China Actually Doesn’t Censor WoW

…at least, not they way you think they do. It’s a long story, so bear with us.

As we previously reported, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft was shut down completely in China, and then recently came back up. Sort of. Well, according to Kotaku, the game is now even more sort of back up. The government has found some questionable content in the game, which can’t be legally opened up again until the review and modification process is finished. However, in the interim, they have permitted the game to be relaunched for “internal testing”, but forbidden Blizzard’s China publisher NetEase to charge subscription fees during this testing. In essence, this means that starting July 30th, Chinese gamers with WoW accounts can get back online completely free of charge — the game generally charges a monthly hourly subscription fee — but new players won’t be able to register until the game has been fully approved. Again.

There was, some may recall, a bit of a to-do about this a couple years ago when the government mandated that skeletons in WoW be clothed in skin or replaced with graves. There were complaints in China, but perhaps the loudest wails were coming from Western gamers (who, of course, were completely unaffected). Still, some people were clearly upset. Destructoid won the hyperbole race, calling skeletons with skin “the ultimate paradox” and China an “awful country.”

Mention of the review process has brought the thoughts of Western gamers to bear again on China’s censorship of skeletons. Here are some of the more interesting and/or terrifying comments from Kotaku’s story today:

The act of thinking and having imagination is forbidden in china.

Blizzard is a company in a capatalist country. You can’t really be surprised they’d bow to Chinese censorship in order to secure such a huge player base.

It’s shitty that they’re supporting and legitmizing China’s assinine [sic] government, but all those rainbows in Diablo III don’t pay for themselves.

Blizzard actually makes much less money from the 5-ish million people in China than it would make from 5 million people elsewhere due to it being licensed through a third party, being charged differently, etc…

China’s censorship is also much, much more lenient than say… Germany. For instance, when you die in TF2-German edition you explode into gears and crap, instead of blood. It isn’t like game companies don’t make these concessions all the time.

Does there have to be a government to ban shit if the people can’t say anything about it?

Can someone explain to me why skeletons have to be changed? I mean this is just one of the numerous changes, but I just don’t understand why skeletons are outlawed in china, enlighten me please!

To which people replied:

Ancestor worshipping. Desecrating someone’s bones is a nono.

To put it simply, by making unacceptable things taboo, China can manipulate the feeble masses to do their bidding. They’re basically the ultimate Nanny State.

While it appears we may have awarded our hyperbole prize preemptively, one of the Kotaku commenters raises an interesting question. Why does the Chinese government mandate the censorship of skeletons in WoW?

The English language internet is pretty useless in providing an answer. Most news articles and blogs quote the same vague “harmonious internet” nonsense that gets spouted for most of China’s digital censorship, and English-language bloggers and journalists seem to be content to just assume the real reason is that Hu Jintao is the new Hitler (because truly, censoring a video game and orchestrating the mass murder of eleven million people is totally the same) or that there isn’t any good reason.

The Chinese internet didn’t prove much more helpful. Mostly through Baidu, we learned that there is (or at least was) a workaround that allows Chinese players to play the non-censored game. People are asking why the skeletons are being censored, but not in any great numbers, and there seems to be little in the way of actual answers, at least in terms of why skeletons specifically were banned.

What’s more fascinating is this article, which claims that the censoring of the skeletons didn’t come from the government, but from Blizzard’s previous regional publisher The9, and that that is part of what annoyed Blizzard enough to switch publishers and cause this whole mess in the first place. The whole article is worth a read if you read Chinese, but here’s the money shot, loosely translated:

The changing of “skeletons to corpses, bones to flesh” in [WoW expansion] The Burning Crusade has been a revision that goes against what many players wish — this was not one of the revisions originally requested by the [government’s] evaluation expert, The9 took the initiative in demanding this revision. […] a personal opinion: everyone who plays Chinese WoW […] has a good reason to spray The9 to death: the censorship was demanded by The9 themselves!

The author goes on to say that this reflects The9’s commitment to working together with government censors, but that when it came time to review WoW’s next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard — perhaps unamused by their own partners forcing them to censor their game — put off the revisions and ultimately switched their allegiance to NetEase, which has led to the current situation.

The author wonders, with the game now in the hands of NetEase, “if we’re optimistic about it, might NetEase act as an agent to bring the skeletons back in? [Maybe,] but once water has been spilled, putting it all back into the bottle is very difficult.”

So, if this story is to be believed — and to be fair, it would be difficult to verify either way — the Chinese government itself didn’t actually stomp on WoW’s skeletons, The9 did. Now if only someone would tell all the people raving about how this is the Chinese government’s fault.

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0 thoughts on “China Actually Doesn’t Censor WoW”

  1. But it is the government’s fault. Online communities in China self censor based on what they think the government wants. It’s more efficient this way. The government can stand in the back and let websites and message boards find ways to self monitor at low costs. If something is a known sensitive topic or if something causes a big uproar, then the government will get pissed off at the site and then maybe block it. So if the government didn’t censor in the first place, then The9 wouldn’t be making strange requests of blizzard.

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  2. Dude, too much haterade from the mmorpg-ers, but they’re a touchy bunch. But I feel them on this issue- a skeleton just isn’t the same when it has flesh. Cuz then it’s not a skeleton.

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  3. @Anotherteacher:
    Good point, but I do think that @C. Custer is doing well to point out that there are always more factors at play than just the “government censorship” that fits so easily into headlines.

    @C. Custer:
    I do want to point out that you’re now reporting on what’s put in the comments section of a gaming blog, and we all know that people who leave comments on blogs are a collection of crazies and losers who have nowhere else to voice their opinions. [>stares blankly into space as a moment of self-awareness *almost* comes to him<] Joking aside, comments sections are self-selecting surveys that have erratic biases, and I don’t think they give a meaningful representation of what the readers of a given website think. (CNN did this once with a Youtube video, and I threw heavy objects at the TV.)

    I’m a fairly new reader of this blog, and it seems like one of your focuses is on correcting Western misconceptions of China, a worthy goal. I’m curious about your views on the matter. What kind of audience are you trying to reach, and how open to new information and viewpoints do you think people are? How responsible is the news media in all this, and do you think some Western news outlets are particularly better than others? A bit more pointedly, what role do you think the gov’ments on both sides have in the misunderstandings?

    MHO on that last matter is that, while China has every right to complain about misunderstandings from the West, it doesn’t do much to alleviate the situation. The restrictions on journalism create a vacuum of information that gets filled with the same old assumptions, and control over the domestic media keeps a China based competitor to CNN, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, the NYT, etc., from emerging.

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  4. ” — the game generally charges a monthly subscription fee — ”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. They do not charge a monthly fee. Instead, you buy a time card which costs .5 rmb per hour. You pay for as much time as you play. Thus, some hardcore gamers end up paying much more than their counterparts in the US and Europe.

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  5. OK, is that relevant at all to the story, or do you just like yelling? I have a full time job that runs from 9am-6pm on my off nights, and ’till 11pm on nights on; I really don’t have time to double check these little insignificant things, I just assumed it was the same as in the West (I’ve never played it, myself).

    In conclusion, either volunteer as a contributor or refrain from jumping on my back about a tiny and irrelevant mistake, k?

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