From Game Arcades to eSports Arenas: Understanding the Cultures of Competitive Computer Gaming in Hong Kong

Project: Research

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In the past, competitive computer gaming in Hong Kong used to belong to arcades filled by cigarette smoke, deviant youths and triad members, and was shunned by aspirational middle class parents. Nevertheless, game arcades were established as an iconic feature of Hong Kong’s youth culture, to the extent that Hong Kong was recognized as one of world’s ‘arcade capitals’, alongside Tokyo. Arcades have disappeared from most regions in the world, and their number is also declining in Hong Kong. While a good amount of them continue to survive in Hong Kong, competitive gaming has largely moved to the realms of “electronic sports” (eSports). The days of Street Fighter tournaments where the Mong Kok team competed against Sheung Wan are soon over. It won’t be long before arcades and their unique counter-culture of competitive gaming are forgotten also in Hong Kong: studying them now is timely and necessary.With enormous commercial potential, perceived career possibilities, global top-down control, and rigorous training through rote repetition, eSports appears to resemble traditional sports or work as much as it does computer gaming. With Hong Kong government pushing eSports as a hybrid of IT, media and tourism industries, it is set to transform the gaming culture in Hong Kong like it has done elsewhere. This signifies a larger shift in gaming and its public perception, particularly in Hong Kong: from deviant behavior into an increasingly legitimate pursuit sanctioned by parents, teachers, and authorities, portrayed as potentially worthwhile for one’s career. This shift is not, however, without cultural, aesthetical, ethical, and financial implications: who decides what to play, and, how to play? Is this a case of a grassroots culture affording ‘authentic’ and hyper-local identities being replaced by globally uniform cookie-cutter culture? Is this a case of “play” giving way to “work”?The unique situation in Hong Kong provides an excellent and globally unique case for comparative analysis, through which to also address larger trends in the evolution of games and gaming cultures. Through a mixed-method empirical qualitative approach making use of the framework of “circuit of culture” (Du Gay et al. 1997), this project answers the following questions: What are the similarities and differences between arcade and eSports gaming cultures in Hong Kong? What are the unique features of Hong Kong’s arcade culture? Are there cultural heritage to be preserved or lessons to be learned for healthy development of eSports industry and culture in Hong Kong?


Project number9042731
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1930/12/21