Grand Theft Auto’s wildly popular online multiplayer game has become the latest venue for Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters and Chinese nationalists to wage their ideological battles, with protests now breaking out in the virtual world.
Over the past two weeks message boards and social media platforms used by gamers have been filled with videos and chatter of the virtual clashes, as well as insults and recriminations on both sides of the ideological divide.
Grand Theft Auto Online is an open world game that allows dozens of players to explore and fight each other through the streets of a sprawling, fictional US city.
After a recent expansion pack was released earlier this month, gamers in Hong Kong noticed they could now dress their avatars in the clothing of their movement, which is pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
They donned black clothes, gas masks and yellow helmets, and went about throwing gasoline bombs, trashing subway stations and attacking police — a virtual re-enactment of the protests that have upended the territory.
Their antics soon caught the attention of gamers in mainland China, who subsequently dressed their characters up as police and battled the Hong Kongers.
In a video clip posted on China’s Sina Weibo platform on Monday, gamers posted footage of the fight titled: “Compilation of players slaughtering cockroaches.”
Cockroach is a term routinely used by Hong Kong’s police and government supporters to describe protesters.
The video had more than 175,000 views by Tuesday afternoon.
“Our dignity can’t be trampled,” one message on the video read. “As a Chinese player ... we must fight!”
However, in an illustration of the censorship people in China face, the creators of the video blurred out some of the pro-democracy slogans written by Hong Kong players.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
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