HONG KONG—Chinese netizens have been playing a computer game this week based on one of the country's most pressing social problems: forced evictions by local governments to make way for lucrative property developments.
"Nailhouses vs. the Eviction Gang" pits local residents against authorities bent on demolishing their home and has recently been passed around on popular microblogging sites.
The brightly colored two-dimensional game offers a number of Super Mario-style characters who stand on the upper story of a house marked with the now all-too familiar character for "demolition."
The inhabitants rain household objects down on strings of blue-clad officials who approach the house with spades. Successful players repel the attempts at undermining the building from below.
"The building has three stories. Each 100 yuan you earn means you can activate one family member, and you can repel a large number of personnel from different agencies from four different levels [including the roof]," said a netizen identified as "Lemon," who had recently played the game.
"The aim is to prevent them getting anywhere near your 'nailhouse' and demolishing your building," he said.
The "nailhouse" draws its name from a lone homeowner who held out against big-time property developers in the southwestern city of Chongqing while the rest of his neighborhood had been razed ahead of construction plans.
The game highlights a widespread form of conflict in modern China, where booming property prices and lack of bargaining power render ordinary Chinese easy prey to local officials and their property developer partners looking to boost revenues.
Jia Jia, a columnist with the Guangzhou-based cutting-edge Southern Metropolis News, said the game masks a huge amount of anger felt by evictees and those who learn about their plight.
"Here you have the tactics used by the government to evict people and demolish their homes, and the strategies employed by the ordinary people to prevent them, described in a very vivid manner," Jia said.
"The weapons used by the government and the property developer [in the game] are pretty advanced, while the ordinary people only have rudimentary weapons," he said.
"This is a very clever way of illustrating the huge difference in power between the two sides [in such disputes]."
As netizens played the game online, villagers in southern Guangdong province were taking their eviction protest to the doors of the municipal government in Conghua city.
"There are specially dedicated departments with responsibility for social stability there [dealing with it]," said an official who answered the phone at the Conghua municipal government offices.
"[The protesters] have all left now ... The complaints office is following this matter. We don't know much about it," the official said.
Local sources said as many as 2,000 people arrived outside the government buildings in Conghua Thursday to protest what they said was inadequate compensation for farmland and homes lost to development.
"They have been randomly tearing down people's houses," said a source familiar with the situation. "These are farming families who were born and bred on that land and built their own houses there."
A local resident who was affected by the plans said the farmers had been forced off their land.
"There's no land any more," he said. "We are all working as laborers."
A second villager surnamed Chen said the dispute has been going on since 2007. "They waited this long to give us the money, and then it was according to earlier [property prices]."
An official who answered the phone at Conghua's Taiping township government complaints office said there was a police presence outside the building.
"I just saw some police [outside]," she said, adding that they appeared to be protecting public order. She declined to answer further questions.
An official who answered the phone at the main office, when asked about the protest, replied "You have got the wrong number."
Villagers said their attempts to lodge complaints through official channels, taking them even as far as the central government in Beijing, have met with no success.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu and Qiao Long. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.