by Aaron Wytze Wilson

Photo credit: Denis Chen

Formosa Ex Machina is a column about Taiwanese netizens, and the intersection of politics and the internet in Taiwan.

DUDE, THAT’S all you got to say to them, ‘Taiwan number one’ and they lose their shit.”

It wasn’t always this easy to get Chinese gamers of the popular online game ‘H1Z1’ to “lose their shit.” It took American gamer “Angrypug” a number of sessions before he found the perfect taunt that creeps under the skins of Chinese gamers.

“They would say ‘China number one’, and then I would say ‘America number one’ back, but it didn’t get much of a response,” said Angrypug. “But then someone in chat told me, no, no, no. You gotta say ‘Taiwan number one’, that really pisses them off!”

With a devilish smile, and a glint in his eye, Angrypug gleefully utters “Taiwan number one” to his gaming opponents from China. The response from Chinese gamers is immediate:

“Fuck you American boy! Taiwan is number two, China is number one! Fuck you!”

The videos of Angrypug playing H1Z1 have since become Youtube sensations, clocking in over a million and half views. The video was also Reddit’s most popular discussion thread, with dozens of poster quoting their favorite moments from the videos.

The videos gained enormous popularity in Taiwan after being discovered on Youtube, and the story received news coverage from Taiwan’s Liberty Times, and the Apple Daily.

Thousands of Taiwanese fans subsequently began to follow Angrypug’s Twitter page, as well as his H1Z1 livestreaming page on popular gaming website Twitch.

That a Youtube video about gaming has become such a smash hit in Taiwan should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the island’s obsession with video games. Taiwanese of all ages can be seen on Taipei’s MRT glued to their smart phones, mashing away at their screens.

But the popularity of the video among gamers and netizens points to larger issues gaining prominence among the island’s youth. Taiwan’s Sunflower generation is more confident about expressing their identity, and bristles at being grouped nationally and culturally with China.

This yearning for greater recognition of Taiwan has only increased under eight years of the Ma Ying-jeou administration and a rising China with increasing clout among the international community to shape the narrative of Taiwan-China relations.

Angrypug taunts Chinese gamers with “Taiwan No. 1”

Incidentally, the ‘Taiwan No. 1’ video gives the North American and European gaming community an unusual glimpse at identity politics in Asia, as well as a basic understanding of Taiwan’s harried relationship with China. In this virtual world of survival during the zombie apocalypse, US-Taiwan-China political relations plays out astonishingly similar to it’s real world counterpart.

H1Z1: A battleground for zombie survival, and Taiwan-China relations

H1Z1 IS A massive multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. The gameplay environment is extremely immersive, and offers players enormous control over how the game is played. In order to survive the hostile world of zombies and potentially hostile survivors, players are encouraged to team up with other gamers in order to outlast their opponents.

How team-ups occur is entirely up to the player, and the game requires players to communicate in-game via headset to feel each other out and decide for themselves if cooperation is possible.

In general, most MMORPGs have a number of different servers designated for each geographical gaming region, meaning players located in North America play on North American servers and Taiwanese players play on Taiwanese servers. Most online gamers will choose the server designated to their region.

H1Z1 is different. Daybreak, H1Z1’s production company, have not created a designated server for any countries in Asia. This has led gamers from South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Japan to choose existing servers provided for the North American, European and Australian markets.

This has made H1Z1’s game player ecosystem incredibly diverse. Players from around the world are offered an opportunity to interact with geographically distant communities from around the world to team up to fend off the encroaching zombie hordes.

Most team-ups occur along linguistic lines. Players who speak the same language are more likely to cooperate to ensure smooth communication within the game.

But a shared lingua franca for Chinese and Taiwanese gamers has not led to in-game team-ups, but contrarily, has led gamers to proudly proclaim their national identities to each other in Mandarin Chinese, and set terms for cooperation based on the mutual affirmation of national sovereignty and identity.

In fact, confrontations between Taiwanese and Chinese have been playing out along those lines since H1Z1’s release in January 2015, a full 6 months before Angrypug’s confrontation with Chinese gamers in October 2015.

In a now infamous exchange among Taiwan’s online gaming community, Taiwanese gamer ‘Stanby5229’ (龜狗) refused to team up with any Chinese gamer if they did not affirm Taiwan’s independence.

“Let me first ask you. Taiwan is independent, right?” said Stanby5229 “Just say ‘right’, ok?” Confronted with the question, the Chinese gamer answered “Taiwan belongs to China!”, in which Standby5229 replied “Fuck your mom!” and proceeded to fire on the Chinese gamer’s avatar.

The video of Standby5229’s exchange with Chinese gamers on H1Z1 reached an astonishing 1.6 million views on youtube. The video was widely seen by gamers on both sides of the strait.

Please click the “CC” icon below the video if English subtitles do not appear

Chinese gamers expressed confusion and a sense of betrayal in response to Standby5229’s video. This was a feeling compounded by Standby5229’s choice to happily team-up with an Australian gamer, and his refusal to team-up with a gamer from China.

