Liberate San Andreas! Hongkongers clash with mainlanders online in ‘Grand Theft Auto V’

A player hurls a molotov cocktail at a police car in “Grand Theft Auto V.” Photo via LIHKG.
A player hurls a molotov cocktail at a police car in “Grand Theft Auto V.” Photo via LIHKG.

Much has been said about the digital front lines of Hongkongers’ battle for greater democratic freedoms — from Telegram to LIHKG — but that digital battle took on a more literal cast when protesters and their pro-Beijing opponents clashed in the actual digital battleground of Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V).

GTA V is latest entry in a long-running series of video games whose open-world concept lets players live the outlaw life, roaming the city of San Andreas, hijacking cars, and shooting it out in the street.

First reported by Abacus, the in-game clashes began after a new set of add-ons allowed players to replicate the now-iconic garb of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, including black clothes, gas masks, and yellow hard hats. After Hong Kong gamers took to the fictional streets of San Andreas to replicate their Hong Kong tactics — including trashing train stations and petrol-bombing cop cars — mainland gamers responded by turning up en masse dressed as riot cops, resulting in a massive in-game brawl.

(The mainlanders purportedly won through sheer overwhelming numbers.)

An in-game character kitted out like a Hong Kong protester. Photo via LIHKG.
An in-game character kitted out like a Hong Kong protester. Photo via LIHKG.

Dozens of pictures circulating online show the battle of San Andreas, with black-clad Hong Kong players heaving Molotov cocktails at pro-Beijing “police officers” and vehicles, setting stores on fire and smashing up subway ticketing machines.

On LIHKG, the call has gone out for Hongkongers (and Taiwanese) to join the “Glory to Hong Kong” server, where they are badly outnumbered the mainland team.

“War has truly begun on GTA 5, with cockroaches having assembled, wearing cockroach attire and declaring war at mainland gamers,” one user commented.

One user even put together a video — much of it reminiscent of a Hong Kong action flick (including an Infernal Affairs-esque rooftop shootout) — featuring footage of in-game action, as well as what appears to be a mock-up of PLA troops streaming across an imitation HK-Shenzhen border in tanks and helicopters, intercut with a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But despite the calls for reinforcements, Hong Kong players weren’t optimistic they could overcome the mainland’s numbers (“We’re definitely going to lose out,” one LIHKG commenter said), while mainlanders were quick to gloat.

“How many people do they even have?” one asked. “[T]his is a joke, even our GTA ad sales team is enough to drown them.”

Still, others were also quick to note that the apparent politicization of the game could have unintended consequences when it comes to the notoriously sensitive mainland authorities.

As one user predicted, GTA could be “Banned in China [in] 3…2…1…”


Related: Virtually There: New video game puts players in the shoes of Hong Kong’s frontline protesters


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