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China is banning video games depicting same-sex couples

According to a leaked memo obtained by the South China Morning Post, China is cracking down on same-sex couples in video games.

Chinese media is infamous for its strict regulations, and this latest development is a punch in the guts to LGBT rights in the East Asian nation.

The government memo was sourced from an “internal training course… for the state-backed gaming association in the country”. The course is designed to inform developers of “what is and isn’t allowed” to be included in video games. In this way, Chinese law will approve their games when they are ready to be released.

LGBT video games
Image: Naughty Dog

According to the South China Morning Post, the memo stresses that video games are not classified as “pure entertainment”, rather, they are a media form that needs to display “a correct set of values”.

This includes banning all depictions of same-sex relationships, “effeminate males”, cross-dressing, choice-based gameplay based on morality (e.g. Dragon Age, Mass Effect) and games that contain gameplay or plots that “deliberately provoke controversy”.

“If regulators can’t tell the character’s gender immediately, the setting of the characters could be considered problematic and red flags will be raised,” the memo reads (as quoted by Yahoo! News).

In regards to games that require players to make decisions based on morals, Papermag quotes the memo with the following:

“Players can choose to be either good or evil… but we don’t think that games should give players this choice… [a]nd this must be altered.”

At the same time, it has been reported that two of the country’s biggest gaming companies – NetEase and Tencent Holdings – sat down with government officials to discuss the aforementioned developments on September 8.

According to Out Magazine, the gaming giants were warned that video games that glorify “wrong values like love of money and ‘gay love’ must be toned down and adjusted, or they would be banned”.

Life is Strange 2 LGBT
Image: instinctmagazine.com/Dontnod/Square Enix

Despite the hit to representation, Chinese media with LGBT leanings continues to thrive online and on the global stage. Manhua (Chinese comics), donghua (Chinese animation) and their live-action adaptations, specifically the danmei (or boys’ love) stories, have developed cult followings in China and abroad.

Shows such as (but not limited to) 2020’s Heaven Official’s Blessing, 2019’s The Untamed and 2021’s Word of Honor (all available on Netflix) successfully bypass the government’s censorship laws by changing their original, lead same-sex romances into same-sex bromances (with lots of gay subtext).

According to the East Asia Forum, 2020 saw “over 60 danmei novels … purchased for live action adaptation[s]” from Chinese production companies.