“Propagames,” or games with propagandistic content, have been emerging in the past two decades. They operate as a part of digital authoritarianism, together with other forms of new soft propaganda, to legitimate populist authoritarian states around the world. The contemporary democratic struggle against global authoritarian resurgence will require knowledge on how propagames and other digital propaganda work. But knowledge on propagames is seriously lacking compared to the voluminous scholarship on politically progressive, educational, and serious games. This study fills this research gap by analyzing the most popular propagame in China, Kangzhan Online (War of Resistance against Japan Online), and gamers’ reception of it. We begin with theoretical explorations of how to define propagames, how to demarcate them from other games with political content, and what role they play in digital authoritarianism. We eclectically borrow from four frameworks to analyze Kangzhan Online: the dual-process perspective, imaginary world studies, the sociology of collective memory, and the sociology of emotions. Our data include participant observation in the game for 3 months, formal interviews of 30 gamers, informal interviews with dozens of gamers, and documentary data from the official forum and the Chinese game media. The data were collected in 2009, 2010, and 2019.
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