Mahjong expanding 'to every corner of the world'

Updated: 2014-11-03 01:23

(China Daily)

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Mahjong's international popularity is propelled by an organized effort to promote it, especially via tournaments, Christensen believes.

Technology has been a driving force. "I attribute its popularity to the fact that the world as we know it has become smaller due to technological advances and the expansion of social media," Rosen says.

Onnink points out: "(It's now possible) to play online with players from all over the world."

But the explosion of apps has proven a double-edge sword. Most "mahjong" apps are actually matching games bearing no resemblance to any variant of mahjong aside from the tiles' appearance. Yet many newbies are none the wiser.

"However, with the number of people playing this online matching game, more and more people become aware that a real game does exist and many do seek out the opportunity to learn (it)," Israel says. "Additionally, the (US) National Mah Jongg League, among other sources, offers a virtual mahjong game played online against other players. All of this adds to the visibility of the game and promotes further interest in the actual game."

Davison also sees both sides of the tile when considering the matching-game apps that misleadingly bill themselves as mahjong. "It whets the appetite for the real thing," she says.

"A lot of non-club members play mahjong on their computers."

Christensen points out the Japanese richi version is expanding particularly fast because of online platforms. "The availability of many social media and apps has raised the profile of mahjong across the world," Fajardo says.

"This has made people talk about mahjong and seek further information about the history of mahjong, its origins, styles of play and where to play. Our vision is to provide live and online mahjong platforms that reach all adult markets across the world. We believe this growth potential is yet to be fully reached."

Rules' standardization has proven a boon and a bane. Rubrics vary by location in China, and many sets of international standards are clamoring to be recognized as the global standard. Many nations, such as the US and Japan, have developed diverse homegrown variants that are also competing for recognition as the law of the land within their borders and beyond.

It can be said mahjong is less of a game than a family of games. Christensen calls standardization "a must".

"This work is still ongoing," she says.

Fajardo says: "Our vision is to have a unified approach to the rules and tournament formats around the world that benefit the internationalization of mahjong. Other challenges include legislation in many markets that consider mahjong to be a form of gambling rather than a game of skill that can be enjoyed by men and women of many generations. These types of restrictions restrict the promotion of mahjong and potential internationalization."

Insiders agree globalization will surpass barriers to transcend boundaries. "Mahjong in the United States isn't just for little old Jewish ladies anymore," Rosen says. "It's a game that has grown and will continue to grow as its popularity expands to every corner of the world."

Within the contexts of mahjong's globalization and soft power, the recent Chinese loss in Europe can be viewed as a different take on international game theory — one in China wins, even if it loses.

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