helpful to educate adolescents to develop know right from wrong, but they are not the ones spreading corruption. It is therefore not going to be really effective.” In fact, it makes a game of a serious anti-corruption campaign.
The central government is indeed in the midst of a huge anti-corruption campaign, with rumors swirling in the capital of imminent further arrests of senior officials. The former head of China’s Food and Drug Administration was executed for corruption in July. But in the virtual world as much as the reality-based one, Beijing evidently wants to be in total control of who and what are right and wrong.