Hong Kong protesters and mainland gamers clash in Grand Theft Auto V Online

An epic fight broke out in the hit game from Rockstar Games after players dressed up as protesters and riot police equipped with water cannons

After nearly seven months of protests in Hong Kong, the image of a “typical” protester in the movement has become instantly recognizable: Black garb, yellow hardhat, tear gas mask and maybe a petrol bomb in hand.

The look is easy enough to replicate. So much so that gamers are now doing it in Grand Theft Auto V Online.

With the new Diamond Casino Heist update adding more clothing items to the game, players found that they can put together an outfit that makes them look a lot like a Hong Kong protester. So people are going online to promote taking up their cause in GTA V.

On Hong Kong online forum LIHKG, gamers are encouraging each other to buy the set of clothing that they’ve dubbed the “Glory to Hong Kong” suit and join a “crew” named Stand With Hong Kong. The crew has been going on violent outings in the game, trashing subway stations and throwing Molotov cocktails at police vehicles.

Hong Kong gamers can now buy gear to look like protesters in GTA V Online. (Picture: LIHKG)

Gamers in mainland China were quick to respond. They started showing up in the game dressed as riot police and driving trucks with water cannons. Social media discussions suggest that the two sides wound up getting into an epic fight involving railguns. It appears that mainland gamers ultimately wound up overwhelming Hong Kong gamers by sheer number of players.

Mainland gamers dress up as riot police and try to throw gas grenades in the subway. (Picture: Shangdizhiyin_5zn/Weibo)

GTA V Online has now become the latest front in video games for the protests. Over the last few months, both sides of the protests have used video games to try to spread their message. Most notably, a group of Hong Kong protesters attempted to launch a simulation game called Liberate Hong Kong in which gamers can play as a Hong Kong protester dodging rubber bullets on the front lines.

Another game that later appeared lets players beat up protesters and activists. In this web-based game, players smack black-clad Hong Kong protesters and pro-democracy activists with a flip-flop, baseball bat or their own hand.

That fight has now moved to online multiplayer games with GTA V, which is reportedly the most profitable entertainment product of all time. GTA V Online is essentially an open world in which players are free to do whatever they want. This includes robbing banks or firing rocket launchers at pedestrians.

GTA V is set in the US, but gamers pretend it’s Hong Kong. (Picture: LIHKG)

Given everything at players’ disposal in the game, the fights in GTA V were more than mild virtual scuffles. Both sides accused each other of firing the first shot. And once mainland gamers overwhelmed Hong Kong gamers by showing up en masse, some Hong Kong players took to social media to complain that there weren’t more Hongkongers joining the fights.

“I don’t blame you for not having the balls to throw petrol bombs at the police in reality. But in the game there are guns and rocket launchers, and you don’t have the balls to kill those Shina gamers?” one person wrote in the most upvoted post on LIHKG, which uses a derogatory term for Chinese people.

The furious gamer continued, “I want to ask: How do you qualify to wear the [black] shirt? Are you doing right by the name of our crew? Where have you stood with Hong Kong?”

The Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has been accused of siding with the government during the protests, so protesters started vandalizing subway stations to express their dissatisfaction. (Picture: LIHKG)

News of the confrontations started making the rounds on Weibo. One popular Weibo blogger said that he expected retaliation from Hong Kong gamers after the first round of fights.

“Now that they are provoked, these cockroaches said that they are returning to GTA 5 to beat us up. From this point on, the fire will only burn brighter in the game. Are we ready?” he wrote.

Water cannons have been used in Hong Kong to disperse protesters. (Picture: Shangdizhiying_5zn)

But some mainland gamers would much rather leave politics out of the game. They said that Hong Kong gamers are trying to use GTA V to keep the spirit of the movement alive. They also worry whether the game could wind up blocked in China if GTA V becomes more politicized.

“Is LIHKG trying to get GTA V in trouble?” someone asked on Weibo.

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