Tag Archives: Games

Beheading Freedom

Poor Chinese gamers. Between the censorship, the prejudices, and the weird boot camps, they’ve never had it easy. The latest blow? A fresh helping of censorship just in time for the (long overdue) release of World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King official release in China (elsewhere, it has been out for a long time).

We first heard from Corndog–the man who made this incredible anti-censorship bit of machinima–that WoW players were logging into WotLK and discovering that certain terms were now “sensitive words” and could no longer be used inside the game. According to this WoW fan site (our translation):

Players overjoyed at the release of the expansion quickly discovered that words like “freedom”, “sexy”, and “passion” were no longer allowed in-game, and players whose account names included these characters were being forced to change their names.

This phenomenon has left many players perplexed, and some are calling for a boycott of the game until the terms are permitted again.

Supposedly, Netease is working to find the “cause” of this, and will promptly fix it when they find it. Whether that’s true or not, the whole thing certainly is perplexing. “Sexy” and “passionate”, perhaps, could be the result of an overzealous censor getting hyped about the “three vulgarities” campaign that’s ramping up. But freedom? Really?

Not to be outdone by censors, Chinese netizens had come up with a solution within hours that is both serviceable and symbolic. They took the word for freedom (自由 zìyóu) and “beheaded” both characters, resulting in a new coinage: 目田 (mùtián).

The brilliance of this is that the characters themselves are a reflection of the ridiculous, neutering censorship policy. They are a visual expression of gamers’ perceptions that censorship has left their experience as something less than whole. At the same time, just like earlier internet slang terms, it allows people to keep using the word “freedom” without actually setting off the automatic filter that blocks the two character term 自由 zìyóu. 目田 Mùtián is not an actual word in Chinese, so there’s not much confusion about what anyone means when they type it. And both characters have existed for millennia, so the new term is as easy to type as any other Chinese word. ((Chinese net users do, on occasion, invent entirely new characters, but they can’t be typed as they aren’t included in the character sets that come with computers.))

It will be interesting to see if Netease ultimately changes anything. It’s hard to believe that a bug could result in such selective censorship; the real question is whether Netease will back down or hide behind their own incompetence by claiming they can’t find the “bug”. A third, infinitely less likely possibility is that they could directly finger the government. Recently, a number of foreign and domestic companies have complained or commented about what censorship policies cost them from a financial perspective. But it’s hard to believe the central government would tell Netease to ban the word freedom.

My guess is it’s another example of Blizzard’s domestic partner’s getting overexcited and censoring more than they are told to.

We’ll update if/when anything actually changes. Until then, long live 目田 Mùtián!