Feature: Live-action role play enraptures young Chinese "drama kings, queens"

2021-12-12 13:35:56 GMT2021-12-12 21:35:56(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Xinhua writers Zhang Yuqi, Yao Yulin

TIANJIN, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Donning traditional apparel with a rapier in his hand, 23-year-old swordsman Zhang Yuhao struggled to confess his secret, though doing so could prove fatal for his brother who is suspected of assassinating the emperor.

Thankfully, however, no one was actually killed in this murder mystery game. Together with his six friends, Zhang was given the background information of his character before the role play began, and they were dressed up in costume to immerse themselves in the experience of finding the true "killer" in a fictive crime.

Such role play enthusiasts are an increasingly common sight in China nowadays. Murder mystery games that feature brain-racking reasoning and suspenseful plots have overwhelmed more and more youngsters and become a favorite social activity.

According to a report released by the Meituan Research Institute, China is expected to have about 9.4 million consumers willing to pay for such live-action role play (LARP) in 2021, with an estimated market value of more than 15 billion yuan (about 2.35 billion U.S. dollars).

Over 70 percent of the game players are under the age of 30, while more than 40 percent of the consumers tend to participate in LARP at least once a week, said the report.

It was Zhang's first encounter with the game, yet he was instantly hooked. "My character faces a dilemma between staying loyal to the emperor and protecting his brother. While playing our roles, we were experiencing a different life described in the script."

As a white-collar employee in north China's Tianjin Municipality, Zhang often works more than nine hours during busy workdays. "It may sound trite to say that I love the fantasy of being someone else, but the game is kind of an escape from my daily routine on weekends."

As the game unfolded gradually under the guidance of a host, all the LARP players soon immersed themselves in the imaginary world. As they reached the critical junctures, tears even rolled down the faces of Zhang and his companions.

Liu Yang, 25, is a frequent visitor to a local LARP venue in Tianjin. Almost every Friday evening he plays the in-person role game with strangers after toiling long hours during the day.

As a young empty-nester in the bustling city, Liu makes friends during the games.

"I've seen it bring a lot of people out of their shells. Every character in the game has their own vital clues that others may not know," Liu said.

"How they play their role is mainly defined by their own personalities, so that I can know more about a stranger within the game's four to five hours. I could even be lucky enough to make a new close friend during the game," he added.

Li Chenyu, a 17-year-old senior high school student, is much more taken with the game's logical side. "Players dig out every clue and share them during conversation to vote out the liar by analyzing the criminal's contradictory statements."

Encouraged by the promising LARP games, Chinese entrepreneurs are scrambling to grab a share of the lucrative market.

According to Qichacha, a leading platform offering company information inquiry services, over 3,600 LARP-related enterprises were newly registered during the first half of this year, up about 294.4 percent year on year.

LARP lover Qin Yue owns about 10 LARP studios across the country. "Offline studios have mushroomed in China. In my pre-market survey, I found nearly 100 studios scattered in one office building cluster in a central urban area of Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province."

Yet the nascent industry has also incurred many worrying problems. Some parents of the young players hold negative attitudes toward the game due to its possible violent, vulgar and obscene content.

Minors are susceptible to the criminal and sexual elements of the LARP games due to the vivid and immersive experiences the games can bring. "It is urgent to improve the regulation over the offline and online studios and script publishers," noted Wang Chunyi, a training consultant of the Chinese Psychological Society.

"LARP games are still a good emotional outlet for those having a hard time in their daily lives, where they can release all their stress and take a break. This is what the game is all about, beyond reasoning and social interaction," said Qin Yue.

"As a studio owner, I feel obliged to filter out the scripts of poor quality. All LARP lovers are expecting rosy prospects for the industry rather than seeing the game become a mere fleeting craze," Qin added. Enditem

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