Ownership of the Diaoyu Islands may be a topic generating heated dispute between China and Japan, but Chinese gamers will soon be able to settle the score for themselves and ‘reclaim’ the territory – at least in the virtual sense.
The Chinese military-themed computer game Glorious Mission Online  will release an update  on August 1 featuring new content focused around the Diaoyu Islands. Players will be able to fight against Japanese opponents on island maps, and the update will also usher in new weapons, character outfits, and the chance to battle on the Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier commissioned for the People’s Liberation Army.
“The highlight of this update is the ‘Defend the Diaoyu Islands’ scenario,” a press release on the Glorious Mission Online site reads. “Players entering the game will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use their weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!’”
Video: Advertisement for the PLA's online game "Glorious Mission OL"
Screenshots of the upcoming content were released to mixed reactions on July 22. While several gamers on China’s Sina Weibo social network expressed their interest at seeing the Liaoning’s inclusion in the game, others felt that creating an entire scenario about a war for the Diaoyus was inappropriate.
“The issue of defending the islands is not a game,” one poster wrote. “We shouldn’t fantasize this sort of thing.”
Another common sentiment was that Glorious Mission Online, originally sponsored partly by the People's Liberation Army as a virtual simulator to train soldiers, was hopping on the ‘kang ri’ or ‘anti-Japanese’ bandwagon – a term that refers to a recent influx of Chinese dramas and movies that almost always feature Japanese characters as antagonists.
This is not the first time Glorious Mission Online has offered its own take on anti-Japanese subject matter. One of the game's previous updates, an expansion called ‘The Chinese Dream ’, dropped players in the midst of a 1937-themed environment where they could fight against a “flood of attacks from Japanese invaders”.
Patriotic Chinese games like Glorious Mission Online have their equivalent in the international market, where similar titles starring American or European protagonists, particularly the Call of Duty series, enjoy massive popularity. Nor is the game the first to be sponsored by a country’s military – the United States Army has been releasing a series titled America’s Army  since 2002.
Unlike Call of Duty or America’s Army, however, patriotic games in China face an uphill battle: despite their nationalistic themes, they aren’t especially popular.
“The Chinese gaming market is made up of three major categories: the martial arts fantasy, historical fantasy, and ‘red’ [patriotic] games,” said analyst Yu Yi in a 2012 interview  with gaming site Kotaku. “Just like historical dramas … [patriotic] games give … players a sense of nostalgia … allowing them to think back to a simpler time when everyone had a purpose, good or bad. However, with more multiplayer online games now, [patriotic] games are seeing a decline in popularity."
Yu’s sentiments were mirrored in Chinese web portal Tencent’s ranking  of China’s 100 most popular online games, released in June 2013. The most popular game was League of Legends, an American-developed fantasy title, and only three military-themed games – none of which were particularly patriotic – made the top 10. Glorious Mission Online ranked at 47.
Still, while it may not be the country's most popular game, Glorious Mission Online enjoys a loyal fanbase that is gearing up for the release of the Diaoyu Island-themed content.
“I’ll definitely play [the new update] when it comes out,” one Chinese gamer wrote on Weibo. “Of course [Glorious Mission Online] is not as good as the Call of Duty series … But then again, this is the only military game sponsored by my own country … So I should support it.”