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66RPG: The Fan Fiction UGC Platform, and The Place for Social Commentaries of Modern China

By Isabella Jiangcheng
Mar. 11, 2022 updated 10:57

If you ever looked up what the most streamed game on Bilibili is, you might be surprised that Stairway to Stardom received 30 million views, and the number is continually growing each day. The game has crude-looking serif fonts and 80s style soft porn novel covers.

This game originated from China’s most popular UGC gaming platform, 66RPG. Here, 80 million users continually put out their most vulgar and serious interactive works. By the numbers only, this is the largest indie game platform in the world, with more than 1.6 million games on the website, four times larger than itch.io.

66RPG calls itself a community for interactive reading but offers a lot more than just your typical web-lit. The multiplatform website/app has its own creative software that offers stock graphics, effects, and music. Users can create their text-based AVG games by drag and drop, and share them instantly on the platform.

Naturally, this has greatly encouraged people without any coding knowledge to create content on the platform. China has a very mature and competitive light novel scene, providing a massive amount of text content for these visual novels. Despite many hardcore gamers dismissing 66RPG as an amateur’s playground, the platform found its niche among Chinese creatives eager to unleash their imagination and make interactive content for the first time.

And there is indeed a huge demand for this type of content. Interactive novels allow players to be a part of the story, controlling its direction and outcome. This doesn’t sound that exciting for gamers, but this was a fresh idea for the massive number of light novel readers who don’t play any video games. Also, the amount of readily available/adaptable content and the possibility of creating such content on your own was groundbreaking.

In the blink of an eye, 66RPG became a pinnacle for Chinese fan fiction. In 2013, the same year of the website’s launch, Qing Gong Ji, an interactive fanfiction based on the popular TV series Empresses in the Palace, hit the platform. Soon, many others followed.

As many “Doujin” fandom circles go, a majority of the content creators and consumers on 66RPG are women and use the site as a tool to express their romantic fantasies and desires. Heavily focused on extravagant subjects such as imperial harems, slash fiction, male pregnancy, and other themes that would normally be shunned for going against traditional conservative Chinese values. Sometimes, the rough and unlicensed graphics also contribute to the bad reputation. Some of the most used character portraits on 66RPG are screenshots of celebrities and their stills from hit TV shows. This has led to prolonged arguments and a few legal cases between celebrity agencies and the platform, causing 66RPG to pull many pieces of content. However, the loose monitoring system of 66RPG means this issue still remains relevant to this day.

66RPG currently still has its ‘Celebrity’ section on the website66RPG currently still has its ‘Celebrity’ section on the website

However, this loose monitoring approach also created an umbrella to shelter many other types of content, especially for those that could be deemed improper and sensitive on the modern Chinese internet. With the absence of vigilant censorship that occurs on popular platforms, 66RPG writers have more liberty to express their thoughts, and some of the content shows great potential.

Espionage: The Red Route was the first piece to break people’s view of 66RPG as being just a fangirl’s pajama party. The game adapted from the real-life stories of a legendary covert agent Yuan Shu, depicting the intelligence warfare during the second Sino-Japanese war, the China theater of WWII.

 The plot is bold and thrilling and allows players to explore possibilities and scenarios beyond the mainstream narrative. It’s rare to see a Chinese game allow players to become a hero and a traitor by their choosing without posing moral judgment. And Espionage: The Red Route does precisely that.

Scenes depicted in the game are sometimes very harsh and even brutal but mostly have an actual historical reference. One of the endings forces the player to strip his lover naked in front of the feverish crowd before seeing her executed while knowing perfectly well that she is innocent. The ending reflects The Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries in 1950s China hinting at the later full-on Culture Revolution, an era of political fanaticism that is slowly being forgotten by the younger generation.

The graphics are crude, but the chilling sensation is realThe graphics are crude, but the chilling sensation is real

With such bold narratives, Espionage: The Red Route survived on 66RPG for about two years until it was finally pulled down from the website. This was long after it became a cult classic and had its own “proper” video game adaptation. This game also made many people realize that 66RPG is, oddly, a rare UGC platform for creators to deliver wild commentaries on issues not publicly discussed in China’s everyday life.

