Global Voices Online highlighted today a fascinating controversy in China that arose out of the image of a rising sun appearing in the Chinese multi-player online game “The Fantasy of the Journey West”. Appearing in the Blog East South North West, the blogger reports that
there was a mob scene of cursing players at the area known as "Jianye city government office." The reason was that this Tang dynasty "government office" had a background that looked like a "Rising Sun." At around 1am, the reporter found a screen capture of the game in which there was a white screen at the back of the government office. In the middle, there was a red sun from which light rays emanated, such that it resembled a Japanese flag. According to Mr. Guo, a Beijing game player, someone noticed this "Rising Sun flag" about three days ago. The news spread quickly on the Internet the next day. Almost 10,000 game players from around the nation gathtered there to express their dissatisfaction or anger.
The screenshots of the hundreds and hundreds of avatars venting curses in Chinese over this is incredible.
An administrator for the game appealled for calm, stating to a
reporter that while the game players’ patriotism is understandable, all
patriotic activities should be "rational and not be led by some
These kinds of demonstrations of Chinese grassroots
hyper-nationalism one would think is just the sort of thing that the
Communist Party would welcome. But in fact, it creates all sorts of
sticky situations for the government, since rabid grassroots patriotism
is as hard to control as rabid anti-government protest movements, as
witnessed by the massive anti-US protests in China following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Begrade in 1999.
Indeed, there already has been a crackdown
on this kind of virtual hyper-nationalism. Within the same "Journey
West" MMORPG the avatar of a user going by the name of, wait for it, "Kill the Little Japs"
has been incarcerated indefinitely unless he changes his name, which he
has had for two years. He runs a guild of 700 players called "The
Alliance to Resist Japan" which the game administrators will be
dissolving later in the month.
These kinds of virtual political acts are going to increasingly test
the role and responsibilities of the owners of MMORPGs and MUVEs in
relationship to the government. Are they, when push comes to shove,
simply agents and lackeys of the regime where the game resides? Will
they turn over all your data, cancel your account, and take away all of
your virtual currency at the first hint of a criminal investigation?
With virtual residents who are citizens of various countries, where do
jurisdictional conflicts get resolved?
Time to go read that Second Life TOS again…