top of page
< Back

8bit era in china


GG Vol. 

21. 8. 10.

This article looks to the 8 bit gaming history in China to illuminate the Chinese gaming industry of today, one that earned 2786.87 billion yuan in 2020 (GPC et al. ) . While becoming the world's largest game market, Chinese gaming industry has also attracted worldwide attention. However, despite our fascination with the great success of the Chinese gaming industry in the 21st century, we should not forget the road ahead. Looking back on the early challenges that China's 8 bit gaming industry ever faced is an essential prerequisite for us to understand the industry’s current success. Therefore, this paper will analyze the Chinese 8 bit game and its history.  

"Walking on two Legs": The Story between Famiclones and Learning Computer

In 1980, under the direction of the Ministry of Computer Industry, China began to develop arcade machines. The processing trade of these machines was carried out in Changzhou, Fuzhou, Changsha, and elsewhere, with machines sold nationwide beginning in 1983. 

By the end of 1981, Beijing No. 1 Institute of Light Industry(北京第一轻工业研究所)had successfully developed the first Chinese gaming console, the YQ-1.  A first generation console, YQ-1 used the AY-3-8500 chip produced by General Instruments and was loaded with PONG variants. The other circuit components were made in China. In 1982, the console was released in small batches, and soon after similar consoles were assembled in factories located in Hangzhou, Wuxi, Shanghai, Inner Mongolia, Guangzhou, and other provinces.

* YQ-1 console produced in China in the 1980s, AY-3-8500 chip

In 1984, the second generation of gaming consoles entered the Chinese market. Until 1985, gaming consoles were typically precious and uncommon gifts given from overseas returnees to their relatives in mainland China.  The situation changed in 1987 when the Famicom was introduced in China. Because the Famicom was still expensive and required an NTSC high-frequency television signal for video output (it was not an ideal match for the PAL-D television system in China), the importation of the Famicom laid the groundwork for the production of “Famiclones” in the Chinese domestic market.

Initially, the Famicom was modified in Hong Kong to function with the Chinese television system.  However, some manufacturers in Hong Kong and Taiwan took the opportunity to clone the console into a device directly suited for consumption in mainland China, taking advantage of the large amount of cheap labor in the southern part of the country that was created through national reform and the opening up of the country.  These factories and their attendant production lines not only facilitated technology spread across the country, but also enticed mainland companies to become involved in games: 

 In early 1987, China's southern coastal cities such as Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Ningbo took the lead in introducing the assembly of gaming consoles from Japan, and successively produced Famiclones. The brands were Lantian(兰天), Wang Zhongwang(王中王), Tianma(天马), Subar(小霸王) and so on. There were more than 700 popular video gaming software programs in China. (Pan A2)

Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, China's southern coastal areas developed large-scale console production capacity, resulting in consumer price drops for consoles from 600-700 yuan in 1989 to around 100 yuan in 1992 (Sun 79). The decline in price made it possible for average wage-earning families to afford a gaming console, and as a result, playing games at home gradually became a common social phenomenon.

In 1993, Tianjin Newstar Electronics Co., Ltd. (founded by the 46th Research Institute affiliated with the Ministry of Electronic Industry) raised 5 million yuan acquired the world's most advanced SUN workstation system and integrated circuit design software (as well as the SM-T production line), and successfully developed the first 16 bit television gaming console in China: the Xiaojiaoshou 16-bit stereo video gaming console. The Xiaojiaoshou was a tremendous technological achievement, making China one of the few countries in the world at the time able to independently design and produce a 16-bit console domestically.

The history of the Chinese gaming console has another through line: the learning computer(学习机).  When the global gaming industry blossomed in the 1980s, China resolutely embarked on a path of “individual evolution”, focusing intently on the learning computer .  China pursued the learning computer mainly because the I/O element of the computer would make it possible to harness play for training purposes. According to ancient Confucian philosophy, the importance of play is relatively low. As a result, entertainment equipment (e.g., gaming consoles) often has trouble gaining traction in Chinese society. The camouflage offered by the learning computer allowed parents to imagine that their children were learning with the machine, thus reducing their anxiety about too much play. 

