In May 2021, after the Chinese government announced the Three-Child Policy aimed to encourage population growth, a segment of the Chinese youth responded in social media by mentioning that they are part of the 躺平 (tang ping, lit. “lying flat” or “lying down”) generation. The term is generally shunned and criticized due to its defeatist undertone, although interestingly Alibaba also trademarked the term to reach out to the younger generation. It should be noted that the trend of young adults avoiding the social pressures to have children or to create a family and rather choosing to fill their daily life by doing what makes them happy such as playing video games and enjoying other types of digital entertainment is not exclusive to China. Across Asia, we can see how this kind of lifestyle sweeps through different linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds. From Indonesia’s generasi rebahan (lit. “lying flat generation”) to Korea’s N포 세대 (lit. “N-Give Up generation”), more and more young people prefer to enjoy their lives without aspiring to find a partner or to start a family.
Niko Partners conducted interview with several people from China, Indonesia, Korea, and the Philippines and we found that those who are lying flat tend to also play video games during their free time, ranging from 2 to 8 hours per day. All of them also like to watch game livestream during their free time. We also found that economic situations, such as unemployment and inflation, tend to push the younger generation towards lying flat. While this trend will be a major challenge to countries in the region, especially the ones with declining birth rates, it also creates a window of opportunity for the games industry. It can be inferred that a growing segment of the population is currently not spending their income on family or child-based needs and therefore can spend more on video games. Furthermore, as efforts to boost population growth are strengthening, video games can act as one of the gateways of learning for future couples and parents.
Defining the “Lying Flat Generation” trend across Asia
The “lying flat generation” trend is a direct response to socio-economic pressure that young people in Asia, especially those not from affluent backgrounds, face. Across the board, the cost of having children, as well as housing prices have risen while income is generally rising at a slower rate. Combined with social and physical pressure facing them, a segment of the generation that can be categorized as Millennials (born between the 1980s-1990s) and Gen-Z (born between the 2000s-2010s) in the end popularize the idea that they rather “lying flat” and enjoy their life without thinking about working too hard in their jobs, love life, marriage, or having children. A 31-year-old unemployed male in the Philippines mentioned that the idea of lying flat will hinder his ability to have children in the future while a 22-year-old university student in Indonesia stated that he thinks he will not get married and have children as if he has a children, they will be ashamed to have a father who likes lying flat.
Based on Niko’s research, we found that the trend can be found in multiple Asian countries, as shown in the following table.
|China||躺平 (tang ping)||Literally means “lying flat”.|
|Indonesia||generasi rebahan||Literally means “lying flat generation”.|
|Japan||ニート||NEET, for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training. A more extreme version is called the theひきこもり (hikikomori) subculture|
|Korea||N포 세대||“N-Give Up generation”, with N being the number of societal pressures that they gave up such as marriage, having children, or having a stable job.|
|Philippines||tambay||Literally means “waiting” or “standing by”. President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned that the subculture is a national issue as he claimed that the young people who are doing it should be eradicated.|
|Singapore||BBFA||Bui Bui (lit. “fat”) Forever Alone (BBFA), known mostly to be socially awkward, single, living with their parents, and tend to have more savings as they have low expenses.|
While the trend is more prevalent in Northeast and Southeast Asian countries, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to push the mindset even further. India, for example, previously does not have a notable segment of the youth who prefer to stay at home and only communicate online. However, with the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, there are concerns that the youth are spending much of their time playing online games and changing the way they interact with their parents.
Interestingly, while the lying flat trend also exist in the west, it is not as prevalent as it is in Asia. As far as a comparison can be inferred, there are multiple trends spearheaded by western youth communities, including minimalism and FIRE (financial independence, retire early). On the other hand, European Gen Z are claiming that they are a sacrificed generation with mass unemployment and social exclusion causing them to have bleak outlook in the future. These western trends mostly focus on rejecting workaholism and materialism in favor of a more balanced life, which while similar to Asia’s lying flat trend, do not push against traditional social expectations of having to work hard or having a family.
