With the shift of life online, accelerated by the pandemic, cybernetic conceptions of personhood are becoming increasingly pertinent. The anthropological literature has yet to properly contend with Donna Haraway and Gregory Bateson’s challenges that the person might be best understood as a cybernetic organism. Based on eleven months’ ethnography during COVID-19, conducted in-person in Hong Kong and Korea, and digitally with communities in Taiwan and farther afield, this paper takes up that challenge in an intimate look at the cybernetic formation of personhood through videogames. I focus on the recent output of miHoYo’s Genshin Impact, which has a playerbase in the hundreds of millions. In two contrastive Chinese contexts, Taiwan and Hong Kong, I interrogate the effects of gacha monetisation on personhood. Through the activities in-world, and engagement in internal and adjacent communities, videogame identities become componential to personhood. However, so too do the players become components in the gacha characters, and even in miHoYo, as cybernetic organisms. Given the developers’ explicit ambitions – not least of all in their motto, ‘tech otakus save the world’ – and potential tensions with Mainland regulations, I explore the nascent Chinese metaverse from its present limits. In so doing, I show the significance of this game and its community for the future of all cyber society, and the utility of my conception of ‘cybernesis’ for understanding that future.
Image: Promotional image for Genshin Impact (miHoYo, 2020)
- psychological anthropology,
- Hong Kong,
- Genshin Impact