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Daily Drip

No Mahjong, No Blood: The Chinese Government Just Changed the Rules for Video Games

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In China, the government’s thawing of its bitter nine-month long freeze on the approval of new video games is proving to be quite the tease. In December, the administration began approving games at a glacial pace, then stopped accepting applications once again in February, and is currently looking unlikely to clear the obese backlog of applications anytime this year. Now, they’re changing the rules altogether.

The State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP) announced yesterday that any games featuring mahjong or poker, references to the country’s imperial past, or any form of blood (slime included), will not be approved. Too bad for the ones in those categories that have been waiting in line for a year, it seems.

The new criteria aren’t unprecedented — the government had already technically prohibited blood in video games, but designers have been sidestepping the rule by changing the blood’s color, or editing it into alien goop.

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As for poker and mahjong games, which made up close to 37 percent of the titles approved in 2017, the ruling was foreshadowed by last April’s ban on all poker-related discussion on social media; now the SAPP seems ready to cut online poker off at its root.

The blocking of imperial history references comes as no surprise either, considering the government’s recent move to ban imperial costume dramas for espousing decadence, and for potential political metaphors.

China has a history of concern over the effects of video games on minors, and as the biggest gaming market in the world, it can afford to impose those values without huge economic risk. Its policy could even affect the gaming industry beyond its borders, as international designers implement changes to become profitable in the Chinese market (think Transformers 2 through 5).

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Certain genres will undoubtedly take a hit, like inherently bloody games or simple mahjong simulators, as making those changes for them will be tough, if not impossible. And with the new cap on the number of games allowed in the Chinese market each year, the gaming landscape in China and beyond could be in for a big shift.

Andrew Little
    Andrew is a writer from Dallas, Texas, and currently based in Beijing as a RADII contributor. Contact him at andrew@radiichina.com.