Genshin Impact’s politics are getting messier with every new region

Stalls offering spicy and bubbling hotpot adorn the streets. Genshin Impact’s Liyue Harbor. On a terrace high above the city, colorful koi can swim in serene lotus ponds. If the player wishes, players can enjoy Sichuanese-inspired waterboiled fish in a restaurant owned by Xiangling. Slow duets of erhu harp and music from the harp add life to the scenery as the sun goes down over the surrounding mountains. Through design and musical compositions, the developers at Hoyoverse paint a fantasized facsimile of Guangdong, Xiamen, or port cities of China’s southern provinces.

A videogame may be able to surpass the hard work that Chinese propaganda put into showing traditional Chinese landscapes. Now entering its third year, the open-world adventure game’s attention to detail has drawn fans — and their wallets — into the gacha system. Its story and world are free to be explored, with ambitious visual achievements of landscapes based on real-world locations. This attention to detail does not apply everywhere. Inazuma is a pseudo-Japanese Shogunate. Sumeru blends South Asian and Middle Eastern cultural references. Language allusions and art direction put the game close to real-world political and racial tensions. As Hoyoverse’s directors and writers journey away from tried-and-true fantasy role-playing game environments inspired by Europe and East Asia, they expose storytelling limitations of stereotype over-reliance and callous usage of real-life history.

The blond haired main character called Traveler stands in the Genshin Impact city of Liyue

Image: Hoyoverse via Rui Zhong

For each of the game’s major updates, Genshin’s developers take the wheel of key content preview streams. On these occasions, leadership at Hoyoverse borrow the mic from the game’s voice actors and announce update details between standard six-week patches. Hoyoverse founder Liu Wei is the host and interviews several team members under his pen name Da Wei. Liu’s cheery, infectiously enthusiastic interviews with his colleagues, conducted in elaborate sets based on in-game locations, offer detail about new game mechanics with the staffers that made such changes.

In introducing Sumeru in Genshin’sLiu updated to 3.0. Liu began by having a talk with Genshin writing lead Xiao Luohao, asking questions as a collegial friend would over coffee, using the term “classmate” to refer to his subordinates. The broadcast’s developers were then granted on-screen access to discuss the updates. Combat designers discussed new enemy mechanics. Environment team members discussed puzzles and interactive elements such as grappling points that are accompanied by shooting vines. It’s an ingeniously down-to-earth, personable marketing approach. As a result, the studio’s relationship with players is far more informal compared to high-atop-a-stage announcements that AAA gaming companies typically use for previews.

The following are the Genshin Impact team discusses a Liyue-based character that they’ve put particular effort into, such as opera singer Yun Jin, they describe culturally specific research and writing that went into the development process. But when describing Sumeru’s respective in-game regions, comparisons to real-world similarities were absent from developer commentary. Sumeru characters’ designs have visual referencesTo Amazigh, Nubian and Persian textiles, accessories. Preview commentary did not cover these cultural influences and instead left such descriptions for in-game combat roles or story roles. The decision-making process for inclusion for other regions than Liyue is also opaque.

Hoyoverse’s world-building for Genshin ImpactBoth in-game, and through its expanding metaverse business, the company has invested a lot to provide immersive experiences for players across Asia and globally. In February, the company changed its name from Mihoyo International Branch to Hoyoverse. Since then, it has collaborated with brands that range from fast food chains like KFC China. Cadillac. A future Ufotable anime partnership is expected to draw even more gamers to the game. There are also Genshin’s live concerts, another series of in-house, real-world projects, feature artists from real-life regions that inspired Yu-Peng Cheng’s tracks. The London Symphony Orchestra performs in music videos. Folk musicians are performing in Sumeru-like forests. Similar collaborations with traditional music artists were also organized in the Inazuma, Japan’s Japan-inspired region.

Unlike other metaverse projects that feature the dead-fish eyes of Meta Mark Zuckerberg, the bright color palette and anime designs found within Hoyoverse’s games allow fans to find favorite characters within a growing colorful cast. To find out more, visit In GenshinPlayer and non-player characters, in particular, have clothes and facial features rendered with great detail. The importance of character work is also highlighted by player favoritism, which in turn has influenced the investment in the gacha system. Players will spend more if they are inspired by a character with more passion and appeal.

