[EN transcript] S01E03 Part 2 The Game Industry as the Exit? Mapping a Life after IR

English transcript of the 3rd episode (Part 2) in Season 1. Original soundtrack in Mandarin Chinese: 24min 24s. [This episode has two parts, one on Game and the other on the Film Industry.]
For the first part of this episode on Film, please kindly visit the previous article.

Text Transcription (Part 2)

Jasmine 00:40

In the previous part, we invited Qianren, an idealist who studied international relations for 6 years and decided to switch to the film industry six months before graduation, and in this part - the one you're listening to right now, we've also invited Xiali, who chose to go into the video game industry after many years of studying international relations and the history of international relations, to continue to explore choices outside of IR and life after IR.

Xiali 01:42

Hello, I'm Xiali, I'm a very ordinary 996 wage slave*, and also a very, very nerdy nerd. My colleagues often say to me, "Xiali, you're going nerdy again today". My career trajectory is that I did my undergraduate study in International Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. And I had great dreams about doing academic research, so I did my master's in International History and Politics at the Geneva Graduate Institute (IHEID). After graduation, I didn't choose to study for a doctorate degree, but instead went to the game industry where I encountered many obstacles, but in the end, there was finally a job offer, so now I'm working hard in the game industry like a livestock.

[*996 wage slave is a term to describe people who work from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, which is prevalent in contemporary Chinese society.]

From international relations PhD applicant to a game copywriter

Jasmine 02:29

I think me and most of the audience are still students who are working within the discipline or people who are starting out in the workplace of international relations, so we probably don't have as much of an understanding of the relationship between international relations and the game industry. So could you please start by telling us a story about your career choice when you graduated?

Xiali 02:52

It's actually a long story. In fact, before I graduated, when I was in my second year of (master's) study, I actually wanted to do a PhD, and I consulted the head of the department and other professors in the department. I asked them, "How did you find the PhD topic that you are truly passionate about? Some of them told me that it takes luck or opportunity, and that you can't come up with a topic just by thinking about it, and that many of them chose to study for a PhD only after they had engaged in other careers. So I was thinking, if I don't have any particular direction that I really want to study, then why not enter society to sharpen my skills a little bit?

So I started looking for a job, and at first, I just thought I didn't want to engage in clerical jobs, so I didn't really pay any attention to the United Nations and some of those administrative jobs. And then because I'm an "otaku" who loves video games myself, I like to play games, and then I thought, well, can I combine my interest with my career, so I ended up choosing to go to the game industry and hit the wall.

Is an international relations degree the right match for game companies' recruitment?

Jasmine 04:11

So is a degree in international relations the right match when it comes to interviewing or applying for a job?

Xiali 04:17

It depends on which position you're applying for. It's not a perfect match, but it's actually kind of relevant. And actually, at some of the companies, I've heard a little bit that it's a plus for them if you're an IR student. This is because maybe the themes of their games are politically complex in their design. They might be very willing to recruit international relations students. I even have a junior schoolmate. After she got employed by a (game) company, the HR told her that actually she was selected because she studied IR, and people thought it was very suitable.

Game Designer's Job Description

Jasmine 05:01

So the position you do is game design, and there should be different directions for game narrative design and game worldview planning, right? What kind of position do you do?

Xiali 05:10

Actually, game design is a broad category. Game narrative design is just one sub-type. Even in many companies, narrative design is specialised in the IP group, or called game scriptwriter. And under the category of narrative design, it will be divided into the worldview, and also, for example, the main story, the side story, and other functions. So it's a broad category. And then I'm currently working as a copywriter and scriptwriter.


I still don't understand that much, what is the content that game narrative design do?

Xiali 05:44

Well, a scriptwriter is probably someone who's mainly responsible for writing, you're probably mainly outputting the main storyline of the game, and you're not going to get too involved in some of the deeper game design stuff like designing the quests and the number of loops and stuff like that. So there are still some nuances, but it's not too far off.

Why do games need to have a worldview these days?

Jasmine 06:05

One thing I'm curious about is that I feel like this whole thing of games having a storyline and a worldview is something that's relatively new to me, relatively recent. In the very first types of games, it seemed like the most important thing was that the game was fun to play, rather than its setting and what its culture was. Why do you think games nowadays need a worldview? As well as can you tell us a little bit about what a worldview consists of?

