I’m a little late in talking about this, word is recently that the Ministry of Culture has admonished the General Administration of Press and Publications for blocking the latest expansion of World of Warcraft in China.
A little background: Fully half of WoW’s userbase is in China, about 5 million players, and has penetrated the culture enough that there is even a WoW-themed restaurant in Beijing. Earlier this year Blizzard switched it’s local operations from The9 to NetEase, causing a long server outage. Later GAPP suspended operations in China, citing "gross violations". WoW has had trouble in China before, having been required to flesh out skeletons*, change the color of blood, and even hide skulls in icons and models behind bags or boxes, and the second expansion, "Wrath of the Lich King", was initially rejected because of "a city raid** and skeleton characters". You can argue about how damaging a cartoon skeleton may or may not be on young gamer’s minds (and most of WoW really is a cartoon, nothing in the game is terribly realistic in it’s art style), but there’s always suspicions about ulterior motives, especially considering that limits have been put on overall foreign investment in gaming.
Now the Ministry of Culture has publicly accused GAPP of "overstepping it’s authority". Public feuds between government departments in China isn’t a common practice, but it’s not the first time the Internet has inspired this sort of infighting: The recent Green Dam project, which would have required all computers sold in China to come with some particularly awful and virus-prone filtering software, was openly criticised in Communist Party news outlets and was eventually abandoned mostly due to popular pressure and revelations about the actual flaws in the software.
In any case, the ban on WoW, like many internet regulations in China, isn’t too hard to skirt. It’s always been possible to connect to foreign game servers in China (I’ve done so to check mail on characters, etc. on US servers), so at times when WoW has been unavailable, many Chinese gamers moved to Taiwanese servers to play.
*A small note: I have asked several Chinese friends why skeletons are particularly targeted for censorship in China. So far I haven’t gotten any real answers. I had been wondering if there was some specific cultural reason for this, or whether it was one of those cases where the moral authorities have an odd focus on one particular thing (such as when the FCC back home allows large amounts of blood and gore to appear on television, both real [in news reports] and fake [watch some of the earlier Heroes episodes], but under no circumstances may you show female breasts or utter taboo words without editing them out.) Also, one friend noted that skeletons do appear in Chinese media — not sure where that is.
**Avid WoW players know exactly which city raid they are talking about, of course. I presume anyone else reading this doesn’t particularly care 😛