Productive vs. Pathological: The Contested Space of Video Games in Post-Reform China (1980s–2012)

Lin Zhang


This article analyzes the discourses of video games in post-reform China, explicating gaming technology as a contested space coproduced by various social players struggling for power and cultural legitimacy in the context of post-socialist transition. As an imported foreign technology, video games are often identified by various social forces as either a solution to or a cause of the contradictions and crises generated by reform, which produces a recurring dialectical representation of the medium as both productive and pathological. The contrasting fates of arcade and console games in the 1980s and the interplay between promotion and regulation of PC games in the 1990s led to the contemporary battle over Internet addiction and new definitions of pathology and productivity. Those seemingly contradictory cultural discourses constitute and reflect power struggles among different stakeholders over the meaning, form, and use of new technologies as China transitions from a socialist to a post-socialist society.

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