China Just Launched the Most Frightening Game Ever — and Soon It Will Be Mandatory

china-obedience-gameBy Claire Bernish

As if further proof were needed Orwell’s dystopia is now upon us, China has now gamified obedience to the State. Though that is every bit as creepily terrifying as it sounds, citizens may still choose whether or not they wish to opt-in — that is, until the program becomes compulsory in 2020. “Going under the innocuous name of ‘Sesame Credit,’ China has created a score for how good a citizen you are,” explains Extra Credits’ video about the program.

The owners of China’s largest social networks have partnered with the government to create something akin to the U.S. credit score — but, instead of measuring how regularly you pay your bills, it measures how obediently you follow the party line.

In the works for years, China’s ‘social credit system’ aims to create a docile, compliant citizenry who are fiscally and morally responsible by employing a game-like format to create self-imposed, group social control. In other words, China gamified peer pressure to control its citizenry; and, though the scheme hasn’t been fully implemented yet, it’s already working — insidiously well.

Zheping Huang, a reporter for Quartz, chronicled his own experience with the social control tool in October, saying that

in the past few weeks I began to notice a mysterious new trend. Numbers were popping up on my social media feeds as my friends and strangers on Weibo [the Chinese equivalent to Twitter] and WeChat began to share their ‘Sesame Credit scores.’ The score is created by Ant Financial, an Alibaba-affiliated company that also runs Alipay, China’s popular third-party payment app with over 350 million users. Ant Financial claims that it evaluates one’s purchasing and spending habits in order to derive a figure that shows how creditworthy someone is.

However, according to a translation of the “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System,” posted online by Oxford University’s China expert, Rogier Creemers, it’s nightmarishly clear the program is far more than just a credit-tracking method. As he described it, “The government wants to build a platform that leverages things like big data, mobile internet, and cloud computing to measure and evaluate different levels of people’s lives in order to create a gamified nudging for people to behave better.”

While Sesame Credit’s roll-out in January has been downplayed by many, the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, urges caution, saying:

The system is run by two companies, Alibaba and Tencent, which run all the social networks in China and therefore have access to a vast amount of data about people’s social ties and activities and what they say. In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like, such as about the Tiananmen Square massacre that the government carried out to hold on to power, or the Shanghai stock market collapse. It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them.

And, in what appears likely the goal of the entire program, added, “Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.”

Social pressure, of course, can be highly effective given the right circumstances. China seems to have found exactly that in the intricate linking of people’s scores to their contacts, which can be seen publicly by anyone — and then upping the ante through score-based incentives and rewards. Rick Falkvinge pointed out a startling comparison:

The KGB and the Stasi’s method of preventing dissent from taking hold was to plant so-called agents provocateurs in the general population, people who tried to make people agree with dissent, but who actually were arresting them as soon as they agreed with such dissent. As a result, nobody would dare agree that the government did anything bad, and this was very effective in preventing any large-scale resistance from taking hold. The Chinese way here is much more subtle, but probably more effective still.

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As Creemers described to Dutch news outlet, de Volkskrant,

With the help of the latest internet technologies, the government wants to exercise individual surveillance. The Chinese aim […] is clearly an attempt to create a new citizen.

Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Johan Lagerkvist, said the system is “very ambitious in scope, including scrutinizing individual behavior and what books people read. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”

James Corbett has been tracking the implementation of Sesame Credit for some time. Introducing the ubiquitous tracking system for a recent episode of the Corbett Report, he mused:

Coming soon to a New World Order near you: social credit! Earn points by behaving like the government wants you to behave! Get penalized if you don’t act like a doubleplusgood citizen! What could be more fun?

Indeed, because mandatory enrollment in Sesame Credit is still a few years away, its true effectiveness won’t be measurable for some time. But even a reporter’s usual wariness appears knocked off-kilter, as Zheping Huang summarized his personal experience, “Even if my crappy credit score doesn’t mean much now, it’s in my best interest I suppose to make sure it doesn’t go too low.”

And that, of course, is precisely why gamifying State obedience is so terrifying.

This article (China Just Launched the Most Frightening “Game” Ever — and Soon It Will Be Mandatory) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

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10 Comments on "China Just Launched the Most Frightening Game Ever — and Soon It Will Be Mandatory"

  1. This sounds like the catholic school of my youth were your peer group would rat you out to help maintain classroom order as the need to keep you in line with the “guilt” system of the church. Nothing like having the peer group police the situation for the mind controllers of the one world religion. The basis of the church’s goal is salvation; you see you need to be saved from your individuality in order to become part of the flock. Fortunately for me my life and mind was saved by rock n’ roll, and the philosophy of Daoism. I freed myself from the herd and found my true Self which is not based on a quilt system of sinning. The Oneness of the Dao does not interfere with the formation of our sacred individuality, thus we maintain and preserve our experience as immortal beings. This pagan baby is a universe of experience that no longer lives in the hive consciousness of a church or religion which is a trap. The trap is controlled by the alien/military/industrial/complex, the wolf in the sheep’s clothing.

  2. I’m sure all of these apps ‘rat’ you out…keep sending your hard earned labor to the beast.Chinese are the test bed – these apps are probably on you phone now and are being used – no doubt by a worthless top down government 3 letter agency – worthless. I guess you could end up in the graybar notel motel by making wrong purchase choices and texting the wrong folks…I may have lost points by posting…sigh…

  3. In the USA there is a new subversive medical tracking score that is underway. It has to do with tracking your “compliance ” to the doctors orders & taking your drugs on time. Unlike your regular credit score which you are entitled to access this one is not available to you but will be to insurance companies & who knows who else [schools & employers], which can cause discrimination.
    It still pisses me off that insurance companies can make you give credit score & raise your rates accordingly. If I am paying the premium in full and not requesting a loan how is it their damn business? I no longer give my SS# to doctors or dentists if I am paying out of pocket. Several have used my old info to file for insurance & try to get paid twice.

  4. I recall how anonymity was of prime importance when the internet was gaining momentum in the 1990’s. Facebook comes out and the opposite became true. Even so much as to shame people who wanted no part in social networks that offered no privacy with a back end servicing the highest paid clients and the government. Even made fun of people like David Icke for pointing out the ‘totalitarian tip toe’. So ironic isn’t it.

    • I’m sorry to have to conclude that F…book is only partly to blame ,what about 2 generations of attention addicts and wannabees walking and talking and most certainly demonstrating that your ears can become quite drafty if there is nothing in between.


  6. How would this work for someone who does not use social networks? Someone who has no credit cards and only pays cash? Someone who has no cash and only barters?

  7. I’m sure Zuckerberg is volunteering for this one already.

  8. This will be the next step toward gov’t control. Most of us are already socially controlled by political correctness. No computer is necessary. My mother’s best friend gave her the silent treatment for making a very mild joke about being a homosexual couple. It lasted for two months. I told my mother not to worry about it. Her friend then decided to end her shaming episode when she realized she was not going to get a grovelling apology (ala Paula Deen).

    This is one reason that Trump has so much popularity. He will not give in to the PC crowd.

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