Asia’s Youth, the “Lying Flat” trend, and Video Games
Niko Partners has been covering the games market in Asia for more than 19 years. We have seen how Asia’s youth have contributed to the massive growth of the video games industry. There seems to be more time and money spent in video games-related activities by those who are now part of the “lying flat” trend. In general, we believe that the majority of Asia’s youth are playing games responsibly and even helped in making the region as a center of global games industry growth.
In China alone, we estimated that more than 97% of people aged 18-24 are gamers, and more than 90% of people aged 25-35 in China are also gamers, matching the age ranges of those that claim to belong in the “lying flat” generation. These segments of the youth population that we surveyed in 2020 spend more time playing games than on any other activities, with more than 18% saying they spend more than 30 hours per week playing games. A 31-year-old employee in China told Niko that “video game is part of life” while a 23-year-old university student in Tianjin claimed that recently he can play up to 14 hours in a day. Chinese gamers also spend vastly more entertainment time online than offline. More information about the characteristics and statistics pertaining to Chinese gamers are available from Niko’s China Gamer Segmentation Report.
Asian youth is also deeply connected to esports, with Asia having the largest audience of esports players and fans in the world with 510 million esports fans and 595 million esports gamers, as mentioned in Niko’s Asia Esports Report. Asia generated nearly half of all global esports revenue in 2019 at $519 million, with mobile esports games in Asia generated $13.3 billion in 2019 (68% of global mobile esports games revenue). Southeast Asia is a subregion that is worth to note, with 60% of gamers strongly drawn to esports. Furthermore, 42% of gamers in Southeast Asia fall into the segment of competitive arena gamers, who love esports and who spend the most of all the segments ($15.8/month on PC games, and $10.1/month on mobile games). More information about Southeast Asian gamers’ segmentation are available in Niko’s Asia gamer segmentation report.
All of the impressive growth in the games market are going hand in hand with the lying flat trend among Asia’s youth. As finding a partner or having children are not the lying flat youths’ focus, they have more income to spend on gaming. However, this kind of growth would not last for a long time as population also need to grow in order to ensure the dependency ratio stay on track and future generations can keep the Asian countries afloat. The “lying flat” trend can be seen as a backlash from the youth for having too much traditional socio-economic pressure put on them while the world has changed. Therefore, video games can help alleviate some of the lying flat practitioners’ social needs as players today are also interested in games that incorporate features that allow them to feel connected to others as well as gameplay that allows them to play out a fantasy life that still feels grounded. As a 23-year-old Korean student mentioned to Niko, video game activities have lower entry barriers and playing games can be self-satisfying.
The COVID-19 pandemic also helped to accelerate these trends as games became a place to socialize with friends and live a virtual life as the real world was off limits. For example, Animal Crossing: New Horizon was a key game that went viral during the past year. Not only did it allow people to cope with the ongoing lockdown restrictions, but it also allowed people to socialize with friends on each other’s islands and create an idyllic virtual life that felt grounded. As mentioned by two respondents from Indonesia, the lying flat trend became more popular during the pandemic, especially as people becoming less mobile and are not able to meet up with frends. During the pandemic, we have seen that games that incorporate social elements and virtual life elements are getting more popular. Essentially, via video games, the youth are able to live out a fantasy life in a virtual world while problems in the real world are not solved.
Perhaps countries across the region can start helping these youth population by easing some of their concerns, such as housing prices and income inequality. As a 22-year-old freelancer from South Korea mentioned to Niko Partners, the government need to provide sustainable policies that prevents young people in there 20s and 30s from giving up marriage and employment. Video games, which are already a big part in these youths’ daily life, can also be used to promote responsible actions and prevent population decline. Matchmaking events, for example, can be held through popular video games. Similarly, government agencies responsible to promote population growth can spread their messages via esports tournaments or in-game events. We have also seen serious games from companies such as Tencent that put a functional and educational emphasis on video games. Furthermore, game companies can also address some issues that fuel the rise of the lying-flat trend, such as the 996 work culture (where employers work from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week). Tencent’s Lightspeed & Quantum Studios recently introduced a new policy to address excessive overtime and employee burnout, with new policies that restrict overtime on the weekend (must take 2 days off) and weekdays (no overtime after 9pm) while encouraging additional holiday time. There are endless possibilities for the video games industry to take part in ensuring that the lying flat trend, while profitable in the short term, can transform into a more productive culture.