China's government talks a lot about soft power. The country's rise is evident in almost everything from its economy to its athletic prowess, but its cultural power is dragging way, way behind. China has pushed Confucius Institutes -- subsidized Chinese language schools -- and expanded some of its domestic media in hopes of exerting more influence over global culture. Despite pouring billions of dollars into these and other programs, they haven't really worked. And no wonder. Language schools? Xinhua wire service? That stuff is boring as hell. If China really wants to boost its soft power, it should be making video games.Why? First of all, games are the movies of the future. This is not to say that movies are going anywhere, mind you, but the best games can be just as poignant an expression of ideas and feelings as any movie. If you don't believe me, play Bioshock. Or Braid. Or Flower. Or Okami. Or Shadow of the Colossus. Or Half Life 2. Etc. It's possible to communicate ideas and feelings -- i.e. culture -- through games. And if you want to reach the youth -- i.e. the future -- what better way than through games, since all the kids are playing them? Of course, Chinese companies are producing games already, but almost all of them are aimed at the domestic market. They aren't even translated into other languages most of the time, and they tend to have been designed exclusively with Chinese gamers in mind. For example: find me an American gamer who has knowingly played a Chinese game and...well, I'll be pretty surprised. Yet most American gamers could probably rattle off their top five favorite Japanese games. There are lots of reasons for the success of Japanese games overseas, of course, but one of the main ones is that they're actually trying. It's much easier for gamers in the West to fall in love with Final Fantasy or Katamari Damacy when they can play those games in their native language. To be successful here, China would also need to follow Japan's lead in allowing the private sector to develop games that promote Chinese culture organically, not through obvious propaganda ploys or lecture-filled bore-fests. Let's be frank here: if the CPC Standing Committee was assigned to design a game to promote Chinese culture to the West, that game would suck. The government would need to resist its urge to be controlling, pedantic, and censorship-heavy. The chances of that actually happening are, admittedly, pretty damn low. But hey, we're talking about what China should do, not what it will do. Handing things over to the private sector doesn't mean cultural learning isn't happening. Take, for example, the previously mentioned Okami. In that game, players can learn a ton about Japan and experience everything from traditional art and music to a taste of its Shinto religion. But the game wasn't designed explicitly to promote Japan, it was just designed as a fun game, and the developers made sure it would be accessible to foreign audiences by putting enough time and money into its localization. The Japan-promotion happens naturally on its own. Another upside to investing in the games industry is that China with games, can hit all demographics pretty inexpensively. Expanding Xinhua into a worldwide English-language service, or building, staffing, and subsidizing Confucius Institutes across the globe is expensive as hell, and it affects only a very small number of foreigners. But making a mobile game? That can be pretty cheap, and if it goes viral, it affects millions. Even the most expensive triple-A console titles (think Modern Warfare) only cost a few hundred million to develop and promote, and they're played by millions of people from teenagers to grandparents. Of course, the government wouldn't even need to pay for the development because, as I mentioned earlier, government-developed games would probably be awful anyway. Instead, the government could offer subsidies and tax breaks for localization and overseas promotion. With the government shelling out for these things, what developer wouldn't take advantage? Sure, plenty of Chinese games will never catch on overseas even with proper localization and promotion. But a few probably will, and that should inspire other studios to include the Western market in their targets for future game projects. Investing in the domestic games industry isn't as flashy or as easy to control as investing in a giant advertisement that runs in Times Square. But unlike that ad, investing in game development wouldn't be totally fucking useless. Plus, it's future-proofed: games are here to stay. So the next time you hear someone suggest that Confucius Institutes and terrible movies are the way to the West's heart, tell them to think again. China can win the love of the West one gamer at a time. But only if it's willing to ease up on the control and let its very creative development community make games without restrictions. I don't forsee that happening anytime soon, but I really wish it would.