China also pursued learning computers because after the country resumed college entrance examinations at the end of the 1970s, numerous young people realized that social mobility and class reconstruction could be pursued by taking the exam. Consequently, Chinese society’s respect and confidence in knowledge increased. The phrase “knowledge upgrades your life” (知识改变命运) became a stock sentiment of the 1980s, and the learning computer was imaginatively constructed as a medium of modern knowledge. 

Most important of all, however, is the fact that the learning computer—and particularly its production and popularity—concealed the pursuit of national modernization within the historical impulse of China as a developing country. By sanctioning the learning computer, the state endeavored to cultivate a new socialist identity to meet the requirements of the day through fairly priced computers.

Unsurprisingly, it was Deng Xiaoping who drove the historical narrative of the learning computer. One of Deng’s primary goals after returning to power was to effect a modernization of education, science, and technology. In fact, in 1977, “respecting knowledge and respecting talents” officially became the slogan of Deng-style modernization. At the Symposium on Scientific and Educational Work, Deng noted bluntly: “Our country has to catch up with the world's advanced level. Where do we start? I think it is necessary to start with science and education.” Taking this as the starting point for China’s “developing the country by relying on science and education strategy,” Deng concretized the concept in 1984 by announcing that “the popularization of computers must be picked up from the children.(计算机的普及要从娃娃抓起)” It was in this context that the whole of Chinese society was encouraged to attach great importance to computer education, and primary and secondary schools around the country began to purchase computer equipment at a rapid pace. In 1986, in order to accelerate the development of computer popularization and education, the State Science and Technology Commission, the State Education Commission, and the Ministry of Electronics Industry agreed to develop a “China Learning Computer” (中华学习机).  The learning computer was even included in the national “Seventh Five-Year” scientific and technological research project and the Spark Program (星火计划). The combination of social and national will in full support of relevant government departments for the development and sale of learning computers resulted in the creation of substantial production capacity and a wide range of public opinion guidance.  This, in turn, led to the dissemination of learning computers across China.

Despite the energy behind the construction of a national learning computer, the challenge of the market economy proved enervating. The hardware and software limitations of the learning computer certainly did not help—the Apple II-based architecture paled in comparison to the Nintendo “Family BASIC” design of the learning computer’s successor, the PC learning computer (电脑学习机)—but it was the inherent contradiction between state will and market principles in the process of reform and opening-up that presented the real problem.  The purpose of the learning computer was to assist with modernization, especially with young people. The game functions of learning computers, however, were not prioritized, and the focus of production and sales was incompatible with gaming functions. Nevertheless, the game function was the real market motive for Chinese families buying computers at the time.  As a result, the market gradually shifted from a focus on relatively uni-functional learning computers to more multifunctional systems. This shift did not revolve around technology upgrades or an orchestrated move from state-owned to private production and sales. Rather, it was due to the transformation of market-centered power relations after the deepening of economic reform in Chinese society during the 1990s. In response to market pressure becoming the driving force of social development, self-financed learning computer manufacturers looked to meet the uncertainty and diversity of market demand. They became dedicated to converting learning computers into multimedia products, and began to focus their production designs and marketing campaigns on compatibility with gaming software. This market-oriented action contributed to a significant change in approach to learning, causing the learning computer to shed the image constructed for it by the dominant political and social forces. Gradually, the learning computer escaped the national narrative, and became, in effect, a generic gaming machine that affirmed market authority and liberated private desires.

* CEC-I China Learning computer,  Subor SB-486D PC learning computer

“Culture Invasion” From Gaming Console to Chinese 8 Bit Gaming Software

Though the domestic Chinese gaming industry was ascendant from 1980s, it was the global hegemony of SEGA, Nintendo, PC Engine, and other Japanese game hardware companies that led to real domestic commercial success through the creation of knock-off hardware systems in the 1990s. For knock-offs to be successful, they had to mimic Japanese production standards, as those standards allowed machines to take full advantage of the global gaming software assembly language. In other words, if China wanted to participate in the market competition of the gaming machine world, it had to recognize and build upon Japanese gaming architecture and logistics. For example:

In 1993, the Electronic Power Industry Information Center (电力工业信息中心) and the Armed Police Science and Technology Information Center (武警

科技信息中心站) jointly developed a development system QZM that realizes the communication between PC and Famicom. This system uses 286 or 386 microcomputers as a development platform to compile application software for Nintendo. The compiled software can be transmitted to Famicom to run immediately. According to the results of the operation, the source program can be modified and debugged on the computer, and then run until it is successful. (Pan A2).

