Gaming

Genshin Impact Opera controversy is a big cultural moment

Yun Jin performs Chinese opera for the public in Liyue harbor.

Screenshot: miHoYo / YouTube / Kotaku

On December 26, voiceovers for Genshin Impactthe last playable characters were shown for the first time. Among them was Yun Jin, the young leader of the Chinese opera troupe. Reaction from Genshin the community was mixed, but the moment also became an opportunity for people to experience an underappreciated aspect of Chinese culture that they had probably never seen before.

I’m from an obscure city called Beijing, which most Americans associate with government repression and abuse. We are also known for Peking Opera, which is the most popular regional variant of Chinese opera. I’m generalizing, but the performers usually sing it in a very high voice. The outfits and makeup are extremely exaggerated, and the dance moves involve many pauses. Ours is the most famous in China, and it is inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.

These aspects of Chinese opera have been in the spotlight during the recent Genshin Impact voice performances. Some fans enjoyed Yoon Jin singing while others reacted negatively how she sang “Oh Maestro” in a high voice (including the popular Genshin streamer, which was later to do apology video). Some fans commented that laughing at traditional Asian art is a kind of crappy at best and racist at worst, especially for a game that tried to include non-Western cultural touchstones in all of its updates. But that’s not exactly what I want to talk about. 13th of January, official Genshin Impact YouTube account published video about Yoon Jin, which shows that the developers created the character with a sincere love for opera as an art.

As a child, every time I heard opera on my grandmother’s TV, I hoped my American friends would never find out. Unlike other Chinese cultural exports such as food and fashion, the piercing sounds of opera seemed impossible to make acceptable to the American public. So, when I first watched Yoon Jin’s video, I was one of those viewers whose reaction was negative. My shoulders tensed and I gritted my teeth. I just wanted the song to end. You see, the cultural significance of the opera was shaky even at home. Chinese opera was almost destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Nowadays, even Chinese teenagers are more interested in Marvel movies. I was certain that opera would never become part of our cultural export.

Well, millions of Americans discovered it from the series Genshin trailers. And you know what? It wasn’t the end of the world. After the initial shock of listening to something unfamiliar, Yoon Jin was received more positively on Twitter. Youtuber changed my original mind her songs, and I saw players mention that they would like to learn more about Chinese opera. It was mind-boggling for me that one single gacha character was able to change public opinion about something I had been fighting all my life. Before Yoon Jin, my own feelings for Chinese opera were still in the past decade. Some people move faster than culture. I call these people artists. When Genshin communities, culture moves faster than people.

As a video game critic, I expect most of the major video companies to be trend-chasing. fortnite is one of the most egregious examples of how game content tends to follow in the footsteps of what is already popular. Developers Genshin, however, sparked a global interest in an art form that even government efforts failed to popularize domestically. Popular video games should try to define the mainstream, not stay tied to it.

And the developers very deliberately used Genshincultural power of Russia. According to Xiao Luohao, developer Genshin writing team: “It is difficult to carry away the deep accumulation of Chinese opera art over thousands of years. But if there is a way to use Genshin Impact, a form of entertainment that is easily accepted by others… to introduce people to the artistic crystallization of traditional Chinese opera, and even arouse interest in the art itself… to get in touch with the essence of true opera culture… we felt that if the game could serve as a simple introduction, then our efforts will be justified.”

Yun Jin used Chinese opera in almost every aspect of her design. The animator explained that her fluid attack animation was based on the performers striking a pose on stage and then stopping. She was intended as a minor character due to the opera’s dependence on multiple performers.

Her character designs also drew inspiration from the opera, such as pom-poms, feathers, and a cloud collar. The developers had intended to release her ever since Liyue was conceived, but Yun Jin’s design created a difficult development problem. Her large headpiece created camera distortion, but the staff decided not to take the easy route, compromising her design. Instead, they created special tools to help polish her appearance. With a mischievous smile, TT’s character designer joked that his only concern was that their game testers might run into him after work.

When writer Doe explained that she had been going to the opera since she was a child, it occurred to me that the developers were also revealing something deeply vulnerable about themselves. I couldn’t help but feel enchanted. They were brave enough to present what they loved to the world, whether or not the image was “cool”. This is what art should strive for. Art is not defined by the value of production or the famous artists associated with it. Art must fearlessly and confidently represent the hearts of its creators.

A few weeks ago, I broadcast the main quest featuring Yoon Jin. At the very end, she gave a complete presentation of the story she was working on. I started to look rather anxious, but gradually got into the song. That Genshin the community has already moved away from the phrase “her music is weird”.

With every replay on YouTube, I allowed myself to be transformed.

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