Xiali 06:31

That's a great question. The main thing is that because a game doesn't necessarily need a storyline - it doesn't really need a worldview. Consider the different kinds of games ...... like a simple game like Happy Elimination or Snake, in which you do not have much of a storyline. They might not have much text at all. But there's also a category of games that have a lot of narratives, for example, there's a text-only type, which we generally call the AVGs. They are a kind of text-based reasoning game or adventure game. So that's a different kind of game. But at the moment, most mobile games, especially those large-scale mobile games, have a storyline. For example, HoYoverse's "Genshin Impact", "Honkai: Star Rail" and so on, all have a very large number of narratives.

About the worldview, it's actually a game's, so to speak, roots. How was the game born? What kind of world is it in? How is this world extended? What kind of world does it have? For example, in the simplest way, what kind of countries, races, politics and economy does it have? What is the relationship between countries? This is all part of the worldview.

Many games, including its various systems and stage design, are dependent on the worldview, and you could argue that much of its in-game design is strongly related to the worldview, and that without the worldview, the game itself may not be designed at the conceptual level. But then again, it's perfectly fine to have a game without a worldview, and it's also possible to just have good gameplay, like I just said with Snake and Happy Elimination, right? So it's two different types of game.

Cultural "export" and "import" in game creation (in the case of Genshin Impact)

Jasmine 08:25

So where does the inspiration for this type of game come from? Does it refer to reality or does it refer to fictional works? You could talk about your own workflow, or when you're going to design a game, what materials do you reference and where do you go for inspiration?

Xiali 08:44

Well, it's actually quite a complicated thing. In terms of setting alone, there are actually a lot of references. For example, we may refer to some of the DND races, such as the very classic races from Western fantasies - elves, treefolk, orcs and so on. (Note: western fantasies, meaning western fantasy world.) And then a lot of times when we create different kingdoms, it's with their settings in mind that we'll have a very strong mapping of reality. For example, it could be that there was a similar system once in the medieval period, and we might reference that. But as the game is designed and updated by generations, in fact, very often we will also borrow from the previous games and (refer to) how they were set up. So it's hard to say it's completely made up out of the thin air. Most of them have some references.

Jasmine 09:33 When I was recording this episode, because I'm not a game player, I've never played games since I was a kid, I asked my good friend at the game company before I came to the recording of today's episode, and he told me that games have the role of cultural importation and exportation. On the one hand, for example, the Genshin Impact is a product that conveys a lot of Eastern elements, and then it has the role of promoting or transmitting such culture to other parts of the world. On the other hand, it could be that when a game is being promoted elsewhere, it has to be localised, so it has to incorporate some of the local culture or values. Or as you said, when designing a game, it may not be based only on the culture of the home country where you are located or where the game company is located, but also draw on external cultures to design the game.

Xiali 10:33

Yeah, because the example that you just gave, Genshin Impact, is really like that. Because I've actually investigated some of its designs a little bit before. For example, the first country is probably centred around France and Germany, and then you can see from the names of the NPCs in the game that it's actually from some very traditional German or French names. And then the second country is purely China-based. And then I've actually read that some of the foreign bloggers who play the game and give feedback on some of the designs and the short videos of the game. They were very pleasantly surprised. I think, on that level, the game has achieved a certain level of cultural exportation.

But when you are exporting culture, you also have to do a good job of expressing the culture of the game itself. For example, you have to make others feel that your game respect for their culture. Only then will they consider your game a pretty good one. Games, including the Genshin Impact, also drew on, for example, the cultures and traditions of India and the Middle East. Some Iranian netizens said, "it's great, I can even see my own country's culture being represented in a game one day". So people would actually welcome that kind of behaviour, but only if you do it well enough, that is, you've got the investigations of the archetypes of those cultures and so on.

Did games guide you to IR, or did IR lead you to games?

Jasmine 12:09

In the first episode, we discussed why people chose to major in international relations. At that time, Alina asked the question, "When you were in high school, such as participating in model league and so on, did these activities influence you to choose international relations or related majors in the end?

I actually saw a post on the internet where 11 political games were brought together, and the person who wrote that post said that he ended up choosing political science because he played these political games. At first glance, since I am not an experienced game player, it seems that I can only think of some strategy games, such as Civilisation and Europa Universalis, that are related to and intersect with politics. And then in the IR pedagogy and education, in fact, educational practices that incorporate games are now emerging. I wonder if you've ever played or known about these games? Or did you have any other hobbies in your past as a student, such as playing games lead you to study international relations, or on the contrary, international relations encouraged you to play and understand these games, or did you develop some other side hobbies?

