Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

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!

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.

World of Warcraft Back Up in China

…kind of. Apparently, the game itself isn’t quite ready, but the official site and registration are already online, and not a moment too soon for the game’s Chinese publisher NetEase, who was apparently losing 4.22 million RMB every day the game was offline. Soon, Chinese gamers can get their fix again, although they’ll need to set up battlenet accounts.

This comes on the heels of some other WoW-related ugliness, including the less-than-smooth handover from old China publisher The9 to current publisher NetEase, and widepsread, erroneous reports that China had banned gold farming in the game. (For those not in the know, gold farming is repeatedly performing monotonous in-game tasks, building up stocks of the in-game currency, gold, and then selling that fake currency to lazy gamers, who pay for it with actual money).

Has the near-monthlong respite from the game (and the still-conspicuous absence of its most recent expansion, Wrath of the Lich King) helped any Chinese addicts kick their WoW habits? Time will tell and…well, who are we kidding? No, no, it hasn’t.