The online hostilities began as players living in the semi-autonomous state of Hong Kong began to dress their avatars up in the now recognizable garb of real-life pro-Hong Kong protestors. Namely, their avatars started wearing black clothing, gas masks, and yellow construction hard hats, a common choice of clothing seen during the mass protests in Hong Kong over the past six months.
According to CNN, these pro-Hong Kong players then began mimicking acts of real-life “hardcore” protest in GTA 5, such as confronting police, vandalizing train stations, and throwing petrol bombs. It wasn’t long before players in mainland China took notice and retaliated, dressing up like riot police and wielding firearms.
Using a derogatory term coined to describe pro-Hong Kong protestors, some mainland China GTA 5 players began calling upon fellow players to retaliate against their perceived enemies.
“Cockroaches expressed their desire to kill GTA and beat us, the war in this game may become more fierce and fierce. Are you ready?” one user posted on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.
The Blizzard China Controversy Explained
Speaking to CNN Business, Chinese streamer Mickey Chang described an online brawl that took place on a GTA 5 Online server between pro-Hong Kong protestors and mainland China supporters. According to Chang, pro-Hong Kong players threw petrol bombs at riot police controlled by mainland players. Mainland supporters responded in kind with water cannons and tear gas, before emerging victorious through their greater numbers.
Chang told CNN Business that he liked to play as a protestor in GTA 5 Online in order to help spread awareness of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has experienced more than six months of protests, following the introduction of a bill that would have allowed for Hong Kong residents to be extradited to face trial in mainland China. The bill has since been removed, but protests continue alongside calls for investigations into law enforcement corruption and for greater democratic freedoms.
5 developer Rockstar isn’t the only major video game company to face a potentially politically treacherous situation as a result of Hong Kong protests. Blizzard, the developer of the World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Diablo franchises also faced a great amount of political pressure to ban a pro-Hong Kong Hearthstone tournament champion named ‘Blitzchung,’ which in turn sparked numerous counter-protests both inside and outside the company. Tensions rose so high at the company that even Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan voiced his support for Blitzchung, saying he believed his suspension should be “reduced more or eliminated.”
IGN has reached out to Rockstar for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.