Are your parents disappointed in your life choices?
Did 20 years of mugging stunt your emotional development, leaving you socially inept?
Did you internalise our education system’s cult of achievement, leading to unmanageable stress, feelings of inadequacy, and a fragile self-esteem unable cope with failure?
Well, congratulations! You can now relive your trauma — in a video game.
Chinese Parents is a life simulator made by China-based Indie studio Moyuwan (trans: Octoplay). It is kinda like EA’s ever-popular Sims series, except you don’t role-play as a white suburbanite hellbent on fancier sofas.
Instead, you are a Chinese kid growing up under Kiasu Parents, inside a pressure-cooker school system. The goal is ace your exams, get into a good university and above all, AVOID DISAPPOINTING YOUR PARENTS.
Well, what better way to celebrate Children’s Day than by revisiting a Singaporean Childhood? Is the game accurate? Will I be able to fulfill my parents’ expectations? I start a new character named Jie Pan and dive in.
I Am Born
BAM! I am Born! I open my eyes to see my mother smiling at me, but there’s no time to smile back or to wave my tiny arms in her general direction. As the countdown timer informs me, the University Entrance Exam—Gao Kao/A Levels/IB/SAT—is only 40 turns away, and how are you going to beat this final boss if you don’t start leveling up ASAP?
I mean, what do you think this is? Pokemon? There’s no Rare Candy, so you better start hitting those books like it’s the long grass outside Vermilion City.
I Gain Knowledge
And so, the life of Jie Pan begins. With no time to waste, I start grinding my stats in a jewel-clicking mini-game. If you want to be good at Math or Science, pop the green crystals to gain IQ. Red crystals give you EQ, while Yellow improves your Memory, which you will need for subjects like history. Choose carefully because you can only unlock a limited number of crystals per turn. If you spend any of your precious AP (action points) on Constitution (a.k.a Physical fitness), you might as well quit and restart because P.E. is not tested in exams.
Realism Score: I don’t recall remember learning ever being this fun. 3/100.
I Start Mugging
Once you’ve used up your allotted action points, it’s time to fill your schedule with activities. Choose wisely, because these activities have different effects. Studying Math or Science will boost your IQ at the cost of increasing stress levels. Watching TV reduces stress, but don’t do it too often because you’ll lag behind academically, fail your exams, and cause your parents to disown you. (More on that later)
Drawing on my own secondary school experiences, I decide to go for a 70/30 mix. 70% studying. 30% leisure. Big. Mistake. Within a few turns, the stress levels are so high that Jie Pan has developed long-term mental health problems. He becomes ‘anxious’, ‘selfish’, ‘self-abased’, and ‘cowardly’. I quickly backtrack and reduce my workload but it’s too late.
-100 IQ. I am mentally scarred for life.
Realism Score: 110/100. May cause PTSD.
I Get a D For My Exam
Despite studying to the point of fatigue, Jie Pan still manages to fail most of his subjects. He really doesn’t know what happened or why. Maybe his IQ isn’t high enough. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t acquire the ‘Chemistry Knowledge’ skill. Whatever the case, he gets a D for the exam—the first of many—and his parents are absolutely livid.
A scolding ensues.
This is probably the best part of Chinese Parents. The writing is so eerily accurate that I checked the game’s credits to see if they hired my Dad as an external consultant. They didn’t, but somehow managed to cull some of the Greatest Hits from my childhood:
The Guilt-Trip: Do you know how hard it is to raise you? The least you could do is put in some effort
The Road-sweeper: If you keep this up, you won’t be able to make it to university. Do you want to end up as a road-sweeper?
The Ambush: Wow, I guess those computer lessons really paid off. If things don’t work out, you can make a living repairing computers
The Honour System: Your grades are so bad I can barely show my face outside
Realism Score: 2000/100. I should start wearing a tinfoil hat to prevent the lizard people from accessing my memories.
I Bring Shame And Dishonor To My Family
No matter how hard he studies, Jie Pan comes home with Ds or Fs. As a result, my parents lose ‘face’. They are deeply ashamed of their son’s academic ineptitude, and refuse to buy him an Electric Piano.
Worse of all, my lack of achievement means that my parents cannot win ‘Face Duels’ with distant relatives during Chinese New Year. When my mom battles with her fake friends in a bragging competition, she inevitably gets kicked to the curb by ‘Wealthy Relative’ and ‘Mom Of Math Genius’. Sadly, my algebra skills just can’t defeat their humble-bragging, and our family is forced to flee the rat race in #shame.
