Who’s the Murderer?

23 11 2021

A social activity that has become quite a huge craze amongst the youth in China is jubensha (剧本杀). Interest in the game, which started off as a type of board game, or one played using a mobile app, seemed to have been sparked by a popular murder-solving celebrity reality TV series in China that is known in English as “Who’s the Murderer”. 明星大侦探 in Chinese, which translates directly into “Star Detective”, the series made its debut in 2016. The TV show was in turn, inspired by the Japanese manga series Case Closed or Detective Conan.

A game room.

How the game is played has since evolved into one that could see players dressing up to take on a role for the game. Some of the more elaborately executed games now also involved very fancily set up rooms. As an industry, jubensha has grown in leaps and bounds since its popularity started rising in 2017, with value of the industry in China thought to be worth in excess of US$2 billion in 2021.

Detective Conan in Chinatown, a mural by Yip Yew Chong. The Japanese manga character may have provided the spark for much more than this mural!

Jubensha‘s — the literal translation of which is “scripted murder”, is often referred to as a “murder mystery game”, and sometimes, “live-action role-play”. It is difficult to find a direct comparison of what the game is about and may be thought of as a take on the board game Cluedo or Clue, in that the game’s goal is to establish the character in the game responsible for committing a murderous act. Jubensha in China finds a following with a youthful crowd of students and young professionals. It seems to also be making inroads into Singapore. Some twenty jubensha outlets have been set up here in the matter of just two years since 2020. While jubensha here may initially have attracted students and young working adults arriving from China, there has also been a fair bit of interest from Malaysians working or studying in Singapore.

A jubensha script can involve some props.

With Singaporeans, the attraction seemed to have been a lot less at the start, which could be put down to a lack of mastery among Singaporeans of the Mandarin language. This is essential to in playing the various roles demanded by the games’ scripts in Chinese. To overcome this barrier, several outlets are looking to innovate by introducing scripts translated into English. This would certainly enable jubensha’s reach to be extended in Singapore. Well-written scripts form the basis of playing the game, with each character in the game having a different script. For the game, each player takes up a role with the number of players determined by the number of characters in the game. A dungeon or game master, who is a member of staff of the outlet involved, leads the game, which can last several hours. Besides players dressing up for the role, some outlets have specially decorated rooms to play the game in and props that can increase the immersive experience. One newly opened outlet even goes as far as having dedicated rooms to play each of its two script-based games with very real looking life-sized props and rooms that are appropriately decorated.

Inside a very elaborately decorated jubensha outlet.

To find out more about jubensha, what it is about and how it is played, the video clip below is of a visit to a jubensha outlet TopWE. Unfortunately, it was not possible to show parts of an actual game in progress due to the pandemic restrictions in force during the visit. Located at 195 Pearls Hill Terrace, TopWE is run by a group of jubensha enthusiasts, which includes a Singaporean, Sim Jun An, who takes us through the outlet and provides an explanation of how the game is played.




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