Their outrage continued as a number of videos showed Taiwanese gamers posing as Chinese gamers only to betray their Chinese teammates in order to rob them of their weapons and loot. In a popular youtube video, Taiwanese gamer Xargon pretends he’s a “fellow countrymen” (国人) with a convincing Chinese accent, only to later shoot his Chinese teammate with a bow and arrow, and giddily abscond his AK47.

The above video does not have English subtitles

These incidents became widely known to Chinese fans of the H1Z1 series through online game discussion, and even news reports on Chinese game websites, creating a sense of betrayal by their “compatriots across the strait” (同胞) and sowing seeds of distrust.

Please click the “CC” icon below the video if English subtitles do not appear

However, subsequent efforts by Taiwanese gamers to masquerade as Chinese gamers were not  successful. Chinese gamers had devised a clever way to confirm their allegiance, by requesting Taiwanese gamers to sing the Chinese national anthem.

Enter the Angrypug

AS I WATCH Angrypug’s live gaming feed on Twitch, it becomes obvious how taken netizens and gaming fans are with the slogan “Taiwan No. 1.”

In a chat box beside a video feed of Angrypug playing H1Z1, there are constant demands for Angrypug to yell “Taiwan No. 1!”. There’s even a dedicated “Taiwan No. 1” sticker available to anyone who pays for a subscription to Angrypug’s Twitch live-feed.

It should come as no surprise that the videos have become such a smash hit in North America. All the ingredients are there for success: an absurd setting, snappy dialogue, and short quotes that are prime for ‘meme’-ification.

Angrypug declares victory against a Chinese gamer. He chants Taiwan No. 1, then teabags his opponent

The Taiwan No. 1 video is ostensibly the first time a North American audience has had a chance to see China’s netizens infuriated to such a high degree. If the popularity of the video on youtube and reddit is any indication, North Americans have responded with laughter.

“I like to imagine a bunch of leaders sitting around a table shouting at each other, “USA NUMBER 1, No China number 1, No USA number 1, No UK number 1, Fuck UK Norway number 1,” said one Reddit commentator.

Taiwanese audiences are equally thrilled by the video, and it has led ‘Taiwan No. 1’ to quickly become an integral part of netizen vocabulary, littering social media platforms with the meme.

It’s also led to a number of prominent artists and musicians to remix the ‘Taiwan No. 1’ material in a variety of ways. Kaohsiung DJ and MC Mr. Skin (賴皮) released a club remix of the video, with sounds of Angrypug chanting “Taiwan No. 1” and Chinese gamers screaming “Fuck you!” to a pulsing electronic beat.

Taichung designer Denis Chen (陳致豪), famous for his “Republic of Taiwan” passport stickers, created a decal image supporting the video.

“A lot of people were sharing the Taiwan No. 1 video yesterday, which shows Chinese gamers having their glass hearts ruthlessly broken. I’ve decided to make this image in commemoration of their meltdown… XD” wrote Chen.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.47.28 PM

Chinese netizens’ “glass-heart” (玻璃心) has recently become a common gripe for Taiwanese netizens and Taiwan media outlets like the Apple Daily (蘋果日報) and the Liberty Times (自由時報). They note that China’s rising military strength and importance to the world economy has not resulted in thicker skin when it comes to criticism or dissenting views.

China’s belief that sovereignty over Taiwan is sacrosanct—despite the People’s Republic of China never administering the island, and Taiwan and mainland China being unified for only 4 of the past 120 years—has led Taiwanese netizens in turn to strengthen their resolve when confronted with belligerent Chinese netizens.

Taiwanese netizens bring with them a concept of Taiwan being a de-facto independent state when interacting with other nationalities online. Regardless of whether netizens view their nation as either the Republic of China (ROC) or simply as ‘Taiwan’, they view themselves as a separate nation from the Chinese mainland.

We can view the approval of the Angrypug video and Taiwanese netizens to ally with other nations as not only a desire for international recognition of Taiwan’s de-facto independence, but also a desire to connect with nations that value democratic systems of governance, universal suffrage, freedom of media and speech, and a rejection of allegiances determined purely along linguistic, cultural, or economic lines.

We can also view the positive reactions to the Taiwan No. 1 video as a growing trend of Taiwanese netizens using social media and gaming networks as a way to reach out to the larger global community, a vacuum left open by China’s insistence on blocking many of these platforms within China.

But if the popularity of H1Z1 is any indication, the instances of Taiwanese and Chinese gamers and netizens clashing over issues of identity and national sovereignty is also on the rise. As China’s middle class grow in size, wealth, and ability to travel outside mainland China’s national borders, so will their taste in online gaming, and international social networking platforms. Interactions over identity and national sovereignty will continue and intensify.

If the alliances made during H1Z1 are any indication, when the zombie apocalypse does come, Taiwan will not stand with China in the worldwide battle to annihilate the living dead.

  • An earlier version of this article stated H1Z1’s production company is Steam. It is actually Daybreak Games.
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