When Chinese internet giant Tencent acquired the Finnish video game developer Supercell last month for $8.6 billion, it became the world's dominant publisher and distributor in the $100 billion gaming market. It was a blockbuster deal: No other Chinese entertainment company in any field — television, film, books — has ever come close to such a dominating position.

Yet the most lasting consequence of the acquisition might not have much to do with economics. It might instead be cultural.

The Chinese government has spent billions in recent years to subsidize artistic enterprises, with an eye toward wielding "soft power" beyond its borders. It hasn't been notably successful. But China's video game industry — as of last year, the world's biggest — is on the verge of becoming one of its most valuable cultural exports. It just might succeed where so much Chinese entertainment has failed in the past.