Author: ktjassy

The Myths and Truths about Chinese Censorship

As I mentioned in the previous post, my final submission will be based around finding out all about online censorship in China, specifically regarding ideas and myths regarding the banning of skeletons, blood and gore from video games. I’m curious to see whether my terribly vague guesses about why these things are taboo in Chinese games, based on my un-extensive knowledge from random online articles I’ve been exposed to throughout the years is anywhere near the fact, or if most of it is just made up by Western culture because of our lack of knowledge about Chinese censorship as a whole.

The main topic of research was why the images are banned in Chinese games.

Original theory based on my exposure to the subject:

  • Not wishing to subject younger generations of the Chinese public to strong imagery
  • Banned purely because of the strong imagery, not any other reason
  • I suppose in a Western view, the online censorship in China has always been a bit extreme, from our point of view, where we have a relatively free-for-all internet culture.

After a bit of further research:

  • While my original idea is based on some of the fact, it is definitely not the full picture.
  • There’s an area of further research that I’ll definitely look into, which is down the lines of what exactly the cultural superstitions are regarding skeletons and their likenesses, as apparently that plays a role in the extent of censorship they need to have observed before allowing the game to be sold to the Chinese public.
  • While the whole ‘skeletons are banned in Chinese video games’ seems to be a very general rule, it doesn’t seem to be true. The ‘blanket ban’ on skeletons in Chinese games is not absolute, as detailed in this article that provides plenty of Chinese-developed games where skeletons are present, and completely uncensored.
  • It seems to be more strongly imposed on foreign games that are being imported to the country to be sold.
  • This could be because many Chinese game developers will ‘err on the side of caution’ as they know the general guidelines that will be imposed on their games.

    Since the rules are broad and open to interpretation, game publishers will often choose to err on the side of caution and cut or edit anything that might be perceived as objectionable before the Ministry of Culture’s review process. That gives the game a better chance of getting approved, which means it can be released in China. – Techinasia.com

  • While blood, gore and skeletons are definitely not a widely accepted image in Chinese video games, there are definitely exceptions, and definitely some very obvious examples of this ban in action.
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Examples of DotA2 icons before and after Chinese censorship. On the left is the original ability icon, and the right is the icon after alteration so that it could be allowed in China. The removal of skulls and blood is extremely obvious, even going as far as to remove the ghostly faces on the Spectre Desolate icon.

  • Another obvious example can be found in the comparisons between the pre-censored  version of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (WoW: WOTLK), as mentioned multiple times in my previous blog post.
  • Wrath of the Lich King is one of the more interesting examples of Chinese censorship, purely because of the varying levels of actual censorship within the game. In some zones, skeletons are completely removed and replaced with scarecrows, gored bodies are replaced with loaves of bread, of all things, and bones are often just replaced with rocks of the same shape and size.
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Top is the a screenshot from the Chinese version of Icecrown Citadel, a raid in WoW: Wrath of the Lich King, compared to the bottom screenshot which is from the US version of the game.

  • The reason WoW: WOTLK is an interesting reference of comparison regarding censorship is because in some places, skulls and skeletons and the like have been meticulously edited out, and in other places, they haven’t been touched. Still not sure if this is because there’s some sort of ‘standard’ which the imagery has to adhere to in order to be left in the game, or if it’s simply because WoW is such an immensely large game that it’s just too gigantic of an effort to edit out every single one of them, considering how common they appear in the game.
  • No expansion since WOTLK has had that much of an issue getting through the Chinese censorship barrier as much as this one did, quite likely because of the extreme amount of skull and skeleton imagery present in an expansion about the undead scourge army and their leader who wears armour adorned with about 30 skull shapes forged into it. I also think a lesson was learned with the WOTLK censorship kerfuffle, and Blizzard has been more cautious in future years about preparing for the edits to the game in order to meet censorship laws in China.

The Techinasia article (that has already been linked multiple times in this post, because it’s just immensely helpful with exactly what I’m looking into) translates the guidelines for online censorship shown on this page.

