How are murder mystery games gaining rising popularity among young people?

(People's Daily Online) 16:19, April 02, 2021

Murder mystery games, in which one of the players is secretly playing the role of a murderer and where the others must determine who among them is the offender, sprang up in China in 2016 and has earned a large fan base among young followers over the past few years.

As of the end of 2020, the number of offline stores hosting these kinds of games exceeded 30,000, with the number of free downloads for a similarly themed gaming App having soared into the third-place spot in Apple's App Store, according to statistics from a lifestyle services platform.

People play a murder mystery game in a store in Shanghai. (Photo/CCTV.com)

The rising popularity of murder mystery games in China is partly driven by some domestically-produced variety shows that have drawn lessons from the design of the games.

Although the formats for murder mystery games come in a variety in China, they all share a similarity in terms of their narrative framework and underlying logic – that is, they all revolve around a case or an event, with a group of players taking up the role of hero or heroine to work together to finally find out who the real villain is hidden amongst themselves. A whole game typically takes a total of 4 to 6 hours.

Players can participate in the games either through online platforms or at offline venues. When taking part in online games, they invariably start roleplaying via a sound feed in a virtual room, with scripts mostly provided free of charge on online Apps. In contrast, when joining the games in-person at brick-and-mortar stores, the players are pooled together in an actual room to perform the scripted dialogue through verbal communication, facial expressions and body movements.

Upon further inspection, it is not difficult to notice that these murder mystery games have come to integrate elements originated from a variety of popular cultural forms enjoyed by the post-90s and post-millennial generations, such as reality TV shows, live streaming, talk shows and costume plays (or roleplaying).

However, these games have turned ordinary viewers watching the shows into the performers themselves, thus providing them with the ultimate experience of omni-directional and multi-sensory involvement.

From group selection and the study of scripts to taking part in performances, players will devote themselves for a long time in order to fully take part in the immersive gaming experience, which also opens up opportunities for rare in-depth communication among participants.

The players are mostly strangers partaking in the online games, while in offline games the participants can be a mix of either acquaintances or strangers.

Young people's preference for offline games can also be attributed to the resumption of everyday social contact, which has gradually eroded with the increased uptake of online social media. The games have enabled them to jump out of their comfort zones and make new friends. It is no exaggeration to say that these games have become an effective medium for young people to expand their social circle.

Besides, the games have offered young people an opportunity to leave their own real-life identities behind. Within a fictional time zone and spatial location, the players can tap into their own imaginations during the gaming process. Therefore, young people are able to relieve their pressure, see improvements in their mental well-being and obtain a rare form of pleasure via the transformation of time, space and roles.

In a nutshell, murder mystery games have gained increasing popularity among young people, as this group of players can be freed from the fetters of daily routines and experience a variety of possibilities, while living in the imaginative spaces provided by the games. Meanwhile, they are offered the possibility to develop deep interactions and expand their social relations with the scripts offered as a ready-made medium of exchange. 

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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