Sat, Sep 18, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Chinese hooked on ‘nail house’ forced relocation game

The Guardian, BEIJING

It may lack the sophistication and addictive power of Farmville or World of Warcraft, but an online game in which a family fights off a demolition crew with slippers and bullets has hooked Chinese Internet users.

The Big Battle: Nail House Versus Demolition Team has triumphed, not through playability, but by tapping into widespread anger about forced relocations.

“Nail houses” are the last homes left standing in areas scheduled for clearance, so called because they stick out when all around them have been demolished.

Owners resist because they do not want to move at all or think that compensation is unfairly low, but wrecking crews often retaliate with tactics ranging from cutting off power and water to physical violence.

Cases such as that of Tang Fuzhen (唐福珍), who died last year after setting fire to herself as an eviction crew beat her family, have caused outrage. Amid a growing clamor, the government issued draft rules designed to curb the worst abuses, but the issue remains potent.

Only last week, three people in Fuzhou were rushed to hospital in serious condition after setting fire to themselves in protest at what they said was inadequate compensation.

“This is our society. It is tiring. It is not easy to live. I don’t know how many people are like the Ding family in real life. So sad,” wrote one player.

In the game, Mrs Ding hurls slippers as the men approach, while Grandpa Ding prefers to fire his shotgun. It might sound improbable, but a farmer in Hubei Province fought off workers with a homemade cannon.

Popular online gaming site 17173 said the nail-house game ranked third among last month’s top games and had been played more than 1.8 million times since its launch two weeks ago. The real figure is likely to be higher since the game has quickly been replicated across the Web.

Professor Hu Yong (胡泳), of Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communications, said forced demolitions had long been a hot topic, with dramatic and horrifying stories circulating in the media or online.

“Forced demolition is about the conflict between governmental power and the individual’s ownership of property. Although China has a property ownership law, it has never been implemented well. People care a lot when governmental power violates an individual’s ownership because it simply can happen to anyone,” Hu said. “As social conflicts increase, governmental power is getting stronger and stronger as well, and a lot of people are resentful about it. That’s why such a little game can resonate among so many people.”

Players pointed out that it appeared to be impossible to win the game, because so many thugs swarm the house in the final level — a realistic touch, they thought.

“I have already got 70,000 [points] in the game, but my house was still demolished. It tells us that the demolition team is not defeatable ... The only thing we can do is to wait and die,” one gamer said.

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