Are You With Mei?: Gaming Culture and Hong Kong’s Liberation

In the recent weeks, “Overwatch,” a popular squad-based combat game, became a symbol of protest for Hong Kong’s liberation from the radically authoritarian China through it’s leading character, Mei.

Although the game itself is not a political platform, many users are now spamming the general chat and social media with images of the Chinese character in #FreeHongKong gear and masks like the protestors themselves. Some players do not know the true meaning behind the controversy, and some simply ignore it or even consider it a meme.

But why is the #FreeHongKong movement such a big deal right now anyway, and how is Blizzard so involved?

Quick history lesson!

Hong Kong is geographically a part of China, but the two could not be further apart politically. China lost control of Hong Kong for 99 years to Great Britain in the late 1800s.

After those 99 years, Britain gave Hong Kong back to China under the “one country, two systems” agreement. This left Hong Kong with “a high degree of autonomy” under Article 12, the “right to vote” under Article 26, and “freedom of speech” under Article 27. However, the terms of this agreement would not last forever. In 2047, 50 years after Great Britain’s renouncement of Hong Kong, Hong Kong would be under the full control of China.

Though, China has already taken action to control Hong Kong’s governmental practices throughout 2017 and 2018, such as arresting Hong Kong’s pro-Democracy leaders and holding booksellers who sold anti-China pieces captive.

Despite all of this history, the actual protesting sparked after a 2018 Hong Kong murder case. Chan Tong-Kai, 19, and Poon Hiu-wing, 20, went on vacation to Taiwan, and only one returned. Tong-Kai confessed to Hiu-wing’s murder a month after he returned from the vacation.

Even if he confessed to Hong Kong authorities, he could not be tried because he committed the murder in Taiwan, and the two countries do not have an extradition bill, which lets suspects be transferred to other countries to be tried for the crimes they did there. If the bill was to be passed, though, it would also allow extradition to mainland China, where, according to a Vox interview with Claudia Mo, there is no “humane punishment” or “separation of powers” to regulate the treatment of prisoners.

Now, what does the inhumane imprisonment of authors and political activists have to do with video games? Allow me to explain. Activision Blizzard has censored its own games, notably “Diablo III,” for the Chinese market before, removing cultural insensitivities like the use of skeletons and gore. Blizzard also recently revoked Hong Kong “Hearthstone” player blitzchung’s winnings due to his backing the Hong Kong protestors during an official “Hearthstone” livestream.

Even though they have reduced his ban and restored his earnings, many “Hearthstone” players and Blizzard Entertainment supporters have started to boycott the company because of their conduct towards a human rights movement. These actions and reactions show Blizzard’s direct involvement in shutting down protestors and adhering strictly to China’s unreasonable censorship simply because the platforms they create are not for controversial topics like Hong Kong’s protesting, even with their deep connection to controversial political issues.

As of Oct. 14, 2019, Blizzard cancelled an “Overwatch” release event in Nintendo’s New York superstore because of the backlash from fans over the Hong Kong controversy.

Fans have already flooded the Nintendo of New York Twitter’s announcement, jokingly posting, “Really makes you wonder why” and to “keep digging that grave, Blizzard.”

Cancelling a smaller-scale event like this can give us some insight into what will happen in November of 2019 for Blizzcon, the annual convention Blizzard uses to promote upcoming news, features, and even games for their major franchises. Many have already made claims that they will stand in protest for Hong Kong and how supporters were wronged by the company.

“[This is] not controversial. It’s human rights. Pretty sure no sane person is going to be against that… [Blizzard is] making themselves look worse every day that they ignore it,” Twitter user @whyamisoshiny posts on Blizzard’s latest tweet about the upcoming Overwatch Halloween Terror Event.

But the question still stands: Does Blizzard need to continue to push for a non-political game despite their political actions?

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