Road to Guangdong: a cultural journey

Back in 2015 someone highlighted the fact that I am a writer of colour. It made me feel exposed. I had always been aware of my ethnicity, but it was never brought to the forefront of my work until then. So when in 2017 a friend set up a British East Asian writers’ group, I eagerly joined.

Yen Ooi
Yen Ooi, University of Westminster

Not long after, another friend spotted a call for a writer to work on an indie game set in China. I enquired about the role and suggested that someone from the writers’ group would be ideal, and that was how I landed the role of writer and narrative designer for Road to Guangdong.

‘Chineseness is a category whose meanings are not fixed and pregiven, but constantly renegotiated and rearticulated, both inside and outside China.’ wrote cultural studies professor, Ien Ang on identity.

Being a Chinese diaspora who has lived in Malaysia, Japan and the United Kingdom has taught me loads about my own ethnicity as well as the complexities behind every person.

As a huáyì – overseas-born Chinese – we’re constantly grappling with the fluidity of its meanings, through upholding traditions and cultural practices, while participating in a modern way of life. We learn to differentiate and move away from Chinese nationalism, yet find a sense of belonging through the shared values within international Chinese communities. We seem to be more concerned about preserving our ethnic values, as they become more exposed and vulnerable.

Being part of a minority community makes you aware of how your ethnicity is being communicated to others, and what they derive from it. And that is where I began with developing the narrative for Road to Guangdong.

What I know of being Chinese is through family, and it is no surprise that much of Chinese traditions place familial relationships above all else. In Road to Guangdong, the main relationship that the player will encounter is probably the harshest one, the one with Guu Ma. In Cantonese, Guu Ma means ‘father’s eldest sister.’ The importance in keeping these titles is one of the experiences that I hope that players will take away – where in Chinese culture, familial relationships are of the utmost importance and respect is shown through these practices that are still kept today.

While Guu Ma is the most critical person you’ll encounter, she is also your biggest ally. The story begins with Sunny and Guu Ma both just coming out of the grieving period for Sunny’s parents’ deaths. This is also what brings them together, as we find out that Sunny’s father left the family restaurant  to Sunny in his will. While Guu Ma has to overcome her own jealousy to celebrate the fact that the patriarchal culture of leaving inheritance to the eldest male has been challenged, you play Sunny, a freshly
graduated art student with other ambitions.

I found Excalibur’s decision to locate their narrative-driven game in China a unique and brave one. Though diversity and inclusivity are terms that are at the tip of everyone’s tongues today, it is still rare to see true engagement with it. I know that the game will only be a glimpse into Chinese culture, but I hope that it is enough to open up a new world of experiences that are more engaging on a human level and less about the entertainment tropes that encourage stereotypes. I hope that through Road to Guangdong and similar games, we’ll see games become a platform for meaningful cultural exchange.

It’s 2020, and though I’m still learning what it means to be a writer of colour, with all the encouragement from my team in Just Add Oil Games and the relentless support we receive from Excalibur, I know that whatever it represents, it’s a good thing.

Yen Ooi is the author of Sun: Queens of Earth, and a book of short stories and poetry, A Suspicious Collection. She is a lecturer on Westminster University’s MA Creative Writing course. Road to Guangdong is the first game for which she has written. Road to Guangdong is currently available in Early Access.

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