This situation resulted in a development paradox: China, which had tried to solve a variety of problems related to social and economical development by reform and opening-up, was confronted with the question of development dilemma: was the country willing to accept the established world market order and become the China branch of the Japanese gaming industry, or was autonomy more important? 

This paradox also highlighted a long-standing problem for the Chinese gaming industry. Although Chinese companies ultimately gained market autonomy through wholesale imitation of Japanese gaming machines, they were not able to overcome the technical difficulties involved in manufacturing CPUs. The core component of the 8 bit gaming consoles—the CPU—still had to be acquired overseas.  The CPU problem eventually became the primary constraint on the development of the Chinese gaming industry, forcing the industry to move from 8 bit hardware manufacturing to 8 bit gaming software and PC gaming software development at the end of the 20th century.By the way,  only the production of PC gaming software is the mainstream.

China's gaming software industry actually began at almost the same time as the country’s hardware manufacturing industry. In 1982, ISCAS(Institute of Semiconductors,Chinese Academy of Sciences) successfully developed a rocket launcher game chip, which was then produced by the Guilin Electronic Technical Institute (桂林电子技术研究所). That same year, the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission (北京科委) organized ten universities and research institutes to collaboratively develop software for color video game consoles. Under the guidance of foreign experts, China created several television gaming programs with Chinese national characteristics in early 1983 and sold them to international gaming companies. The most successful of these games were Monkey Kings(孙悟空) and Tangram(七巧板). Monkey Kings was notable for its image storage capacity of 36K and program size of 40K, as well as for the fact that it was written in Z80 assembly language. Tangram was praised by foreign gaming machine companies because of its novel gameplay and compelling adaptation of an ancient Chinese game. 

Unfortunately, these and other independent gaming projects quickly fell prey to external forces. In 1988, under pressure from the national economic transformation, small and medium-sized enterprises with unclear property rights relationships (e.g., Yanshan Software[烟山软件], Pioneer Cartoons [先锋卡通]) became involved in 8 bit gaming hacking, translation, and piracy. That they did so successfully hints at the cultural crisis lurking behind the growing consumer software market: companies had to prioritize economic survival, and could only do so by replicating the imitation strategies pursued by the gaming hardware market. In other words, while the Chinese gaming software market was able to prosper, it did so by counterfeiting Japanese 8 bit games.

The 1990s saw the gradual emergence of more complex game narratives, and with them a number of textual and industrial challenges for Chinese developers. The Japanese game The Legend of Kage, for example, proved surprisingly popular in China. The game told the story of a ninja hero rescuing a princess, and was infused with audiovisual symbols representing Japanese ninja culture. The problem for nationalist China was that this iconography activated colonial memories that had largely been squelched by the contemporary dominant discourse, a discourse that had no room for a vision of China as subject to a hostile foreign power. And, of course, The Legend of Kage was merely the tip of the spear of a large number of Japanese games that pierced the Chinese market. The article “The Raven, the Raven, Called: The Talk about the Mainland Electronic Game Industry” (乌鸦・乌鸦·叫——该谈大陆电子游戏业了) is instructive here, describing as it does Chinese players’ burgeoning awareness of the intersection of play and politics: Chinese players in the 1990s began openly discussing cultural colonization and games. This discussion gave rise to a new domestic computer game software market; China clearly needed its own  games, with its own iconography.

Players’ emerging cultural consciousness coincided with the rapid rise of China's IT industry. Much of the new homegrown IT talent was enthusiastic about the gaming industry, especially its potential for growing the computer game software sector.  These IT enthusiasts realized that game-making operations are “not the lowest level of software-based operations, but a culture-based operation” (Wei 75). Although they were not prepared for the challenges associated with becoming cultural intellectuals (they had been engineers), under the double anxiety of identity and culture they began to boldly borrow the “convey moral teachings”(载道) tradition of Chinese literary and artistic works. They tried to construct a defensible national gaming culture based on political moral education and evoking a unique patriotism-based gaming spirit that pervaded the 1990s.

