What the newest “Battlefield” video game says about the world’s fears about China

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Guilin province under attack in Battlefield’s “China Rising.”
Guilin province under attack in Battlefield’s “China Rising.”
Image: Electronic Art

“We’ve spent decades making their toys, their shoes, and even their flags,” a deep voice intones in Mandarin as US military tanks trundle across a desert. “All the while, enduring their condescension and biding our time…finally the moment has come; now they will know our greatness.” A group of American soldiers looks up at the sky that suddenly fills with screaming jets, missiles, explosions, fire and fumes.

So goes the trailer for “China Rising,” video game developer Electronic Art’s latest downloadable content for Battlefield 4, which was released this week. Although EA is headquartered in Redwood Shores, Calif., the game was created by a Swedish studio. The storyline, which pits the US military against Chinese and Russian armies on the Chinese mainland, is an update on popular geopolitical narratives. Video game makers have long chosen antagonists for players to fight with roots in history and politics. Nazi Germans have been a popular foe, along with the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea. In Battlefield 3, the US was fighting Russia in Iraq and Iran.

As China’s economic might has grown, it has been popping up more often as the new bogeyman threatening world peace in games like Army of Two, Frontlines: Fuel of War and others. In Battlefield’s latest scenario, the year is 2020; US-Russia tensions are at an all-time high and the Chinese government is about to be overthrown by a man named General Zhang, who will side with the Russia in a war against the US. The storyline isn’t that far off from worst-case scenario fears in some parts of the US over China’s expanding global influence; it even features China’s actual new fighter jet, the J-20. Even its title, “China Rising,” is a term often used in international security circles.

Using Chinese landscapes could eventually help EA in China. The country is home to a video game industry worth 60 billion yuan (about $10 billion), but console games have been losing in popularity to simpler mobile and PC games—in part because of a longtime ban on consoles. (Authorities announced that the ban will be lifted in a free trade zone in Shanghai.)

Chinese bloggers who have gotten pirated copies of the game that’s not officially released in China say they appreciate the scenes of modern-day Shanghai, idyllic landscapes of Guilin province, and other recognizable images of China. Most importantly, the multi-player version of the game lets players fight as Chinese soldiers against invading US forces. After all, that’s a popular geopolitical narrative as well.

Attacking Shanghai.
Attacking Shanghai.
Image: Sina Weibo

Gang Yang contributed additional reporting.