The idea of “tiger parenting,” based on ideas of strict Chinese parenting, has drawn a lot of attention over the last several years. But what is it actually like to grow up with tiger parents in China? If you ever wanted to know, now you can experience it in the simulation game Chinese Parents.
This indie title is now accessible to an international audience, with an English version of the game that has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies in China.
This life sim, developed by Moyuwan Games, puts you in a Chinese household with tiger parents who are obsessed with your grades above everything else. You go through this journey starting as a newborn and ending at the age of 18, with the ultimate objective being to pass China’s ultra-competitive National College Entrance Examination -- commonly known as the Gaokao -- at the end of the game.
I love Chinese Parents. In fact, I’ve written about the game twice before. But with a newly translated version available, I’ve come to realize that Chinese Parents offers far more to players than just a few hours of escapism.
Chinese Parents shines as a great piece of interactive entertainment that offers non-Chinese players a rare glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of Chinese millennials. It sheds light on how young people in modern China have adapted to such a high-pressure environment by learning to look at their hardships through a satirical lens and roll with the punches.
Before I dive into the meta-commentary, let me quickly explain the game. In terms of game mechanics, Chinese Parents isn’t anything earth-shattering. It follows the tried-and-true formula of many sim games: A solid resource management game played through multiple rounds, with a variety of quirky mini games periodically popping up to prevent it from slipping into monotony.
Chinese Parents has you work through a total of 48 rounds, building up stats like IQ, EQ or memory in each one. You can then use those stats to learn skills and meet your parents’ expectations.
But here’s the catch: Your parents’ expectations are ridiculous. For example, besides having to pass the college entrance exam at the end, your character will have to constantly earn good grades, win elections to become class president and bag awards in talent shows. And from time to time, you have to put other kids to shame in public in order to earn face for your parents.
It’s during the “Face Duels” with other kids that your learned skills are especially handy. These skills can be absolutely ludicrous, and depending on their absurdity, they deal varying degrees of damage to an opponent’s face (or dignity). The first to lose all their “face” loses the duel.
For example, after you’ve taken a few English classes, your mom will flaunt that you have a “London Accent.” This might not sound all that special, but speaking the Queen’s English does sizable damage to your opponent. Better yet, if you’ve taken a few probability classes, you will then unlock a skill called “Casino Champ,” which deals even more damage than speaking like a Harry Potter character.
Your opponent also has an assortment of preposterous skills to counter you. One of these skills is literally just called “Success,” which is described as something your opponent acquires after spending all his time studying. This skill, as the name might suggest, could cost your mom a significant amount of face.
Needless to say, these battles and vaunted skills are just hyperbolic caricatures of real life. But they’re also heavily rooted in reality.
Chinese Parents excels at treading the fine line between the real and surreal. All of the scenarios it picks manage to feel simultaneously relatable and comical.
Another scenario in which Chinese Parents manages to evoke this absurdist feeling is in a mini game involving trying to pick the best moment to accept red packets from your relatives during Chinese New Year. The gist of the game is that you have to pretend you don’t want to receive the money -- but of course you really do -- and it then becomes a delicate dance between rejecting and receiving.
Anyone who’s ever been in a situation like this will immediately recognize the feeling evoked here. While this tradition of push-and-pull can actually be very annoying in real life, the gamified version in Chinese Parents is much more enjoyable.
Mini games like Face Duels and Red Packet Battles attest to the ingenuity of Chinese Parents. The developers were able to find the most comical aspects of growing up in China and the most effective way of gamifying these practices or traditions.
As a game reviewer, I appreciate when a game’s mechanics feel more inspired by real life rather than forced. And as a Chinese millennial, I find the developers’ absurdist outlook empowering.
By now you’re probably wondering how the English translation relates to a Western audience. There’s certainly a lot of juicy nuance lost in translation, but the game still offers a competent translation of something that might be difficult for foreign audiences to relate to.
The translation tries to be both idiomatic and loyal to the source text, which isn’t an easy task. But while the game largely succeeds at expressing its self-aware humor in English, it still feels a little too indie or amateur at times, including blatant typos and errors that could have been caught with some professional proofreading.
These flaws are forgivable, though, thanks to the developers’ delightful sarcasm. Chinese Parents also has a unique style. The game’s art is at once adorable, kitsch, doodly and meme-littered. The style is effective at starting players off with low expectations but slowly winning them over with candor and authenticity.
Best of all, no matter how over-the-top the comedy in Chinese Parents might seem, the game’s protagonist always feels relatable and likable. No matter how you play the character, whether as an overachiever or a bottom-dweller, he or she always retains a self-deprecating sense of humor.
Many Chinese gamers would describe Chinese Parents as a “diaosi” game. The term diaosi started as derogatory internet slang but evolved into a popular self-ascribed title for anyone who considers themselves “a lovable loser.”
All things considered, Chinese Parents is a beautifully crafted satire that takes you into the hearts of Chinese millennials. Behind the veneer of sarcasm is a level of introspectiveness that highlights the feelings of both helplessness and amusement in a high-pressure society that prizes deference and dignity above all else.
With China increasingly trying to cover up its vulnerabilities and look unassailable to the rest of the world, Chinese Parents gets you an inside look, letting you experience China as just another lovable loser.