In October 1994, Golden Disc Electronic Co., Ltd.(金盘公司)published China’s first domestic PC game, The Magic Eagle(神鹰突击队). By 1998, 15 newly established gaming companies/working groups had launched (or planned to launch) 55 PC games, a clutch that constituted the first generation of domestic PC titles. 

Among these game companies, it is worth noting that Fuzhou Waixing Computer Science & Technology Co.,LTD(外星科技, hereinafter referred to as Waixing). The company is well-known in the game industry, not because it released the PC game Tale of Chivalry: Anti-smoking Storm(侠义豪情传:禁烟风云) in 1997, but because it has made great contributions to the development of 8 bit gaming software in China. Since 1996, the company has produced and distributed more than 270 8-bit games, which is the core force in developing 8-bit games in China. With this company as its representative, more than ten companies aiming at making 8-bit gaming software have emerged in Chinese mainland since 1990s (see the table below). These gaming companies translated, ported, backported, hacked and distributed a large number of 8-bit gaming software without authorization, thus prospering China's 8-bit gaming market. 

However, this is an 8 bit game development path with Chinese characteristics. As we all know, since the release of PC Engine, the world entered the era of 16-bit games one after another in the late 1980s, and in the 1990s, it presented the situation of next-generation game wars. However, in China in 2000s, there were still gaming software companies aiming to produce obsolete 8 bit games since its establishment. Why so? This is related to China's unique history of gaming consoles. Just as China's game manufacturing industry was catching up, the "2.29" murder and corpse burning case in Luoyang shocked the whole country. Three sixth-grade pupils in Luoyang City, Henan Province, were killed by the owner of the game room and moved to the wilderness to burn their bodies. After this incident was reported by the People's Daily, CCTV and other mainstream media, it caused uproar and directly contributed to the introduction of strict game control measures. That is, on June 12, 2000, the Ministry of Culture, the State Economic and Trade Commission, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Information Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, the General Administration of Customs, and the Industrial and Commercial Bureau jointly promulgated the Opinions on Developing Special Governance of Game Business Places (关于开展电子游戏经营场所专项治理的意见,hereinafter referred to as Game Console Ban), which completely stopped the "production and sales of game equipment and its components and accessories facing the domestic market", and thus the development of Chinese gaming hardware stagnated. In this context, China's gaming software manufacturing industry has also been affected. On the one hand, most gaming software production companies can only pay attention to the production of computer gaming software——and because China has begun to enter the era of online games mainly representing Korean games, these computer games are mainly online games; On the other hand, game companies that still focus on console gaming software can only develop gaming software for the existing 8 bit gaming console in the market, so China does not have the market conditions to develop the next-generation gaming software. In other words, the introduction of Game Console Ban has inhibited the development of Chinese console games, thus creating the lasting and abnormal vitality of 8 bit games in China.

Perspective on 8 bit Gaming Software in China

What are the 8 bit games in China? Next, we will examine the contents of these gaming texts in detail. According to the classification of production methods, these games can be divided into at least the following categories.

I. Hacking Japanese gaming software. This kind of games started the history of Chinese people making 8 bit games. The representative works are Yanshan Tank and Super Contra II introduced by Yanshan Software, which are hacked from Namco's Battle City and Konami's Contra respectively. Yanshan Software was formerly a school-run enterprise of Fuzhou No.16 Middle School, so the words "Fuzhou No.16 Middle School" (福州16中)and the Chinese word "Yanshan"(烟山) appeared in Yanshan Tank (see the picture below). While which is the earliest in-game advertisement in the Chinese game industry. In a word, the trial production of 8 bit games in China started from hack Japanese games.

