Experiencing China’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in Role-playing Games: Comparative Studies between MMORPGs and Larps
Keywords:Role-playing games, intangible cultural heritage, Jubensha, MMORPG, China
In recent years, considerable attention has been devoted to preserving intangible cultural heritage (ICH) through games. From a combined game studies and heritage studies perspective, role-playing games (RPGs) have a unique advantage in that they immerse the player in a character to experience and understand the basics of culture in an engaging way. Among different types of role-playing games, live-action role-playing (larp) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have a great potential to promote the learning of intangible cultural expressions and traditions that make them available to a wider public. In China, MMORPGs have had a positive impact on preserving China’s intangible heritage in virtual space and larps, specifically in the form of Jubensha, are also playing an important role in the same way.
The purpose of this study is to delve into how the ICH of China is being represented in MMORPGs and larps as an educational tool. With that target in mind, a close reading of selected MMORPG games -- A Dream of Jianghu and Justice Online -- and a larp game -- The Secret of the Gauze Lantern -- was conducted. The goals of this research are to understand what cultural experiences are integrated in those role-playing games to introduce Chinese ICH and explore the main differences between them in representing those intangible cultural elements. After analyzing these RPGs in-depth, I argue that both MMORPGs and larps show potential to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of China; while MMORPGs present national-level intangible elements from different regions of China, Jubensha as a kind of larp focuses more on the indigenous traditions and customs of small-scale local areas.
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