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 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.
Realism Score: I don’t recall remember learning ever being this fun. 3/100.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.