* Yanshan Tank’s in-game advertisement

II. Translating Japanese gaming software. This kind of game is mainly the unauthorized translated games released by Waixing in 1990s. According to incomplete statistics, the company has successively translated more than 30 Japanese games at that time, among which the most translated games include four Japanese popular games, namely Dragon Quest series, Final Fantasy series, SD Gundam Gaiden series and Fire Emblem series. For these unauthorized translated games, we should not only criticize them from the perspective of intellectual property rights, but also understand their position in the history of Chinese games from a macro perspective. As we all know, the Chinese game market at that time was full of pirated 8 bit games. Due to the limitation of cost and technology, these pirated games generally do not translate the game instructions (many games even castrate the plots in the games), which makes it impossible for players to pass through complex games such as Dragon Quest, which are based on understanding the written information. Therefore, although JRPG games such as Dragon Quest are popular all over the world, they are not popular in China in the 20th century. The translation attempts of Waixing and other Chinese 8 bit gaming companies enable young Chinese players to enjoy the most youthful and vibrant imagination of East Asian subculture at a low price, which is of great significance for liberating young people's thoughts that are bound by mainstream political narratives.

III. Backport games. This kind of game ports games from other more advanced game platforms to famiclone platform in the form of adaptation, so that Chinese players can play various popular game masterpieces on famiclone. Among them, Pokémon is the most important port object, and there are more than 50 backport works around the game, including Pokemon series of Waixing, Pocket Gem series of Nanjing Science and Technology(南晶科技,hereinafter referred to as Nanjing), Pocket Monster series of Shenzhen Jncota Technology Co., Ltd.(晶科泰,hereinafter referred to as Jncota )and Hengge Technology Co., Ltd.(恒格电子,hereinafter referred to as Hengge), Pocket Elf series of Mars Science and Technology, etc(火星科技,hereinafter referred to as Mars). It is worth mentioning that this kind of games also port classic domestic PC games. For example, Nanjing's Crescen tTear(新月剑痕) and Jncota's Xuanyuan Sword (轩辕剑)series are ported from Taiwan games.

IV. The game of changing pictures(换皮游戏). Most of these games are JRPG-type games, which using metaphorical rhetoric to inject Chinese elements into the game text in the audio-visual surface of topic, story, scene, opening/game cinematics, character design, equipment accessories, image-text,  and details in order to make the game emit Chinese qualities. In short, this kind of game is based on JRPG's gameplay and setting, and the original Japanese game (the main adaptation object is Dragon Quest series game) is transformed into a game that tells Chinese stories. Take Nanjing's Xuanyuan Sword series games as an example. Although the game nominally backports the classic CRPG Xuanyuan Sword of Softstar Entertainment Inc.(大宇公司) of Taiwan to famiclone, but it uses Dragon Quest's game system (including its interface, layout, system architecture, etc.) to tell Chinese stories, which reflects a colonial character inherent in the game. Therefore, almost all  8 bit RPG games produced by Chinese gamers can see the shadow of Dragon Quest series games. 

* Nanjing's Xuanyuan Sword

V. Original game. China also has its own original 8 bit games. However, the original games here do not mean that Chinese 8-bit games have created brand-new gameplay, but that they have used existing gameplay for reference to create Chinese-themed 8-bit games. Different from the above-mentioned picture-changing games, these original games do not simply replace the visual content of the game with Chinese stories on the basis of following the holistic structure of Dragon Quest, but seek the possibility of developing 8 bit games with Chinese cultural characteristics on the basis of understanding all kinds of gameplay. In the 1990s, when China's gaming industry was underdeveloped, such an attempt was worthy of recognition. At this time, the gaming industry in Japan and the United States is in its heyday, and the whole world has fallen into the game history of "Japan-US centralism", and the game history of each country is becoming his-story far away from itself. How to create an 8 bit game that expresses its own cultural characteristics and show itself in the game field has become a proposition that China, which is at the edge of the "game empire", must deal with. In fact, there is no shortage of games telling Chinese stories in the game field. As we all know, many classic Japanese games have written Chinese history and culture. However, in a sense, such writing itself is mixed with unconscious deviation and distortion. Taking the series of Sangokushi(三国志) games produced by Japan Koei as an example, the game changed the concept of "city" of the Three Kingdoms into the concept of "Japanese Castle" of the Warring States Period in Japan in a historical way. The game seems to be based on Chinese history, but the logic of its playing has, to a certain extent, misrepresented the history of the Warring States Period in Japan. For China, this is obviously a wrong way to reproduce its own history and culture. In this sense, the original domestic 8 bit game tells the Chinese people's own culture and history from their own perspective, which has extremely high cultural value. This paper focuses on these original 8 bit games, which can be roughly divided into the following categories in terms of subject matter:

