How Gaming Became the Next Front in the War Over Hong Kong
‘Overwatch’ players have repurposed a Chinese character into a symbol of the protests, as the debate over the city spreads to the video game world
If we needed any more proof that the intersection of meme culture, gaming, capitalism, and politics is a defining element of contemporary global reality, now we have this: A first-person shooter gaming character has joined the fight between Hong Kong protesters and the Chinese government’s authoritarianism.
In the Blizzard game Overwatch, the character Dr. Mei-Ling Zhou is a climate scientist who freezes herself in an Antarctic cryo chamber during a catastrophic storm. She awakens nine years later in a world gone deeply awry, and must employ her special cold-weather-related powers (like her frost-jet-spouting Endothermic Blaster) against a variety of enemies.
As of Wednesday morning, Mei had found a new opponent to tackle: the Chinese Communist Party. In a meme video called “Mei Stands with Hong Kong,” published by a sympathizer to the Hong Kong protest movement, politically provocative Chinese subtitles and spliced protest footage are inserted into about two minutes of a stock Overwatch scene.
In the video, just after a photograph of Hong Kong’s highly unpopular Chief Executive Carrie Lam flashes across the screen, Mei is asked by another Overwatch character, Winston, whether she can “help us change this ruthless world.”
If you want to play in global culture, then global culture is going to play with you.
“I can,” she replies. She then leaves the Antarctic base, pulling a trailer full of weapons superimposed with the Chinese characters for the words “universal values,” a phrase generally held to reference freedom, justice, equality, and human rights.
The immediate catalyst for the video’s creation was Blizzard’s decision to penalize a Hong Kong Hearthstone player for publicly supporting the Hong Kong protest movement in a Taiwanese Hearthstone livestream. The action enraged free-speech-loving gamers and U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle.