I like Genshin Impact, but that doesn’t mean the game has no flaws. Currently, I am Adventure Rank 55; I have finished all the story quests, character quests and even the hangouts. I explored every single area at 100%, completed every puzzle and opened every chest (the ones that don’t respawn at least). Needless to say, I am in the endgame, which consists of grinding for ascension material, doing daily commissions and essentially waiting for miHoYo to release new content. The endgame is repetitive, boring and tiresome, even though Genshin does get regular updates and events to keep the players entertained. Of course, Genshin is also a gacha game, so spending money (some may call this gambling) is the name of the game, to the whaling of some and the displeasure of others.
That is what a fair, balanced and helpful criticism of the game may look like. However, in the past weeks, there has been a hashtag: #boycottgenshin. Initially, I didn’t know what the issue was, so I divided my supposition into three categories. The first was miHoYo, or someone associated with miHoYo did something bad. Second, the Chinese government did something bad. Or finally, the game’s content was ‘‘problematic’’. I was disappointed, yet not surprised, to find out that it was the latter, especially since this trend originated on Twitter.
My Problem with Twitter
Before addressing the claims of the #botcottgenshin mob, let me emphasise that I loathe Twitter. There was a time when I used to be very active on Twitter until I outright quit the platform. Everyone from the media to politicians to tech companies themselves are aghast by the spread of fake news and disinformation on Twitter.
The harsh truth is simply that it’s impossible to write an elaborate, nuanced and reasonable message in 280 characters. Even with threads, all a user needs to see is the first tweet and it’s off to the trending section. You and some of your friends could start a viral Twitter trend right now with any hot take of your choice accompanied by a catchy hashtag. In essence, I believe Twitter is a terrible place for discussion.
The problematic content in Genshin Impact can be divided into three categories:
The Race of Some Characters and How They are Portrayed
The first problem, race, correlates to the fact that only 2 out of the 30 playable characters are dark-skinned. Then, there is the problematic language used to refer to them. Kaeya is referred to as ‘‘exotic’’ and Xinyan being ‘‘scary’’.
Context aside, this is a matter of cultural sensitivity more than anything else. The Genshin Impact developers are from China, where over 90% of the population is Han Chinese with fairly pale skin. Considering this reality, 2 out of the 30 playable characters being non-white makes a lot of sense. If another developer made the game in a country with a different ethnicity, I would also expect the demographics to be reflected in the characters.
If the issue here is whitewashing, there are whitewashing instances in other gacha games, too. For example, a prominent content creator for Fate/Grand Order, Carys Wang, recently expressed her frustration at the developers for ‘‘making Gilgamesh look like a white fuckboy.’’
Political correctness is a western concept that simply doesn’t exist in Asian countries like China or Japan. As a matter of fact, in Japan, mixed-race individuals are referred to as ‘‘hafu’’, which would not be an acceptable term to use in Canada, for example. If it’s about respecting other cultures, you must also acknowledge the elements that don’t conform to your own culture. Otherwise, it ironically turns into whitewashing. The same rationale that colonisers used to erase Indigenous cultures.
The Representation of Indigenous Cultures
Genshin Impact’s most common enemies, the Hilichurls, are based on Indigenous people. Many games have mob-type enemies with lower intelligence within the lore. However, the hillichurls seem to be inspired directly by aboriginals. The hints were already there with shamans and chieftains, but a developer appeared to support this thesis from a video posted on the official Genshin Bilibili account. Of course, if you look at it as primarily white characters going around Teyvat beating up the Indigenous Hilichurls, it doesn’t look good.
However, I think the game actually offers a nuanced view on the subject of Hilichurls. The lore could have ended at ‘‘Hilichurls bad’’, but there is an entire area of study in the game’s story dedicated to studying Hilichurls from their language, culture and lifestyle. There are books about Hilichurlian customs. There is an entire questline dedicated to accompanying Ella Musk, a Hilichurlian linguistics scholar, in speaking and reading poetry to Hilichurls. The game actually does a good job portraying Hilichurlian society more humanely, even though they are not human.
“In the world of Genshin Impact, there are major biological differences between all those species.”
The most important detail, though, is that Genshin Impact is a video game. It seems obvious when you think about it, but you shouldn’t compare real life with a fiction of any sort. As such, comparing Hilichurls to Indigenous People is erroneous on its own merits.
In our history, the idea that Europeans are superior to the Indigenous has predicated on the lie that natives were a distinct and inferior species. Of course, we’ve known for a long time now that we are all homo sapiens with only minor inherent biological differences. In Genshin, not only are Hilichurls a different species, but so are slimes, Dvalin, archons, regisvines, abyss mages and so on. None of them exists in our reality. In the world of Genshin Impact, there are major biological differences between all those species. This makes conflict tenfold more logical than humans killing other humans.
Adults Attracted to Characters that Appear to be Minors
I knew this would be brought up since Day 1. Even before Klee, Qiqi, Diona, and the upcoming, YaoYao. Wherever there is anime, there will inevitably always be “Lolis”. For those who don’t know, “Loli” is a Japanese term for an attraction to fictional young (or young-looking) girls. The alleged problem in the game is one of the apparently adult male characters, named Ulfr, states he will profess his love for Flora, who appears to be a female child.
The first issue in this instance is that Genshin character ages are not specified anywhere in the canon. You can try to guess their age, of course, but anyone who has watched Monogatari will know that it is a fruitless endeavour.
The second issue is that people in the West underestimate how short women in Asia are. The average height for women in China is about 5ft2 (157.5cm), and for women in Japan (since the game is anime-inspired), women are on average 4ft9 (144.8cm). Considering this is the average, there are both taller and shorter cases.
At the end of the day, the hashtag mellowed down into #dobettermihoyo and eventually dissipated. I waited until now to give my take because I don’t really care about being involved in heated Twitter exchanges. However, there is an advantage to doing commentary with the luxury of hindsight.
There is legitimate criticism about issues in a game, and then there is this. The #boycottgenshin was ultimately driven by a Western-centric worldview based on “woke culture” and political correctness that ironically fails to consider cultural differences. Due to Genshin Impact being a videogame inspired by anime features, it attracts both the lovers and haters of both communities. Fortunately, many fans came to the defence of the game and called out the boycott attempt’s stupidity.
As for miHoYo, the company didn’t budge in the slightest and stayed above the fray. The developers didn’t get bogged down by controversy and kept raking in the money. By letting the temperature cool down on its own, it ultimately did. Most importantly, had they gone woke, they might’ve gone broke as well. Other institutions should perhaps tear a page out of miHoYo’s book in that regard.