1. Games with historical themes. This kind of game mainly appeared in 1990s, and mainly narrated the modern history of China. Its representative works include Lin Zexu's Smoking Ban(林则徐禁烟), Tunnel Warfare(地道战) and so on. Most of them use role-playing gameplay, emphasizing the previous crises of "subjugation and extinction" faced by modern China in the storyline, linking the players with the fate of the country through the avatar, and telling the heroic deeds of the protagonist of the game against imperialism and colonialism. The narrative content of this kind of games is intertextual with the development of the gaming industry at that time, which constitutes a metaphor for the difficult situation of China's gaming industry at that time.

2. Biography game. This kind of game takes heroes in Chinese history or novels as the main characters, and tells the main heroic deeds of the characters, which, to a certain extent, play a role in letting Chinese players know their own heroes. His representative works include Bao Qingtian(包青天) by Waixing, Huo Yuanjia(霍元甲) and Huang Feihong(黄飞鸿) by Nanjing, Yue Fei Biography(岳飞传) by Mars, etc. Generally speaking, this kind of game is influenced by Chinese traditional literary thoughts, and mainly expresses the mainstream values such as punishing evil and promoting good, advocating chivalry and loyalty to the country. 

* Bao Qingtian, Huo Yuanjia, Huang Feihong, Yue Fei Biography

3. Adapted games. Adapted games are the main types of 8 bit games in China, and their adaptation ranges include classical masterpieces, martial arts novels, popular movies and TV dramas, ancient myths and folklore, and foreign fairy tales.

1) The game of adapting classical classics. This kind of game is mainly based on the ancient Chinese Four Great Classical Novels The Journey to the West(西游记), Water Margin(水浒传), Romance of the Three Kingdoms(三国演义) and Dream of Red Mansions(红楼梦), and the Ming and Qing novels Sui and Tang Dynasties(隋唐演义), Three Heroes and Five Righteousness(三侠五义),  Flower and Mirror(镜花缘), etc. Its representative works include Waixing's The Journey to the West 2(西天取经2), Water Margin(水浒传), Three Heroes and Five Righteousness: Legend of the Imperial Cat(三侠五义:御猫传奇), Flower and Mirror(镜花缘), Nanjing's Dream of Red Mansions(红楼梦) and Sui and Tang Dynasties(隋唐演义). This kind of works not only extracts chapters from the original works to lay out the narrative, but also draws materials from legends, folk operas and TV dramas to enrich the plot, and integrates traditional cultural elements such as the Five Elements Principle(五行), poetry and ancient music into the game, rendering a strong Chinese atmosphere for the game text.

* The Journey to the West 2, Water Margin, Three Heroes and Five Righteousness, Legend of the Imperial Cat, Dream of Red Mansions, Sui and Tang Dynasties

2) The game of adapting martial arts novels. This kind of game is mainly adapted from the martial arts novels of Jin Yong and Gu Long, two Hong Kong novelists, whose representative works include Waixing's Chu Liuxiang Legend(香帅传奇之血海飘零) and Massacre Dragon Knife(屠龙刀), Nanjing's The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils(天龙八部) and Handsome Siblings(绝代双骄), Jncota's New Biography of Chu Liuxiang(楚留香新传), etc. For the history of Chinese games, 8 bit martial arts games have special cultural significance. This is because among the fantasy and magic overseas cultural imaginations brought by a number of costume games such as Dragon Quest's, Eternal Issu, only martial arts games can be regarded as the "reserved land" of Chinese traditional literary and artistic thoughts. Under the context of the rise of Japanese and American youth subcultures, they can at least stick to the contact with traditional literature and art in form, and while striving to maintain their independence, countless Chinese players are exposed to their own popular literary and artistic thoughts which have been passed down for thousands of years. In other words, the martial arts game reflects the literary and art particularity of Chinese games, which makes Chinese traditional ideological resources such as "chivalry" and "loyalty to the liver" appear in the game field.