Hoyoverse will continue to grow as this international audience expands. GenshinThat they must deal with political questions within the game’s world as well as beyond. Sumeru was released in October 2013. Fans were critical of the colorism used to design characters, especially when they saw 3.0 characters. Sumeru female player characters have skin tones. They also favor naked midriffs. Candace, Dehya, and Nilou all wear harem costumes — and these are all characters that Genshin players have referred to as collectable “waifus.” The regional god, the petite and pale-skinned Kusanali, also bears little resemblance to the people of South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures that her land references in detail.

These street vendors sell panipuri, tandoori chicken, as well as sitar music that pierces through jungles and cities. This stereotypical writing makes minority group characters even more prominent. Nilou, Kusanali and Candace reside in the city of sophisticated scholars. Dehya and Candace come from desert nomad tribes that double as enemies of the mob. To some of the people of Sumeru’s capital city, they are described as “true soldiers of fortune who will do anything for money.”

Genshin Impact 3.0 key art, featuring Kusanali surrounded by powerful characters like Dehya and Nilou

Key art featuring Genshin Impact’s Sumeru region characters.
Hoyoverse Image

Sumeru exemplifies the problems of billing a game about traveling the world as politically neutral, and the risks developers take when venturing further afield from what’s familiar to them. The team’s uneven attention to detail becomes more apparent when reviewing Hoyoverse’s earlier behind-the-scenes videos shared on YouTube. Every detail, from architecture to discussions within the team about how to move a character inspired by Peking opera, is considered when developing a game with Han Chinese culture. Regardless of how amazing the game is, developers can still carbon-copy the cultural inspirations that they desire.

This is a moment when electronic entertainment’s overall growth has been difficult. The studio side of the game industry is showing more cultural awareness and inclusion. Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard are facing public backlash from employees and fans in the West over workplace harassment and crunch. Dungeons & Dragons in particular is attempting to move away from “good” and “evil” archetypes for its various races, most recently removing racist descriptions of the primatelike Hadozee. In the meantime, there is always the past GenshinThe controversy surrounding the inclusion of Indigenous characters in monster movement designs was mostly attributed to fan drama. However, developers have remained silent on the design problems of the game’s characters and monsters, while continuing to pair photorealistic food with costumingThe choices are a mixture of Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures without rhyme or reason. The fans pointed out the movementsNilou dancer was thoroughly researched. But her belly dance costumes are not suitable for Persian-style performances.

Issues of race and the game’s real-life inspirations remain unaddressed within the continent of Teyvat, even as the game references politics in its writing elsewhere. Although Genshin flourishes on cultural depictions of Han Chinese culture within its Liyue region, it’s the Electric-element region that comes closest to real-life political history. Inazuma, a Japan-inspired archipelago where travel to the outside world is prohibited by its shogun rulers, has seen individuals sporting emblems of gods being hunted down. Parallels are drawn between the military-led Inquisitions, war against Watatsumi Island (Ryukyu) and still-present Okinawa divisions. Tsurumi island is further south, surrounded by fog and barren, and has ghosts as well as locations that bear names in Ainu. language. These details are important. Genshin’s developers and writers have straddled the line between inspiration and direct references to real-life ethnic tensions, political strife, and historical wounds. It’s ground that any developer, much less one that raked in $3.7 billion in iOS and Google revenue, should tread carefully on.

Inazuma’s live-wire politics and the introduction of Sumeru indicate a turning point for the game’s protagonist, the Traveler. But through Paimon, the floating companion who’s followed them since the beginning, Genshin ImpactThe player is allowed to forget the burden of its stories. Paimon, following the player around Sumeru complains about Sumeru’s difficult-to-pronounce names as well as the vegetarian diet of this new land. These notions of “strange” customs by nations outside of Genshin’s Asian and European regions exotifies other cultures and centers ethnic-majority perspectives of not just the player, but also the developers. Minority gamers will continue to question the question, “Which gamers feel immersed in the game?”

Politics is not a factor in travel and travel stories, especially when they are influenced by power fantasies. This is the context of Genshin Impact’s first two years, the protagonist has served as a sword-wielding knight errant who has saved the people of three of Teyvat’s seven regions. How might you save them? Genshin’s future and provide for a more inclusive community may not rely on their hero’s swordsmanship, but on inclusive engagement and a more honest rapport with critical fans.

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