In my usual scan of Google News headlines this morning, I noticed an interesting pair of articles on concern over youth board game addiction in China that caused me to do a double take. “Board game addiction” is not exactly a common phrase… especially in comparison to the legitimate attention that various video and computer game addictions receive by the media.
The first article, by PressTV (an Islamist Iranian news source), has a video that is worth watching. The second article by People’s Daily Online (the Communist Chinese newspaper) is longer and has more information. The concern seems to center around Chinese youth spending too much time playing board games and/or playing games that are considered “not appropriate” for youth. The demographics of Chinese youth, as compared to American youth, are pretty unique, due to Asian cultural differences and due to the effects of the Chinese “Family Planning Policy” (better known as the One Child Policy). Many Chinese youths in urban environments lack siblings, and while video games are extremely popular in China they are also somewhat lonely so getting together with friends to play board or card games is apparently very popular over there.
Both articles focus on one particular game, called SanGuoSha, translated into English as “Killers of the Three Kingdoms”. The game has a Boardgamegeek entry here, though the game is available in Chinese only and would require massive translation to be playable in English. The game mechanics are similar to Bang!, which is in term similar to Mafia, Werewolf, and similar group games. The card art is beautiful and obviously part of the draw, as is the exciting social large group gameplay. Anyone who’s ever had a good group together for a game of mafia knows that the fun and energy of the game derives mainly from the excitement and interaction of the group playing it, so the potential is there for a large popular movement if the game got enough momentum on a cultural level. Apparently there are even board game cafes in China where people gather to play this and other games. In the PressTV video a boardgame cafe owner is interviewed and behind him is a wall of boardgames, many of them easily recognizable such as Dominion and Ticket to Ride.
Interestingly, the criticism seems to center on the games being addicting and harmful for youth by exposing them to violent or sexual imagry present in the games and not intended for a younger audience. I looked up some of the card images from SanGuoSha on Boardgamegeek and didn’t find them particularly graphic, at least not by general industry standards. Certainly they are much more mild than your typical video games, though that may be less true in China where I understand many video games are heavily edited before being approved. I imagine this must be a cultural thing to some degree.
There are certainly a few games out there that have purposefully pushed the line of content, and plenty of games I wouldn’t play with young children. Generally, however, most every mainstream boardgame is going to be appropriate for all but the most conservative/sheltered teenagers so I can’t understand where this criticism is coming from. Perhaps it is some issue with the killing of other players that occurs in SanGuoSha, but again, haven’t these people seen first person shooters? I’d rather have my kids playing a card game with friends than sitting in front of a screen committing mindless acts of virtual violence for hours.
Some SanGuoSha cards
There is also some concern that many games portray history incorrectly (a sensitive political issue in China for obvious reasons). As far as I can see it, the addiction portion of the criticism largely stems from the youth not managing their time properly which is not really a boardgame issue at all.
Of course to the Chinese Communist government, there is no problem that can’t be solved by massive government involvement. The Chinese education ministry has taken note of this trend and has decided to release boardgames better suited to educating youth and teaching them correct history, something I generally endorse although of course this also provides an additional platform for propaganda.
I’ve already gone on record as having stated my belief that boardgames produce a generally positive impact on society. That said, certainly they have the potential to cause unhealthy behavior and spread misinformation so some concern in this area is understandable. However, from what I’ve read in these articles and the research I’ve done on SanGuoSha I have a hard time agreeing with the specific criticisms noted in these articles. I guess in my mind boardgames are almost always going to be preferable to video games from a cultural perspective.
Also interesting that the two articles are from very much non-Western news sources. Seems like none of the major Western media outlets decided to pick this news up or were even aware of it.
For a more detailed analysis of the history and success of SanGuoSha and its relation to Bang!, see this Boardgamegeek thread.
Read Full Post »