* Chu Liuxiang Legend, Massacre Dragon Knife, The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, Handsome Siblings, New Biography of Chu Liuxiang

3) Adapting the games of film and television dramas. This kind of game followed the hot spot and was adapted from the popular film and television drama at that time. Its representative works include A Chinese Odyssey(大话西游) by Waixing,  My Own Swordsman by Nanjing(武林外传), Titanic by Mars, etc. However, we can't think that these games are faithful to the original movies and TV plays. They only borrow the concept of the adapted movies and TV plays and their leading names, while the game plots are divorced from the original movies and TV plays.

* A Chinese Odyssey, My Own Swordsman by Nanjing, Titanic

4) Game of adapting ancient myths and folklore. There are two kinds of games, one is a fairy tale adapted from China, and its representative works include Fighting!The Legend of Deification(封神榜格斗) by Waixing, The Legend of Nezha(哪吒传奇)by Nanjing, etc. One is the supernatural-evil game without a specific mythological archetype, and its representative works include King Defeat Devil(天王降魔传) by Waixing, and Devil way(魔道劫) by Nanjing, etc. This kind of game integrates ancient Chinese Gods-and-Ghosts legends and supernatural imagination into the game, which enriches the cultural content of 8 bit game itself, and at the same time, makes Chinese players come into contact with China's own supernatural imagination which is completely different from Japanese monster culture and European and American magic culture.

* Fighting!The Legend of Deification, The Legend of Nezha, King Defeat Devil, Devil way

5) Adapting foreign fairy tales. This kind of games adapted foreign classic fairy tales into games, which played a role in letting Chinese players know foreign fairy tales to a certain extent. His masterpieces include The Wizard of Oz(绿野仙踪), The Recovery of Pinocchio(匹诺曹的复苏) by Waixing, The Lion King V(狮子王 V)by Dragon Co.,Ltd., etc. However, we can't think that these games are completely faithful to the original works. They just deconstruct the original works in the form of games and re-tell the stories in the original works in the language of games. As a matter of fact, playing 8 bit games is fundamentally different from reading classic original works. Players only pursue exciting play experiences, rather than opening up their imagination and literary sensibility.

How to evaluate 8 bit games in China.

What is important is, how should we understand Chinese 8 bit games? What position does it have in the history of Chinese games? It can be considered that the production and sale of domestic 8 bit games with independent intellectual property rights in the true sense began in the early 1990s, in which Waixing played a connecting role. But in fact, the domestic 8 bit game was born at an untimely time. At this time, during the critical period when China is vigorously developing computer and internet technology, a large number of computer talents who love games have poured into the gaming software manufacturing industry, which has promoted the start and rapid development of Chinese domestic (PC) games. Therefore, the mainstream of Chinese game history has rapidly changed from the history of console games to the history of computer games (including later online game). In other words, although China's 8-bit gaming software manufacturing industry is in the ascendant, due to the vigorous development of domestic PC games, 8-bit games can only "develop invisibly" in an invisible form, which has not left a strong mark in Chinese gaming history.

Of course, the development of 8-bit games actually has a favorable social situation, that is, the introduction of Game Console Ban in 2000, in a sense, created conditions for the continued development of 8-bit games. The Game Console Ban " prohibits "the production and sales of gaming equipment and its components and accessories facing the domestic market", but it does not clearly indicate whether all kinds of gaming software belong to the banned ranks. This makes it impossible for China to develop 16-bit game machines and more advanced game hardware——thus entering the era of producing the next-generation console——but it can continue to develop 8-bit game software on the basis of the existing 8-bit market scale, thus making China's 8-bit games go against the trend and play globally.

However, it must be pointed out that although Chinese game manufacturers have developed a wide variety of 8-bit games, they cannot really promote the innovation and development of the global and Chinese 8-bit gaming industry. On the contrary, if gameplay innovation is understood as the core element of game innovation, most domestic 8-bit games, including the above-mentioned original 8-bit games, only imitate the design thinking of Japanese 8-bit games, and do not create original gameplay with Chinese characteristics. In other words, from the perspective of originality, Chinese 8-bit games are a failure. They are simply low-level reproduction of Japanese games. They are inferior goods that have been industrially produced in order to realize capital appreciation. They are not literary and art works with certain innovative value. Therefore, domestic 8-bit games have always been criticized and ridiculed by players in China.

