Disco Elysium has become a surprise hit in China due largely to an updated version of the game which uses Simplified Chinese.
The game’s success was also surprising considering that Disco Elysium is a game known for its raunchy humor, explicit sexual content, frequent depictions of drug and alcohol abuse, and in-your-face criticisms of political ideologies.
The Chinese government has always been known for censoring all mass media in the country, video games included.
Huge boost in positive reviews on Steam
Disco Elysium received an update on Steam on March 17 that added Simplified Chinese localization which is the first time the game has been translated into a language other than English.
This proved to be a remarkably great move since positive reviews on Steam immediately skyrocketed. As a matter of fact, on the same day, the game received a whopping 1,748 new positive reviews.
The last time it garnered that kind of activity was November of last year. As of the moment, Disco Elysium is sitting on a total of 14,428 positive reviews.
Content control and censorship in China
Just like any form of media in the country, video games in China are subject to the nation’s censorship policies. They have to go through an extensive government approval process that ensures that the content of the game is deemed appropriate for the nation’s values.
Some of the more popular games that were banned in China for not meeting those standards include Battlefield 4 and Command and Conquer: Generals – Zero Hour for smearing China’s image, and Hearts of Iron for allegedly distorting history.
Aside from outright banning games, China also removes imagery that it regards as offensive. Such was the case in the Chinese versions of Dota 2 and World of Warcraft where images of skulls and skeletons were at times removed completely.
China is one of the pioneer countries in recognizing that its citizens could develop an addiction to the internet, video games, and other digital content.
In fact, in 2008 China was the first country to classify internet addiction as a genuine clinical disorder and sought to deal with the issue by requiring video game publishers to set anti-addiction measures that would limit consecutive play time especially for children.
In November 2019, a new law was passed that would limit the playing time of anyone under 18 years of age to less than an hour and a half on weekdays, three hours on weekends and no playing time whatsoever between 10 p.m and 8 a.m.
Gaming renaissance in China
Perhaps it is due to the nature of Disco Elysium and the way it brashly deals with sensitive political themes that makes it so attractive to Chinese gamers.
Revachol, the fictional city that the game is set in, is rife with unsuccessful communist coups and widespread capitalist prevalence. Racism is commonplace whether it be from the characters that you meet throughout the game or even some of the dialogue options your character is capable of.
“Very impressive. Maybe this is a game that only countries that went through the communist revolution can fully understand. It’s a poem for both despair and light.”
Another user went as far as saying:
“I thought I was a staunch kangmi-ist (The game’s made up term for communist). Turns out I’m actually the most despicable centrist. I’m so disgusting.”
The general consensus of Chinese gamers is one of praise at the way developer ZA/UM chose to deal with the game’s translation and the effort they put in to make it more accessible to a wider range of players.
One steam user also commented on the translation: “They have tried their best with Elysium Disco’s Chinese translation. A lot of made-up words were used to substitute sensitive terms so gamers who are familiar with Eastern European and Soviet history will probably have an easier time understanding the game.”
Whatever the reason is for Disco Elysium’s popularity in China, it’s great to see such an amazing game find such success in the most unlikely of places.
Images courtesy of ZA/UM Studio