Realism Score: One of my friends is a theoretical physicist at Fermi while another is studying Quantum computing at Harvard, so probably 99.82739/100.
I Talk To Girls (Unsuccessfully)
When you reach 16, there’s an option to start dating your schoolmates. But honestly, who needs girls when you have #goals? Jie Pan is a serious young man with places to go. His only love is learning and he’s happily married to his beautiful spouse, Ambition.
Okay, not really.
Actually, I quit because the dating sim is extremely hard. You have to spend action points to acquire ‘intimacy’ with various girls/guys, but there’s no guarantee they’ll return your affection. To succeed, you must first pass an MCQ dilemma test based on the girls’ personality. If you choose wrongly (i.e. giving her acne cream), you will lose ‘intimacy’ as a result. I’m not sure what it says about me as a person, but for the life of me, I just can’t get anyone to like me. Despite spending a huge chunk of my money ($40) on Karaoke, friendship bracelets, and movie tickets, my intimacy is still hovering at a measly total of three points.
Eventually, after many failures, I just go back to studying because it seems like the most sensible thing to do.
Realism Score: Leave me alone.
I Lose The Student Council Elections
Realism Score: 0/100. Joke’s on them, I’ve never participated in any student elections.
I Graduate, Go To University, And Become a Productive Member Of Society
And then, it is time.
After a bowl of IQ-boosting American Ginseng, I head into the University Entrance Examination to try my utmost. 18 years. 18 years of meticulous, painstaking preparation for this single make-or-break moment which will define the rest of my life. This is my one chance to prove the haters wrong, to do my parents proud, to show the world that sometimes, the universe will reward faith. This is my one chance to redeem myself, to show that the years of struggle and stress were not for nothing.
When the dust settles, I open my results slip …
… to find that I’ve achieved average results, and will be going to an average university. After graduation, I find a normal white collar job, get married, and the rest of my life passes uneventfully.
Realism Score: 60/100. Average results, check. Average university, check. Boring office job, check. Not married, but my parents are starting to think I’m gay.
I Review A Video Game
These days, at the age of 27, I still suffer recurring nightmares about school. I dream that I’m in a classroom somewhere and the final exam is 3-4 weeks away. The A* Math Ten Year series is open on a desk in front of me, but the trigonometrical problems read like Sanskrit Ciphers. I realise there’s not enough time to revise everything. I’m going to fail the exam, drop out of school and become a road-sweeper just as everyone foretold. My pulse quickens and my breathing becomes labored. I try to calculate how much time I would have to go through each chapter: 2 days for Probability, one for Differential equations …
Then: I wake up and realise I’ve long since graduated and would never have to touch another graphing calculator again.
Still, I lay awake for a long time, waiting for the panic to subside.
This feeling of anxiety and stress is what makes Chinese Parents so compelling and yet so depressing at the same time. It perfectly captures the sense of claustrophobic helplessness experienced by every student trapped in a hamster wheel of expectations and more expectations. You want to stop, but you’re too scared to slow down. You’re convinced that the sky will cave in and fall on your head if you stop running. You’re determined to do well, not because you‘re genuinely interested in Oxbow lakes or Covalent bonds, but because the thought of not doing well is unthinkable.
And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to a final aggregate score of C5.
So if you’re a happy, well-adjusted person who excelled in school, this game is probably not for you. Please go away and take your insufferable optimism with you.
If you’re a chronic depressive with ambivalent feelings towards school, your parents, and the whole sodding kool-aid buffet, I can’t imagine a more enjoyable gaming experience. At $6.50 on Steam, Chinese Parents is a real bargain. It is cheaper than Prozac, more effective than vodka, and infinitely funnier than my psychiatrist. The game’s sharp-as-blue-cheese satire made me laugh, cry, and most importantly—see the sheer absurdity of it all.
After all, what is our education system if not a video game? You level up, compete with other players, and get sucked into a loop of meaningless challenges and rewards. Then, you log out, emerge blinking into the real world, and suddenly wonder: What is it all for? A, B, or U, there’s no proverbial gold at the rainbow’s terminus. The only reward is adulthood and work and making your peace with life.
Happy Children’s Day.