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The Genshin Impact subreddit is a wild mix of horny, wholesome, and hilarious

Genshin Impact
Credit: nanojya on Reddit. (Image credit: nanojya)

Genshin Impact's biggest online community is a lot like its notorious microtransactions: a gamble. You might go there one day and see artwork depicting its shrieking toddler fairy Paimon strapped into a baby carrier, or a video of a player who discovered that you can dodge almost every enemy attack by simply walking in circles. The top post of the day might be a thread complaining about whatever the latest drama may be, or links to translated bits of info dissecting news on the next big update. Or, just as often, you'll find fanart of Keqing with a noticeable emphasis on her stocking-covered feet.

Welcome to the Genshin Impact subreddit, a wild frontier of art and memes ruled over by a pantheon of waifus and husbandos. And it's exactly what developer MiHoYo wants. 

Feeling thirsty 

Subreddits like the Genshin Impact one have become the focal point of online gaming communities. With over 700,000 users (and growing), there's no better place to stay up to date with the latest news, rant about contentious changes, or share silly memes. But what's fascinating is how subreddits also distill the essence of a gaming community into whatever dozen or so threads are trending at a given moment. Over time, that rotating wall of topics begins to paint a picture of what that community is like.

Take a look at the top posts of the Destiny 2 subreddit from the past 30 days, for example, and you'll be hit with a shotgun blast of anger and bitterness. Top threads accuse the players of not understanding how game design works, or claim the subreddit is "the most depressing" gaming subreddit.

The Genshin Impact subreddit, by comparison, is a far more pleasant (and hornier) place to be. Not since Attack on Titan has a piece of anime-style media exploded into such popularity, evidenced by the fact that Genshin Impact is the biggest-ever global launch of a Chinese game. It's so popular that on average it earns $6 million a day just from the mobile version. But people don't just love Genshin Impact as a game, they love its characters—and I mean love, love.

That love manifests in all sorts of different and sometimes unexpectedly cute ways. Yes, players love posting fanart of their favorite characters like Jean, Ganyu, and Mona in suggestive positions (the characters who wear stockings are especially popular). What do you expect? But that art goes so far beyond the realm of sexy in a lot of ways, too. Amber, notorious for being the worst in the game, is the subject of constant memes poking fun at how useless she is. Meanwhile, one of the top posts of all time is a fan-made animation that perfectly captures how spiritually defeating Genshin Impact's lootboxes are. There's also an enormous amount of art that depicts characters in everyday circumstances: A sleepy-faced Ganyu brushing her teeth in the morning, or Keqing gorging on fried shrimp balls.

Credit: dandypocky on Reddit. (Image credit: dandypocky)

If you've played Genshin Impact for even a few hours, it's easy to see why players have forged such strong relationships with these characters. They're not only beautifully drawn (and rendered in-game), but also given a lot of life through voice-acted story quests and written biographies that cover everything from their childhood to their favorite foods. They each have distinctive personalities carefully revealed through every catchy one-liner, idle pose, and funny bit of quest dialogue. Sandwiched between a game that's both extremely fun to play and mostly devoid of in-your-face microtransactions, Genshin Impact is an easy game to fall in love with.

It's also exactly what developer MiHoYo intended. Liu Wei, one of three of MiHoYo's co-founders, has said previously that its monetization model is all about "paying for love." It was an intentional departure from the pay-to-win microtransactions so prevalent in many of China's most popular free-to-play games.

"We asked ourselves why we would want to pay? It’s because we love a certain virtual character that we become willing to pay for her," Liu said at a Chinese gaming conference in 2017. It's a subtle but important shift: Beyond selling characters, MiHoYo is also selling the ability to build a relationship with them. When a new addition to the roster, like ice-archer Ganyu, pops up, MiHoYo is trying to make her as desirable as possible on multiple levels. Her in-game abilities have to be strong, sure, but she also needs to be equally charming and—as is the case with a lot of Genshin's characters—attractive to a lot of players.

Credit: daruo_0 on Reddit. (Image credit: daruo_0)

That Genshin Impact's biggest product is an emotional attachment to fictional characters might feel manipulative, but it's not as if Genshin is unique in this respect. One of League of Legends' recent additions, Seraphine, drew a lot of criticism for how Riot was fudging the line between reality and fiction in trying to make her seem like a real human being. The endgame was simple: Riot wanted people to buy Seraphine.

Though Riot and MiHoYo are pushing the boundaries, the strategy is nothing new. For decades games have been designed with characters that appeal, arouse, and excite players. RPGs like Dragon Age and Mass Effect are built with attractive characters like Morrigan and Garrus because it enhances the drama of the story by giving it emotional stakes. It's the fuel for an entire merchandising industry that sells DLC costumes, figurines, and $1,500 clothing apparel. That emotional connection is a core part of what makes a game good, but it's also a commodity that can be repackaged and sold to you again and again. It's the backbone of pop culture.

When it comes to Genshin Impact, though, that attachment isn't experienced by proxy through a main protagonist (there is a main character in Genshin Impact, but they're silent and can even be taken out of your party altogether). The game itself is mostly about beating up monsters and grinding for loot, not building relationships in the same way you do in Mass Effect or Dragon Age. It's all offloaded into the player's imagination to be turned into fanfiction, memes, and, yes, pictures of girls wearing little more than stockings. That might also help explain why Overwatch, a game that didn't do much to sexualize its characters, spawned an entire cottage industry of high-quality porn. It probably won't surprise you to learn that there's already mountains of Genshin Impact porn, too.

Credit: KeboHan on Reddit. (Image credit: KeboHan)

I don't point this out to shame or condescend to the artists and players who contribute to this cyclone of lust. But it's fascinating how the Genshin Impact community has embraced this relationship so openly, and how it's created such a vibrant and lively subreddit. MiHoYo wants players to desire its characters. For better and for worse, it has succeeded.

The result is that, for a lot of us, browsing the Genshin Impact subreddit in public is a risky venture. A lot of subreddits are keen to draw a hard line between suggestive and NSFW fanart, but the Genshin Impact community seems perfectly happy to put their stocking-covered toes right up to the line on a daily basis. Instead of trying to hide its thirst for these characters, the community openly embraces it—it's fun for them, clearly, but also represents success for a carefully manufactured monetization scheme. For now, the Genshin Impact subreddit doesn't seem bothered by any of that, except when it pokes fun at the gacha systems. It's the rare kind of gaming community that's full of optimism and breathlessly enthused about the game they all share.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.