Growing Up on Mario and Sonic. Growing Up in China.S Doodling away at his desk, a skinny and unassuming young man, Li Feng, ponders how to draw a political cartoon regarding missile defense shields. Li, 32, is a graphic artist for a media company in Beijing and he attributes his choice of career to his upbringing, an upbringing in China, with video games.


"When many people think of China, they often think of young Chinese dressed in communist Mao suits with army caps," said Li. "That wasn't the case when I was growing up."

One of the many common misconceptions about China is that kids in the 1980s and 90s didn't have Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, but all of that is false. Many young people from that generation grew up playing the same games that people in Japan and the States played, and their gaming pasts have influenced what they do now.

"We had video games like I would assume people elsewhere did," Li told Kotaku.

Growing up in the 1980s in Shanxi province, Li who recalls playing hours upon hours of Contra on what he called the "Hong Baiji (红白机)". What Li calls the "Hong Baiji" is in reality the Nintendo Famicom.

"Some of my fondest memories growing up was me and my friends playing on the Hong Baiji," said Li. "It was 700 or 800RMB, at the time it was considered expensive, my parents wouldn't buy me one but I had friends who had one."

Li recalls that his parents were not very supportive of him playing video games, but that despite their apprehension to his hobbies, they did not bar him from playing like some of his peers. Li, it seems, was not alone.

Indy game designer Hu Ming, 31, who is currently working on his first independent game, also remembers fondly of the Hong Bai Ji. Growing up in Liaoning province, Hu recalls going to "arcades" to play on the PlayStation to get his gaming fix. Hu also recalls fondly playing on the Famicom. Despite not owning one himself, he would visit his uncle's house to play with his cousins.

At the time Hu says, computers weren't popular or powerful enough for gaming and most of the gaming entertainment was had in arcades. However, the legal arcade phase in China was short lived as the government closed many arcades and banned home consoles in the year 2000.

While the console ban did change the way Hu played games, he says that he still had a lot of fun growing up, playing handheld games that had Tetris to eventually playing Ages of Empires on PC.

"Eventually because systems were expensive, arcades were diminishing, I moved onto computer games," said Hu. "Some of my favorite games at the time were Ages of Empires and WarCraft."

Also from Liaoning province, Zhao, a friend of Hu, also works in the video game industry. Zhao works in sales for a Chinese iOS game developer. "At that time, the majority of us were introduced to all the game consoles," said Zhao "If you wanted one or the other there was a definitely a way to get one."

Zhao admits that some of the games he played growing up were pirated copies but he also says that he played both legally purchased and pirated games. As he got older Zhao also said that he started moving towards PC games, he says that the console and arcade ban did not force him to move to PC. He currently owns an un-hacked Xbox 360 playing legitimate games.

Even with this diet of console gaming, Zhao personally believes that the reason why online games took off in China was not solely because of the banning of console games, but instead the Chinese mentality towards games.

"People started looking at games as a means to quick cash, the Chinese developers didn't have the concept that games are more than just money makers," said Zhao. "In my opinion, I want to make games that have meaning, not something that is shallow. I want to make games like the games I grew up playing." And that desire is, like the games Zhao grew up on, hardly unique to China.

(Top photo: testing | Shutterstock</a)