Gamers Strike Back
March 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
Fed up with Internet censorship in China, World of Warcraft players are fighting back online.
China may have the world’s most advanced Internet censorship systems, but that doesn’t mean it can silence public dissent online. Instead, it encourages dissent to take on more creative forms, like in a recent viral video called The War of Internet Addiction.
Uploaded to YouTube by Chinese gamers in January, the 3D animated film denounces the Chinese government’s attempts to block access to certain websites from within the country and pokes fun at a national ban against the popular online multi-player videogame World of Warcraft (WoW). The video quickly circulated around Asian multimedia sites like Youku.com and Toudu.com, and has generated several million views and critical praise. Kaiser Kuo, a consultant for Toudu.com, hails the video as “gutsy” for its social commentary. Chinese technology blog Shenzai.com calls it the “movie of the year,” comparing its popularity in China to James Cameron’s Avatar.
The film project, a volunteer production of 100 fellow WoW players, was the brainchild of anonymous gamer whose name translates as “Sexy Corn.” The video creator originally intended the film to be for the estimated 5 million Chinese WoW players, but now he sees how it appeals to a broader audience. The creator wrote in an email response to a Hong Kong-based television broadcaster, “The film makes people who don’t necessarily understand the game emotional, because all Internet users in China are on the same boat.”
The film is set in Azeroth, a fictional world in the real WoW franchise, where WoW players fight an epic battle against Chinese bureaucrats. The movie’s prologue scene is even dated July 1, 2009, an allusion to the actual day China officially mandated that Internet censorship software, called the Green Dam, be installed in every computer sold in the country. Since that time—in the real world—access to play WoW has been blocked for months as Chinese officials fight over which government agency should regulate online games.
In the movie, the war begins when Chinese bureaucrats launch “Operation Harmony Strike,” which references the government’s goal of creating what it has called a “harmonious society,” a term frequently used to justify censorship. The film’s hero, Kan, is leader of a resistance movement made up of disenfranchised WoW players. The target of their opposition is the paternalistic Uncle Yang, based on the real-life Yang Yongxin, a pro-government psychologist in China who has gained notoriety for his tendency to diagnose gamers as “internet addicts” and recommend they receive shock therapy treatment.
Although the animation and jokes in the film insert some light comedy, the video is a dramatization of a grimmer reality that gamers and Internet users face in China. The character Uncle Yang runs the Internet Addiction Prevention Center, a chamber that holds WoW players captive. Players Yang deems most severely afflicted with “Internet addition” are sent to the ominous “room 13.” Viewers are never shown the room, but it is understood that captured gamers are taken there for shock therapy, a common method of torture that the real-life government officially banned as recently as last year.
While fighting Yang, Kan explains that gamers like him play WoW not because they are out of touch with reality, but because they are all too aware of their lack of control over how their country and their lives are governed. They have found WoW as a means to cope and an escape. “I and everyone else who loves this game dutifully go to work in crowded buses. We purchase food with our hard-earned money without knowing what kind of chemicals are inside it,” Kan says. “We held our anger in when you took our taxes and used them against us. This past year, we cried for the [Szechuan] earthquake … and for the Olympics just like everyone else. From deep in our hearts, we never wanted us to fall behind any other country in any aspect.”
As the battle ensues in the film, Kan finds himself to be no match for Uncle Yang’s “harmony electric shocks.” In a weakened state, he calls on all WoW players watching the film to lend him assistance. “Lend me your voice … through this nationwide LAN [Local Area Network]. For our soul’s home, speak out with me,” he says. Players throughout Azeroth then respond by pumping their fists into the air, collectively sending balls of light to strike Yang dead.
At the end of the film, the battle is won, but not the war. Yang’s body rises and his spirit warns Kan, “Don’t think by defeating me that you have defeated the Green Dam and the forces of harmony. I won’t die. My spirit will be passed on as long as the Green Dam exists. The force is something that you players will never defeat.”
Indeed, computer users in China still face the sophisticated Internet surveillance and censorship. Kept in the dark, they can never be sure what site will be blocked or reopened, and when. Even so, The War of Internet Addiction shows that no matter how formidable of a grasp the government has over Internet censorship, speech cannot be silenced.