…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.