Nevertheless, from a cultural point of view, domestic 8 bit games are not without merit. In the absence of domestic 8 bit games, the gaming field is full of various Orientalism discourses that distort China's image. Taking Double Dragon 3 as an example, CHIN SEIMEI, one of the main characters of the game, and some scenes in the game have a strong Orientalism, which reflects the Orientalism imagination of foreign game designers on China when developing the game, which greatly hurts China's national image and deepens the prejudice of players against China. In this sense, domestic 8 bit games have certain cultural value. The emergence of domestic 8 bit games enables players to come into contact with a relatively "real" Chinese imagination, which enables players to enter the Chinese way of thinking to understand and imagine a cultural China.

Unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw in domestic 8-bit games, that is, most of the domestic 8-bit games are not strong in gameplay——even many games are full of Bug——and it is difficult for players to get a complete game experience. As a result, the market sales of domestic 8 bit games are actually poor, and they cannot be the main force to promote the development of China's game industry. Of course, this is not to say that "fun" is the only criterion for evaluating a game. We can't know the value of domestic 8-bit game only from its gameplay——in this case, domestic 8-bit game is just a poor digital toy——but we should go deep into the social and historical context behind it, discuss the interaction between 8-bit game text and its production practice and social text, and take Chinese 8-bit game history as a symptom and metaphor of contemporary China to understand its historical significance.

As far as 8 bit game is concerned, it played a role in "liberating" Chinese teenagers' thoughts in 1990s. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, under the leadership of the socialist view of literature and art, the main functions of Chinese local children's cultural products, such as comic strips and art films, are to carry forward revolutionary narratives and educate people morally. Although these cultural products use the product form that teenagers like, because their contents generally lack vitality, in a sense, they are only the continuation of the rigid socialist education system and ideological system in the field of teenagers' culture. After the reform and opening up (1978- ), Japan's 8 bit games, comics, animation and other youth subculture products flooded into China through formal and informal channels, and formed a huge scale in the 1990s, which strongly impacted the above-mentioned rigid cultural situation. The unrestrained cultural imagination of these Japanese cultural products has brought great ideological shock to Chinese youth, thus causing the fierce collision between Japanese youth subculture and the rigid mainstream culture dominated by the authorities, and gradually gaining the upper hand. It can even be considered that this is the beginning of Chinese teenagers' "emancipating the mind". 

It is in this historical context that domestic 8 bit games are produced. Chinese game manufacturers hope to combine Chinese stories with 8 bit game technology, and while continuing to emancipate players' minds, they will still strengthen players' interest in Chinese culture. However, due to their limited technical ability, they can only construct a Chinese-style discourse expression system in content, but cannot create new ways to attract players, which makes 8-bit games fall into the dilemma of market sales, that is, these games place too much emphasis on the local discourse in the game content, while ignoring the creation of fun gameplay itself——in other words, the symbolic value of 8-bit games always overrides its use value——so the sales of most domestic 8-bit games are not good, or even bleak. For the development of domestic 8-bit games in the future, the only way to get out of the predicament is to continue to develop 8-bit games with Chinese atmosphere firmly, and on the other hand, to explore the possibility of innovative 8-bit gameplay, so as to continue to promote the sustainable development of 8-bit games, a neglected market segment in China.

Works Cited



Pan, Song 潘松. “Zhongguo dianshi youxiye fazhan gaikuang” 中国电视游戏业发展概况 [Report on Development of Chinese Video Game Industry]. Diannao bao 电脑报27 August 1993: A02. Print.

Wu, Zhensheng, et al乌振声等. “Zhonghua xuexiji yuanli he yingyong(1)” 中华学习机原理和应用(1) [China Learning computer’s Principles and Applications]. Wuxiandian 无线电1(1988):5.Print.

Zhu, Zhangying朱章英. “Mantan dianshi youxiji” 漫谈电视游戏机 [The Talk About the Video Games]. Jiayong dianqi家用电器4(1986):24.Print.




He is a post-doctoral researcher at the Graduate School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University. It deals with digital game culture research as its main interest, and continues to publish columns on games in 闻湃澎.


bottom of page