'Too stimulating': China begins crackdown on murder mystery role-play games

A group dressed up in character for a scripted role playing game.
PHOTO: Instagram/lovely_yooyo

Shanghai is set to become the first mainland Chinese city to regulate popular role-playing murder mystery games by banning violent, horrific and pornographic content, which it claims is widespread in the industry.

The game of jubensha, meaning “script-killing” in English, has been popular among millennials, especially those born after 1995, for its entertaining value and as a social activity.

The number of script-killing studios across China has grown rapidly in the last few years, with more than 30,000 venues across the country, according to state media news agency Xinhua. In Shanghai alone, there are more than 1,000 venues, the municipal government said.

According to draft legislation released earlier this week for public comment, script-killing venues in the city in eastern China must censor scripts of any banned content and then submit the censored version to the authorities.

The proposed legislation includes a range of content that is to be prohibited including breaking the law, undermining national sovereignty and security, and religious policies. The scripts will also be forbidden from containing obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, and drug-related or criminal scenes, or anything that undermines social moral standards and cultural traditions.

“Employees of script-killing venues should not use horrific, cruel, violent, or vulgar performances that damage consumers’ mental health, and should not use human defects or abnormal human bodies to attract customers,” read the draft legislation. “Also, they must not abuse animals in their gigs.”

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A survey by security firm Central China Securities showed that almost half of all script-killing games use a logic-based problem-solving format called “brain burning”.

“To make the crimes more ‘brain burning’ and the plots more complicated, it’s common for scripts to design the characters with quirky personalities and script them performing extraordinary actions,” the survey said.

In September, Xinhua criticised the industry for “getting out of control” and “arousing public concern”.

“If the content is too stimulating and the participants lack judgment — like young people — it will distort reality for them and cause psychological problems,” said Xinhua.

However, there was no evidence provided by the agency to support these claims.

A 21-year-old man went to seek psychological treatment at a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, Eastern China, after becoming addicted to playing jubensha, the City Express reported. According to his mother, the man surnamed Liu allegedly became irritable, often had nightmares and once threatened to kill her, after he started playing the game several months before, the report said.

Ren Yong, a public administration professor from the East China University of Political Science and Law, suggested the industry introduce a rating system to target different groups of players, like adults and children, Shanghai TV reported.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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