Specifically, the Ministry of Culture forbids:

  • Gambling-related content or game features
  • Anything that violates China’s constitution
  • Anything that threatens China’s national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.
  • Anything that harms the nation’s reputation, security, or interests.
  • Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures.
  • Anything that violates China’s policy on religion by promoting cults or superstitions.
  • Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling.
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions.
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.
  • Other content that violates the law

It’s a somewhat broad list that, at the end of the day, comes down to interpretation. Could a skeleton in a game be interpreted as “promoting superstition,” for example? Possibly. Likely, it would depend on who—and when—you ask.

It’s a long, convoluted path to the truth, that will be even harder to figure out because of the fact that most of the truthful information is probably on the Chinese internet itself, which is immensely hard to navigate as a non-Chinese speaking Australian.

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Online Censorship re: Gaming

Originally, thanks to my younger self’s love of Gwen Stefani songs, I was planning on a research essay regarding Harajuku fashion as my final submission for DIGC330. I’d listened to many a song in which Gwen Stefani sings about Harajuku girls, and owned many album covers featuring what I was told was “harajuku” style, so I had this very generic image in my head of what harajuku was, but obviously didn’t think about it very much, and went about my day. So I’ve really only ever been exposed to a Western stylized version of harajuku fashion, specifically Gwen Stefani’s version of Harajuku (which was criticized for being “something more like an awkward parade of racist tropes.”)

I know I keep mentioning Gwen Stefani, but throughout my entire life I’d only ever heard the term ‘harajuku’ if it was in relation to something that she’d done, be it music, clothes, or those tiny little harajuku models that were the design for her perfume brand that I would see every now and again.

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However, while I’m still interested in looking into it a bit further, my final submission subject has changed entirely, and I blame Chris bringing up online censorship in a lecture, and then relating it to World of Warcraft.

Much like my brief exposure to Harajuku, before Wrath of the Lich King came out in China (A whole 2 years later than it’s US release), there was a phrase that I heard a lot around the game; “Chinese Lord Marrowgar.”

It was kind of like this mysterious idea, based off the Chinese censorship of World of Warcraft. It was just people thinking to themselves “If China censors skeletons and bones in it’s games, and Lord Marrowgar – the first raid boss of Icecrown Citadel is a giant construct made ENTIRELY of bones, what on earth will it look like in the Chinese version?”

There was one tiny image that floated around for a while of this weird looking corpse construct, as the Chinese replacement for Lord Marrowgar.

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And a lot of people thought to themselves “How is this better than the skeleton construct?” Because as far as we were concerned, the notion was that the removal of bones and blood in games was to basically to shield the Chinese public, especially the younger generation from anything that was too obscene, graphic, or upsetting. At least that’s what most of the Western world believed, and I knew no better at the time, I just went along with what I read and didn’t really question it.

Off topic: this forum post does have a point. Skeletons are much more hygienic.

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So thanks to my reminder of Chinese censorship from Chris’s lecture, I’ll be producing a some form of digital artifact on censorship in online games, with some research into why exactly bones and blood are removed from the Chinese versions of the game, and the rules of this censorship, and if they apply equally across the board – does every bone get removed, or are there standards for removal?

Is it as most of Western society thinks, and the censorship of graphic imagery is just there to spare the Chinese public from anything too real and confronting, or is there a proper reasoning, be it to do with history, culture, or beliefs, as to why all the blood and bones are removed from games such as World of Warcraft.

I’d be very interested to know how meticulously they go about this censorship, it just seems like there’s too many bones in online games to be realistically able to remove them all?

There was only a few select images of the comparison between the Chinese and US versions of World of Warcraft previously available online, but one top guy from reddit was able to obtain a Chinese version of the game, and made galleries upon galleries of comparison shots that are going to be super helpful to pair with some further research to look at the varying levels of censorship, and how far the extent of the censoring actually goes.

I’ll be curious to see how far the truth regarding what gets censored and why differs from the opinion I developed as a young teenager based off what i read on the internet when the whole Wrath of the Lich King censorship event happened in the first place. If previous experiences are anything to go by, the differentiation between the truth and what I read on the internet will probably be .. quite a lot.

 

 

Godzilla Revisited

Here we are, almost 2 weeks later, and I’m only just writing this post. Delayed due dates mean delayed writing, in typical uni student fashion.