Xiali 13:16

To be honest, I started to study international relations purely by chance. And it was a very mysterious chance because when my parents chose the major, and when I filled in the application form, I didn't look clearly at the code of the majors, so I ended up being transferred to this IR major. I was devastated because I didn't really like politics in high school, and then I thought to myself - that was so bad, how am I going to survive over here then? But it's funny because after I did my undergraduate degree, I was like, wow, that's kind of interesting. But of course that's an afterthought.

Going back to games and international relations, I'm not into international relations because of games, but I did go on to play a lot of them after I learnt IR, like some of the more politically-oriented strategy games you just mentioned. I can give you an example, there is a game called Ogre Battle, which is actually an SRPG or wargame with a strategy. (Note: SRPG means "Strategic Role-Playing Game", a tactical role-playing game, usually of the wargame type, which is very popular in Japan). The producer of this game, Yasumi Matsuno, flew to Bosnia and Herzegovina after the first edition of Ogre Battle came out, and he was exposed to a genocide in the Bosnia and Herzegovina war there, like the one in 1992. He took that event and incorporated it into his game, and then he wrote a very, very deep and powerful storyline for the game. So actually, there's a lot of that kind of political unfolding in strategic games. And then more often than not, some of the games from Paradox Development Studio, like Europa Universalis, Victoria 2 and 3, and Crusader Kings II, are very IR-related. At there, you're playing as a king, and you're trying to expand your territory, you're trying to establish diplomatic relations with other monarchs in faraway countries, if you will. And then how to develop a good relationship with the Pope, and who do you have to choose as your wife for the marriage? Will the father-in-law help you fight the enemy's army...and so on, all of which are actually a very typical unfolding of international relations. So after becoming interested in IR, I did play a lot of similar games and had a lot of fun.

Bias in and against games

Jasmine 15:46

One thing that comes to mind when you were talking about the Ogre Battle, is a reference to the very dark genocide in the Balkans. I was thinking about the guest in the first part of this episode who said that he disliked news and international relations very much because they were all negative. And then I thought about games.

At first glance, when we think of those strategy games, or games related to international relations and politics, most of them are combat and war-related games, which makes me think that video games actually have their own thematic bias or other bias. One is that, thematically, it will be mostly biased - in favour of combat and war.

The second is that in terms of gameplay, it has some settings that are biased. For example, I learned that Victoria has players complaining about the huge difference in the difficulty of opening up the country between China and Japan. When trying to "enlighten" both countries, Japan seems to open its doors to a modern country very easily, but China faces many, many difficulties and there are lots and lots of negative events that come up that affect your progress in playing this.

The third point is that in terms of impact, on the one hand, some people have been criticising that letting teenagers play video games will increase teenage violence. But I read an article in 2014 in a journal - Journal of Communication, which actually debunked this, and the title of the article was called "The Relationship between Media Violence and Social Violence". One of the parts of the article said that there is no relationship between violence in games and youth violence, and it can't be explained.

On the other hand, in addition to personal violence, another consideration is the idea that video games can affect national security. It seems that in April 2023, there was an intelligence leak in the United States about the Russian-Ukrainian war. And the way it was leaked was very interesting, and it was a 21-year-old pilot in an Air Force intelligence unit who was a game player. He was playing a game called War Thunder, and he was on a game discussion forum called Discord, and he went and leaked this classified U.S. military document about the Russian-Ukrainian war. I just wanted to ask, among what I mentioned - these three points above, have you noticed any related topics or phenomena?

Xiali 18:07

Actually, oh, let's just start with the third point, I actually had no idea at all that games could actually leak military intelligence. That's so mysterious. It feels like a very fresh news story. Regarding the second point, it's a very normal thing. The game designers definitely want to express something through the game, and it's the player's choice as to whether they accept it or not. The first point is about the fact that many games are about war, and whether they promote violence or not. It depends on the type of game. But I don't think it has much to do with violence.

International relations are not practical enough, but history is always about what have happened.

Jasmine 18:56

Let's talk a little bit about whether or not your previous studies in international relations have influenced what you're doing now, or what you're focusing on now. I don't think it's possible for what you've studied to be irrelevant to what you're doing at the end of the day, or to just be cut off from what you're doing. I've actually noticed that in your undergraduate or graduate studies you focused more on the history of international relations than on other aspects of international relations, such as theories or current affairs and politics. What is the reason for that?

