Fantasy gaming, Sino-Japanese style

A red sun rising on the wrong dynasty starts an online riot

Published July 11, 2006 10:27PM (EDT)

I probably like whacked-out cyberpunk science fiction more than the average person, but the most recent news from the world of Chinese gaming trumps anything I've read lately. EastWestSouthNorth, a blog run by Hong Kong's Roland Soong that translates Chinese language source material, has a pair of mind-boggling posts about happenings in the hugely popular online role-playing game "The Fantasy of the Journey West."

It seems that a prominent player, who had reached level 144 of a possible 155, and was the founder of a guild that had 700 members, was suddenly placed in a virtual jail (the delightfully named Great Tang Permanent Incarceration Prison) by the operator of the game, one of China's most sucessful gaming companies, NetEase. The crime? His "alias," or nickname, contravened game guidelines.

Uh-oh, you think, more of that ever-present evil Chinese Communist Party repression.What did he do? Call for an end to Internet censorship? Demand independence for Tibet?

Not quite. His alias: "Kill the little Japs." His guild: "The Alliance to Resist Japan."

Riiight. One suddenly feels a little less sympathy, notwithstanding the horrors of the Nanjing massacre and the brutal Japanese occupation of mainland China more than six decades ago.

But why the sudden decision to jail the loopy patriot? He'd been playing the game under that name for two years.

Here's where the story really runs off the rails.

According to EastWestSouthNorth, the NetEase authorities suspect "Kill the Little Japs" of fomenting a ludicrous online riot several days ago in which thousands of online avatars gathered near a virtual Tang Dynasty government office to protest the appearance of what they claimed was an image of Japan's holy symbol, the famous red rising sun that dominates the Japanese flag, on the walls of the office. This was an unforgivable insult to China! Rumor ran wild. Was this because a Japanese investor had bought a stake in NetEase?

Netease pooh-poohed the claims, going so far as to provide photographs of historical representations of Tang Dynasty government offices that featured red suns painted on the walls! But the passions of Chinese protesters are not easily calmed, as anyone who has studied the Cultural Revolution is all too well aware. So the crackdown was not long in coming.

For the whole story, complete with numerous screen captures of in-game action, without which the true madness of this whole story cannot be properly grasped, one must visit EastWestSouthNorth. There, you can contemplate the sight of hundreds of brightly colored virtual avatars crowded in a kaleidoscopic mishmash venting nationalist rage. And ponder how there is no escape from the crimes of history, no matter how immersive the virtual medium.

Look upon these works, ye mighty, and despair!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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