Though China has been all too happy to embrace elements of free-market capitalism, it is a long way off from a free society. Today, the official government news agency, Xinhua, announced that the Chinese Ministry of Culture has outlawed online games with "gangster" themes or featuring "mafia-like gangs."
"These games encourage people to deceive, loot and kill, and glorify gangster life. They are a bad influence on youngsters," read a statement issued by the Ministry. The statement went on to say that games embracing "mafia" and "godfather" culture are forbidden because they "advocate obscenity, gambling, or violence" and "undermine morality and Chinese traditional culture." A column condemning the "violent culture" of such games also ran in Tuesday's issue of the Procuratorial Daily, one of many Chinese government-controlled newspapers.
Though Electronic Arts' Godfather games, 2K's Mafia series, and Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto franchise might seem like obvious targets, so far, only Chinese-language massively multiplayer games have been shut down. These include (with official Ministry of Culture translations): www.kaixin.com's Godfather, www.mop.com's Jianghu ("gangster community"), and www.xiaonei.com's Guhuozai ("young and dangerous guys"). Further violators face undefined "severe punishment" from the government.
Xinhua quoted the outrage amongst several users of the game. "I just stole 3 million yuan in the game when the Web site suddenly went blank," complained one reported player only identified by his Internet ID number. Another unnamed gamer was quoted as saying, "I really felt like our gang was disbanded."
Today's move comes less than a month after China nearly required all new computers sold in the country to come with special net-screening software preinstalled. Though that mandate has since been delayed, the Beijing government still requires the software, the heavily criticized Green Dam application, be installed in all PCs used in schools and Internet cafes. Internet access inside China is also monitored and strictly controlled by the government, which blocks sites referring to such events as the 1989 Tiananmen massacre or last year's unrest in Tibet.