I’m quite enjoying the auto ethnographic studies, it’s a nice change to look at cultures and perceptions instead of graphics and advertisement as most of my other classes are. While reading a few of these other blogs, it’s really been interesting to see the differences in reactions between individuals to the texts we’ve looked at, and especially interesting for me to see people respond to the State of Play documentary, as that’s something I’m far more familiar with, and not a lot of things in that were something that were unheard of to me, nor were they unfamiliar, so choosing to do Godzilla was probably a wise move for me.

Looking back at the points I made about Godzilla in the original post, I’ve gone and found some answers to my randomly thought up questions and interesting things I noticed while watching it for the first time.

 

Love Triangle: okay so not actually a lot to explain here, that was more just an observation in general instead of a cultural question mark. Same goes for the woman screaming, I’ve made this re-evaluation kind of challenging for myself by pointing out some general things instead of cultural things but oh well.

The last point I had in mine was about no women being present anywhere near Godzilla, and while that is a testament of the time as I pointed out, it is also very relevant to Japan and many asian countries, where the traditions of females being domestic and males being military, or working men almost still stands to this day. It would be absolutely unheard of for women to have anything to do with the military back in the year that Godzilla was made, which explains that.

As for my main ‘Huh?’ moment in the movie: The sideways map.

Luckily Chris has almost already answered that one for me, in that the sideways map was more or less Japan’s way of ‘un-Westernising’ themselves. The map of the world, as it is, is obviously of Western construction, and while accurate, it does more or less place these ‘Western’ worlds as the center of the earth, with all the other countries, such as those of Asian orientation, in a dimmer light.

The sideways map was a way of reimagining the map from an Eastern perspective, and while it’s still essentially the same map, it’s THEIR map.

Godzilla and differences in culture

“Autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research, rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist” – Ellis

To me, this was one of the more interesting and prevalent quotes from the reading. It was one of those times where you read through paragraphs upon paragraphs and still don’t quite understand what you’re meant to be doing until you find one obscure quote and think ‘okay, NOW I understand.’

The text also went on to say “different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world—a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing—and that conventional ways of doing and thinking about research were narrow, limiting, and parochial.”

This is not just describing a text, but in addition, thinking about how you describe the text, and how it differs from another person describing the text, due to the variation of their place in the world.

I felt it was best to focus on Godzilla, and not the eSports documentary, considering I spent my weekend running a competitive eSports tournament – it doesn’t have quite the same shock factor to me as it would to others.

Godzilla, to me, was a terribly unentertaining movie – for the first half. I’ve never been a fan of black and white movies, it sounds so awfully millennial but I always find I can’t concentrate on them very well, and lose interest. Also let’s be honest, it’s a very slow movie for at least the first quarter. I’d hear some action happening and look up, and there’d be something very dramatic going on, and I kept looking so that I didn’t miss the first viewing of Godzilla itself in the movie. I also repeated this process about 6 times, because each time they never actually showed the monster. I mean, tension building is one thing but there becomes a time when tension building turns into the viewer (read: me) going ‘I give up.’

I will admit I was far more entertained later in the movie, and actually began watching with interest, as the slow pace of the movie improved greatly once we actually got a glimpse of the giant lizard monster himself. Some things I noticed that were especially odd (or, not so odd) to me in the movie were:

  • Sideways map? Someone pointed this out in class and my only guess was that it was their way of reworking the world map to make themselves more prevalent? Not sure, just odd.
  • Not so odd: Love Triangle. Good to see this dumbass trope never ends… Dramatic sacrifice at the end to give a clear winner to the love triangle too. Unless of course the scientist comes back from the dead as a ghost to try and win her love again. Story for another movie, maybe?
  • Overly dramatic screams from the woman in the laboratory. I think it was when all the fish died? I missed what she was screaming at and almost laughed because it was so over the top. Also instead of filming her scream again for a later scene, they just copied the same film shot and re-used it, really irked me. Budget reasons sure, but come on it’s one scream.
  • A testament to the times, and also to the place, but everytime there were people even remotely close to Godzilla, there were no women present, with the exception of the female love interest, just to give the other two ample opportunities to keep her from harm and win her affection. Can you sense the cynic in me?