Video games can be educational as well as fun, helping kids learn languages, reading and math, even mindfulness. But the latest gaming craze to hit China teaches a different kind of lesson: how to be a tiger mom.
Chinese Parents is a game in which you have to bring up a child from birth to adulthood, pushing them to achieve academically and personally. It rapidly shot to number two on the bestseller charts after its release this month. To find out what all the fuss is about, we gave it for testing to the people who know more about parenting that anyone else: kids.
My son Joseph announced that he was going to give his new baby a typically Chinese name. He called the poor child “Sweety” (short for Sweetypie). Sweety is a boy of course; there’s no alternative, because, frankly, who would choose to have a girl?
The main action involves a series of Candy Crush-style mini-games, through which you earn light bulbs. These are then used to buy advancements for your child. He needs to learn to crawl, then walk (potty training is not featured.) Later, he goes to school, where he studies Chinese, English, math and science, and takes up sport. When other parents come to visit, the moms engage in a “face off”, bragging about their kid’s accomplishments, and gaining and losing face accordingly.
At high school, the game becomes more complicated. Your virtual child has to manage friendships as well as academic demands, perhaps even a girlfriend. Push him too hard and he might run away from home. Look after him carefully, and he will grow up and have a child of his own. This only takes a few hours, so you can then raise the next generation.
The gameplay is unoriginal, and there’s little doubt that the success of Chinese Parents is due to its sly satire, appealing to youngsters who recognize their own lives in it. And when I looked at poor Sweety staring at his phone, trying to manage the demands of pleasing parents and teachers while acting cool with his friends, it was a reminder that adolescence can be a painful time. In a country where most kids have no siblings, in a culture which places such enormous importance on academic success, it’s sadly unsurprising that suicide is the leading cause of death in Chinese youth.
And what did my kids make of it?
“It’s a game which shows you how not to bring your child up,” Joseph observed.
Photos: Andrew Killeen