Here's why 'boycott Genshin Impact' is trending on Twitter

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(Image credit: miHoYo)

The hashtag #boycottgenshinimpact is currently trending on Twitter and it appears to be, at least in part, due to questionable depictions of race in the Chinese free-to-play RPG. Now at over 10,000 tweets, the hashtag (and several others including #dobettermihoyo and #boycottgenshin, which have collectively nearly 100,000 tweets) began as a conversation about different criticisms of Genshin Impact's depictions of race, but has more recently devolved into an incoherent mess of different debates.

It's not certain what kickstarted the trending hashtag, but one of the central issues has to do with a post made by Twitter user venluvr who shared a snippet of a video created by MiHoYo late last year that tours its offices in Shanghai, China. In that video, there's a shot of an artist working on one of Genshin Impact's main enemies, called hilichurls, while using reference material of what appears to be dancing indigenous Americans.

Though just a few seconds long, this clip has sparked controversy over how Genshin Impact potentially uses real-world minorities to influence the design of its fantasy races. Hilichurls are humanoid creatures and one of the primary enemy types that players fight throughout the game and are depicted in the story as a kind of indigenous species of Teyvat. They wear stereotypical tribal clothing and conduct tribal dances and ceremonies, and are frequently led by magic-using hilichurl shamans. Genshin Impact's story and dialogue also explicitly says that hilichurls are evil (or manipulated into being evil, depending on how you interpret its complicated lore), unintelligent, and uncultured. Simply put, hilichurls are monsters—ones that appear to be, at least in part, inspired by real-world indigenous peoples. It's an issue that mirrors criticism with how different fantasy franchises, like Dungeons and Dragons, depict certain races like orcs. 

"Our culture is not something for you to just take and use Mihoyo," wrote one Twitter user. "It is not okay, it's not funny, and I'm really disappointed. A lot of us are."

As the hashtag began to grow, however, more players began to air grievances about different aspects of Genshin Impact and its treatment of race. Two characters, Xinyan and Kaeya, have become the center of these discussions as players debate whether their depiction is racially insensitive. Xinyan, who has notably darker skin than most of Genshin's roster, has an entire storyline that emphasizes how scary she is to other characters. Some players are noting the connection between Xinyan's darker skin and negative stereotypes about Black people being intimidating. Kaeya, meanwhile, also has darker skin and is referred to by in-game text as "exotic," a loaded term often used to denigrate people based on their perceived foreignness.

There's also a lot of back and forth over an adult NPC named Ulfr who, in his little bit of dialogue, admits to being in love with another character, Flora, who is clearly just a child. Players were concerned over these uncomfortable pedophilic undertones until others pointed out that, in the closed beta, Flora used to be a fully grown woman. For some reason MiHoYo made Flora into a young girl and appears to have overlooked any dialogue referencing her older depiction.

Considering how challenging it is to have a deep discussion of issues like this on social media—especially when it's happening in the form of a trending hashtag—the #boycottgenshinimpact discussion has, at this point, descended into insults, memes, and sexy fanart of Genshin characters. And because many of these concerns deal with race, it's naturally drawn in a very loud crowd unwilling to have a good-faith discussion.

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It feels like any meaningful discussions are being overrun by the chaos inherent in hashtags as defensive fans mobilize to defend MiHoYo.

Combined with Genshin Impact's loosely defined lore and story, it makes it difficult to find a clear answer. In the case of Xinyan, for example, other players have pointed out that she is likely considered scary not because of her skin color but because she's the Genshin Impact equivalent of a punk rocker. Other players argue that describing Kaeya as "exotic" is a mistranslation from the original Chinese version of the game and is more meant to reference that he's an immigrant from a country outside of the continent of Teyvat.

All of this is complicated because the answers and evidence are, in many ways, based on tiny details found in the game. One of the top posts on the Genshin Impact subreddit right now claims that "#BoycottMihoYo is so stupid." It already has over 1,800 comments—many of which are pushing back against the backlash and the claims that MiHoYo has been insensitive in its depictions of different races within the game. 

Many of these arguments, especially with regard to hilichurls, are predicated on the belief that players are wrong to judge them negatively because Genshin Impact's story is still ongoing and potential story beats might absolve them of being evil. Others contend that hilichurls are a mere clone to other iconic monsters like the Legend of Zelda's bokoblins. But none of that addresses the fact that it appears that some small aspect of hilichurls was clearly inspired by indigenous peoples and how that reinforces negative racial stereotypes faced by those communities.

For now, it feels like any meaningful discussions are being overrun by the chaos inherent in hashtags as defensive fans mobilize to defend MiHoYo. But it's also another example of how fantasy is rarely divorced from reality, especially when it comes to depictions of race and culture.

We've reached out to MiHoYo asking for comment on this story and greater insight into the design and inspiration of hilichurls.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.