Xiali 19:28

Actually, I didn't hate international relations, and I even had the ambition in my freshman year to co-author a book with a friend of mine or something like that. But later, as I continued my studies, for instance, when I went to the UK for exchange in my sophomore year, I realised that IR is more like a person who has one foot on the ground and one foot in the air. If we compare philosophy to a person who has both feet in the air, looking up at the sky and exploring the boundaries of knowledge; and history to a person who has both feet on the ground; I think international relations is in a kind of situation where it is not quite on the ground, and not really down-to-earth at the same time. Yeah, that kind of feeling. It makes people having the feeling that I seem to be discussing something very important, but what I say, what I think doesn't really change anything. You can understand it that way - with history, I would study what really happened. Of course you can argue with me that history is written by people, and it may be that many times they are not what really happened, and then this person is not the person that everyone knows. But for the most part, many events in history are real, they existed, and I only need to study things that existed. But in international relations, oftentimes, even in those theories that they borrow from other disciplines, explain things in terms of what makes sense. But your explanations may not be valid facing the next change. So I would think that it's just not practical enough for me, relatively speaking, you could interpret it that way, and of course, that's probably going to get a lot of flak from a lot of people. But that's my personal thought.

Audiences in the ivory tower are limited - there's a sense of frustration

Jasmine 21:23

I think in terms of international relations, it does feel like what you're talking about, especially when you're still in university. You feel like you're not making a difference in the world. The other aspect of it is that I feel like when doing research in the ivory tower, the audience that can read about your research or your ideas is much smaller.

Xiali 21:41

Yeah yeah. And a lot of times I feel like I'm not as good as the taxi drivers who can talk a lot (about politics), and he feels like he's just saying all the right things, and at that time I usually just being coy and I don't know what to reply anyway. I can only say, "Driver, you are right" - that kind of feeling leads to frustration.

Jasmine 22:04

So can I just summarise your experience or your thoughts: You felt that inside the academic ivory tower, there was little room for you to contribute and change, or create ideas or expressions that you could pass on to other people. Being in the game industry, do you feel that in the games industry, on the contrary, you were able to translate more of what you had learnt and convey your own ideas and then pass them on to a wider range of audiences?


22:27 Well, that was my original intention, but it didn't necessarily work out that way. Because after all, games are commercial nowadays, so you might not be able to express yourself too much either, but you do get some rooms for expression.

Does Xiali regret choosing international relations?

Jasmine 22:44

Then at the end of this episode, I'd like to follow up with you ...... After our first programme was released, we launched a poll in the comments section about whether you regretted choosing to major in international relations. Over 60% of you chose no regrets and over 30% chose regrets. Do you regret that you chose international relations after such a magnificent turnaround to the game industry, a profession that doesn't seem to have a particularly strong connection to IR itself?

Xiali 3:15

Let me correct you, it wasn't a magnificent turnaround, it was a sad turn. But all in all, I don't regret it, I think I had a great time studying IR, and then I was able to learn all sorts of theories through IR, and I was able to be exposed to a lot of philosophical ideas, and that just benefited me a lot. A lot of it has affected my current work, that is, I will think more, including now I also often listen to some podcasts related to IR, philosophy, and history. So I think that the study of IR still brought me a lot of very, very good horizons. I am very willing to incorporate the content of these former learning experiences, and my own thinking, into my current work. So I don't feel that studying IR is a very regrettable thing, and I have met many friends who have helped me a lot along the way. I have learnt a lot. If I were given another chance, I wouldn't regard it as a wrong choice I made when I took the college entrance exam.

To listen to this episode: Apple Podcast


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Overreactology小题大做Overreactology是一档来自和面向青年的国际关系类播客。我们创作的灵感来源于Everyday International Relations这一概念,寻求消除青年人对国际关系的“遥远感”,越过抽象的概念寻找国关世界中的真实你我他,重新寻找这一学科的意义感。
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[EN transcript] S01E03 Part 1 The Film Industry as the Exit? Mapping a Life after IR

[EN transcript] S01E02 Who Moved My Puzzle? Identity, Temporality, Spatiality and (im)mobility

[EN transcript] S01E01 Why International Relations Fail to knock People's Doors down?