This article originally appeared on VICE US.
According to China’s state-operated Global Times, there’s a new hit mobile game called Fight the Traitors Together, which lets players join in assaulting and beating Hong Kong protesters.
While the source of the game is unknown, the glowing writeup it received in the Global Times implies that it has at least tacit sanction as a work of propaganda, especially since there is little evidence on Chinese social media that the game has attracted any real audience. In an undeniably clumsy way, it points at the increasing violence and official intolerance being directed at the Hong Kong protesters.
Fight the Traitors Together, which can be played in web browsers and on phones, features what is clearly meant to be unflattering cartoon versions of prominent Hong Kong activists such as Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. Players whack them with hands, flip-flops, and baseball bats in the game, the quirky tone of which is rather at odds with the graveness of the protests, which have been rumbling in the semi-autonomous region since June.
Millions of protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong, initially to demonstrate against a proposed extradition bill between the region and China. Critics of the bill, which was scrapped in October, said it could lead to China’s authoritarian communist government taking dissidents from Hong Kong to the mainland for draconian punishment.
Recently the protests have become starker in nature, with complaints about police brutality intensifying. Demonstrators have continued to kick back against Beijing’s creeping political influence in the region, pushing for genuinely democratic leadership elections, which they are currently denied.
That’s not the narrative portrayed in chirpy cartoon form in Fight the Traitors Together, though. The game buys into Beijing’s propaganda narrative that the protesters are thugs coerced into violence by “foreign forces”, namely the U.S.
Arguably the most unsavoury aspect of the game, made with the Cocos Creator game development tool, is a cartoon showing Western-looking types offering cash to protesters. They promise large sums for killing police officers and more for committing suicide.
It’s not clear who produced the game, which does not feature creator credits and is hosted on a standalone website. Nothing connects it directly to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), although Chinese state media was quick to report on its existence despite the game having very little presence on China’s dominant social media site, Weibo.
The Global Times, a CCP-controlled newspaper regularly used to disseminate propaganda about the Hong Kong unrest, ran a gleeful news story about the game. It quoted one player as saying: “The practices of these modern traitors have long been irritating. While they are free in real life, at least in the game they should pay for what they have done.”
The CCP strictly controls the news media in China, blocks many foreign news websites and censors information about the Hong Kong protests on Chinese social media. China’s English language state media hyping the game is another short line added to the narrative Beijing is desperate to sell to the world about the demonstrations, and to Chinese people on the mainland about how they should feel about people who protest against the government.