The Invisible Guardian, the ‘clean’ version of Espionage: Red Route, is available on SteamThe Invisible Guardian, the ‘clean’ version of Espionage: Red Route, is available on Steam

Espionage: The Red Route is not the only piece on 66RPG that dives deep into the cold, hard reality. As more writers began to realize 66RPG’s openness offered rare creative freedom, they became more courageous in critiquing the social norm. And, with more than 85% of the users identifying themselves as ‘Female’, works on 66RPG also provide a strong gender perspective that is rarely seen in other gaming communities.

Many times, content on 66RPG can be best described as a candy-coated dream. For example, the Stairway to Stardom we mentioned at the beginning told a story of a young actress trying to gain her fame in the big city while finding her true love along the way.

However, even this type of content is a gateway for many people to understand how regular women in China see the world. Stairway to Stardom gained its popularity in large part because a famous streamer, Xiaoyao Sanren, featured it in his streams.

At first, he was playing the game as more of a joke, questioning the plot and the outcome of the choices. But quickly, his female audience impressed upon him their understanding of the story and characters and tried to guide San Ren through the lens of an ambitious girl. With more and more comments flooding into the live stream, San Ren became increasingly invested in the game, and he began to empathize more with the protagonist and her life choices.  

When San Ren finished the game after a year of playing it almost weekly on stream, he wrote in the comment section to thank his viewers for supporting him through the experience. Saying also that he would always look up to Su Chen, the game’s female protagonist, and improve himself step by step, just like what she did in the game.

Like what Sanren has experienced, the discussion on this game has provided a series of female perspectives that were often not explored enough on mainstream media. Although trivial as they may seem, these comments of Chinese women’s view of their reality reflected how 66RPG games have become a channel to amplify women’s voices.

These voices also include modern feminism. Many creators challenge the idea of the Stairway to Stardom type of romance on 66RPG. They try to redefine the idea of love with a contemporary, feminist view. Harmful PUA Investigation is a prime example of that. Disguised under the sweet love scenes that are normally portrayed in games on 66RPG, Harmful PUA Investigation reveals the ugly truth behind the playbook of the so-called ‘Pick Up Artist’ (PUA) and the dangers of being a submissive girl when it comes to relationships. According to the writers, who still remain anonymous to this day, to escape threats.

The game is inspired by the shocking suicide of Bao Li, a university student who took her own life because of the brainwashing, domestic violence, gaslighting, and repeated physical and mental abuse perpetrated by her boyfriend-at-the time.

Bao’s incident caused an outcry in Chinese society, and it brought the idea of a ‘toxic relationship’ into the eyes of the public. In interviews, the writers revealed that 66RPG was THE platform to enable their game to reach a player base wide enough for the game to be recognized in the mainstream discourse and demonstrate the brainwashing tactics used widely by so-called Pick-Up Artists and pyramid schemes.

100 Ways to Become a Great Writer focus on the struggles females face in their day-to-day life. The game allows players to walk through the life of a 19th Century English female writer and was acclaimed for its accurate portrayal of how women were mistreated in a male-dominated world. Despite the game being set in some 5,000 miles and 200 years away from modern China, many players have commented on the game. To highlight how the representation of women being suppressed and discriminated against then and there still resonates with their work environment today.

When 66RPG shows its potential as a platform for political discussions and nuanced content, many have wondered if 66RPG can maintain its openness for long, as China has been imposing stricter content control on publications, including online games and literature. And the answer has been quite clear – 66RPG has been imposing aggressive censorship on titles, and it has been pulling down old classics to ‘evaluate’ if they are still suitable for the platform. Although much of the censorship is under the banner of anti-plagiarism and copyright issues, the suppression of certain subjects such as slash fiction is obvious. The CEO of 66RPG has also publicly dismissed slash fiction, calling the subject “purely pornography”.

Besides the regulatory pressure, 66RPG also experiences conflicts with the creators’ interests. As of now, all writers who decided to sign with 66RPG automatically give up their work’s intellectual property to 66RPG in return for only their deserved attribution. The reason behind the unfair clause is that 66RPG has yearned to monetize its most popular content for many years. The censorship, combined with the unequal treatment, has pushed a handful of loyal writers to leave the platform.

The nine-year-old platform certainly proves itself as an eerie success in Chinese gaming history. Can it step into its ten-year anniversary with a sustainable approach for its users to still produce high-quality work that can echo with our contemporary troubles? It is hard to tell. But we do wish that to be the case.