A Mac senior takes on the challenge of uncovering—and filming a documentary about—the hidden world of Chinese video games.
Video game aficionado and Chinese major Johanna Armstrong ’13 was looking to wed her passions when she set out to write an article about Chinese gaming for the news site Piki Geek. “But I couldn’t find out anything about gaming in China,” she says. “It’s really insular.”
In an attempt to at least partially close that information gap, Armstrong is planning to make a documentary film on China’s gaming industry. She’s launching her project with an ambitious Kickstarter campaign called Electric Kingdom, hoping to raise $10,000 in funding. “It will be a look at the gamers themselves, their habits, how they’re viewed by society, and the role that gaming plays in Chinese culture,” says Armstrong, who says she’s “been interested in video games since before I developed hand-eye coordination.”
Armstrong will shoot the video while spending fall semester studying at Beijing University and doing a media internship. For both internship and documentary, her proficiency in Chinese will help her immeasurably; she has completed the fourth and final level of language instruction at Macalester, having started learning Chinese as a high school sophomore. She calls her Mandarin skills “conversational as long as things don’t get too deep.”
“Video games in general are trying to gain legitimacy…. they’re almost at the point where literature and films are,” says Armstrong.
This will be Armstrong’s second visit to China, having taken her first during a summer in high school. Although her study-away program is based in Beijing, where she’ll live in the dorms at Beijing University, Armstrong hopes to travel also to Shanghai and Hong Kong— both video gaming centers of China. As for finding contacts, she’s already been in touch with the video gaming company 2K Games in Shanghai and has had offers of help from Chinese students she’s met at Mac.
Her documentary, which Armstrong hopes will ultimately be one to two hours long, may serve as the basis for her capstone project back at Mac. She also expects it might gain her entrée to China’s video gaming industry after graduation.
In the meantime, she hopes her video will bring to light new information about China’s heretofore secretive gaming industry. “Video games in general are trying to gain legitimacy…. they’re almost at the point where literature and films are,” says Armstrong. “Incorporating more of the world video scene will help it progress and make it a more international medium rather than a strictly Western and Japanese one.”
For more information, go to facebook.com/ElectricKingdomFilm