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China Forms Online Gaming Ethics Commission, “Rectifies” 11 Titles

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High-level regulatory activities have made 2018 a hard year for China’s entertainment industry. Of course, the film industry was rocked with the scandal of Fan Bingbing’s tax evasion, a controversy that continues to reverberate across the world of A-list screen celebrities. It’s also been a tough year for the online gaming industry in China, with regular crackdowns on “inappropriate” content and the appointment, last week, of a brand-new regulatory body to oversee this sector of the mobile entertainment economy.

Until recently, online games in China were regulated by three separate government bodies: the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the now-defunct State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), and the Ministry of Culture (MOC). A game hoping to secure release in China needed to apply for a license from SAPPRFT on the copyright side, and an approval from MIIT to offer online services. Then, once the game went online, it was ultimately under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture.

The three authorities found themselves in conflict at times. For example, both SAPPRFT and MOC claimed the power to suspend World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade from running in China for operating without a license. In addition, under increasingly strict censorship, gamers had to accept that the dead bodies in the Chinese version of BioShock 2 were depicted as boxes, and that the blood in DIABLO Ⅲ on Chinese servers ran black instead of red.

It was not ideal, but nothing could really stop thousands of new online games — especially mobile games — from getting licenses and launching on the Chinese internet every month. The last few years have marked a peak of prosperity for China’s mobile gaming industry, which is dominated by Tencent’s 2015 title Arena Of Valor, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, NetEase’s newly-popular Knives Out, and a plethora of imitators.

Things began to change early this year. In March 2018, after the Chinese government’s annual plenary sessions (or Lianghui), SAPPRFT was abolished and the part of its duties relating to games was taken over by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (PDCPC). (China’s TV and radio industries now fall under the regulation of yet another body, the National Radio and Television Administration or NRTA.)

Only a handful of new online games that have gone through the official application process that had been in place before March have been allowed to be published in China ever since this shift.

Another wave of official influence over the gaming sector crashed down at the end of August, when the government announced its intention to protect Chinese teenagers from “shortsightedness,” and the PDCPC decided to implement quantitative control of newly-released online games along with a limit on teenagers’ online time, for the stated purpose of promoting “better eyesight” and the future of the country. Even two online multiplayer battle royale games by Tencent, modeled after Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, were restricted from public release.

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And the games that already have licenses are far from safe. According to a report published by People.cn on December 7, an Online Gaming Ethics Commission has just been established, and has already issued a list of 20 online games that “include ethical and moral risks,” resulting in 11 games being “rectified” and the other 9 having their license applications rejected.

More information was offered in a later Xinhua report. The Online Gaming Ethics Commission consists of PDCPC members, experts, and academics who specialize in online games and adolescent problems. Members of the commission come from universities, professional institutes, news media, and industry associations. “This is an important move to actively react to society’s concerns, to improve online gaming’s cultural value, to guide internet companies to prioritize social benefits, and to supply healthy and beneficial cultural entertainment products to the Chinese people,” reported Xinhua. In a later post on Weibo, Xinhua also pointed out that online games often contain vulgar content and violence. News outlet The Paper reported that online poker games involving gambling are another big concern for the authorities.

“This is an important move to actively react to society’s concerns, to improve online gaming’s cultural value, to guide internet companies to prioritize social benefits, and to supply healthy and beneficial cultural entertainment products to the Chinese people” – Xinhua

That’s what we know about the mysterious Online Gaming Ethics Commission (or OGEC, if you need another acronym), for now. Let’s see how China’s online gamers are welcoming these “protectors”:

“Games?? Morals?? Is there any necessary connection between them?” – a A WO SHI KONG KONG A

“So, when can we have a rating system?” – R1chardLee

“Some games are for kids, and some are for adults. Even Karl Marx told us to ‘Use specific analyses for specific problems.’” – TANG XIAO MIAN_bb

Cover image: Bilibili

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Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van

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