Nail Household vs. Demolition Team, released by Mirage Games in August, is set in a cleared pit, empty except for a lone three-story house marked “chai” — the Chinese word for demolition.
The goal? To defend your house against guards and gangsters brandishing knives and bouncing on jackhammers. The characters you can play include a woman in curlers who throws sandals at encroaching attackers, a pot-bellied man who drops dynamite from the roof, and an old man with a shotgun.
When you win a level, the woman appears, pointing a finger at the Forbidden City, the symbolic center of the government’s power. When you lose, the house collapses in a cloud of dust.
The game is the latest example of how chai is bleeding into Chinese pop culture. Earlier this year, Li Chengpeng drew attention for “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” which compares the plight of James Cameron’s Na’vi to the people who live in “nail houses,” so named because they stick out of construction sites like a nail out of a plank of wood.
The struggle between real-life developers and residents intensified recently as three people in Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, set themselves on fire and were hospitalized. They were refusing to evacuate their home, which was slated for demolition so the city could build a bus terminal, according to reports from China Daily and Southern Weekend (in Chinese).
Eviction-fighters in China have gone to extremes before. In June, a farmer used a homemade rocket launcher to fend off demolition teams. And the recent Jiangxi incident echoes a case in December, where a woman died after setting herself on fire when authorities came to tear down her husband’s business, as reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
That case fueled a broader discussion of property rights, and the State Council in May issued an “emergency notice” ordering local governments to crack down on demolition (in Chinese). That provision, however, hasn’t stopped new incidents in the face of high property prices and rapid urbanization. A research report released earlier this year by the state Housing and Urban-Rural Development Administration predicted that more than half of China’s existing residential structures will be torn down and rebuilt in the coming 20 years.
Now videogamers can commiserate with nail houses. Nail Household vs. Demolition Team is popular online, with more than 50,000 comments about it on social-media site Renren.com and more than 10,000 users discussing the game in their online diaries.
But players complain that they can never complete the final “survival” level, where swarms of demolition workers overwhelm the house’s defenders.
“The cruel fact from the game is: Even if you survive the previous six levels, your house will be demolished at the end anyways,” a Twitter user named “windchaos” wrote.
– Juliet Ye and Emma Ashburn. Follow Juliet on Twitter @wsj_jul