Living in China was challenging and enjoyable—learning a new language, making new friends, navigating daily life where everything was new. But while everything was incredibly different from my Australian way of life, I was surprised to find a connection through gaming as Tibetan and Chinese friends welcomed me into their lives.
Looking out from our 10th floor apartment in Sichuan’s capital city, the concrete landscape of endless buildings, narrow alleys and bustling clean streets where 14 million people worked, studied and ate (deliciously spicy food), I beheld my new home, a megacity named Chengdu.
Down at street level I glimpsed a familiar face, “Tsering” from Tibet, who said hi and invited me to for a game of 英雄联盟 – League of Legends. The packed gaming hall was a tea-scented flood of relentless clicking, hundreds of straight-dark-haired young men and women staring into glimmering worlds.
Seated at my own screen, Tsering called out instructions over my shoulder as I fumbled through the process of choosing my champion from the selection unique to the Chinese game version. Every time my character died (embarrassingly often) to my surprize a new face would appear beside me with some tips, in Chinese and English. And LoL is not a game to be taken lightly in China; they recently launched a high tech League of Legends training camp in Beijing.
As we signed out and stepped into the brisk winter afternoon, Tsering actually explained to me his game strategy of choosing the appropriate character for taking territory quickly or defeating waves of minions by using their strong “pushing” qualities to take over. I felt like I was learning a dynamic version of chess over butter tea and Tibetan yak meat soup at an incense-laden restaurant tucked into a busy narrow street.
Tsering also mentioned that it was more enjoyable teaming up in LoL as he would often play solo. And when he asked me what I thought about the game, I said it was good, explaining that though it would (and did) take me a long time to wade through and learn the Chinese version, I really appreciated everyone helping me out. In fact, I was overwhelmed by Chinese gaming hospitality.
The conversation turned to the best way to live life, and I smiled, thinking, and said that maybe it’s like working out a strategy in LoL—defending when you should defend, moving forward and taking risks when it seems the best time, but learning from others and always being ready to ask for and give assistance
Moments like these make me see how as we step into games, though they be fantasy, they reflect our humanity—wanting to work together, to help one another. Computer games have given me a bridge into life around the world. Somewhere in hours together I forged friendships, greater understanding of others, and as we talked about the game, we were talking about more, about how our story, our lives, intersected with the story, the action, the hopes expressed in those momentary pixels.
By Jonathan McCallum