We explore the cultural and political reasons surrounding China's recent ban on BF4.
By Patrick Vuleta on January 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm
I have many bullets to spare. At the risk of sounding insensitive, that is my gamer’s impression of the Chinese military, care of Electronic Arts. Which I guess is why China’s Ministry of Culture recently banned Battlefield 4 –clueless westerners might think the game is actually real. But here’s the specific reason given by China:
“Battlefield 4 is an illegal video game, with content that endangers national security. It is an aggressive attack on our culture.“
Now, the idea that a video game could endanger national security is laughable. Clearly, this statement needs fleshing out.
It’s different from Generals
Battlefield 4′s ban is not unprecedented. Ten years ago, Command and Conquer: Generals was banned, too. However, Generals almost seemed to be goading China, and I’m not just talking about the voice acting. China was the only faction to use nuclear weapons, when the real China has a minimalist nuclear stance. Not something you want misrepresented. Generals also gave Tiananmen Square a mention—a sure way to get anything banned in China.
Battlefield 4 made none of these faux pas. The Chinese media criticised the game as sending up China as the new-Russia on America’s video game punching bag. But really, China is far more relevant than Russia. China now has the second-biggest military funding in the world, and may see it bypass America’s military this century.
You have to question the ban on purely cultural grounds, since most Chinese media criticism was directed at the single player game. And really, who plays Battlefield 4 for the single player game? It’s like reading GON for the articles.* China was able to have skeletons replaced by sandbags in World of Warcraft, after all, so I’m sure they could have pruned the single player campaign from Battlefield 4.
We have big plans
Any Chinese ban is noteworthy because China’s PC game industry is worth $6 billion, making it the largest in the world. A banned game potentially misses a huge market, one which is opening up.
Battlefield 4′s banning comes in hand with China’s move to set up an experimental Free Trade Zone in Shanghai. Though not without its critics, what it basically means is that foreign business will have an easier time setting up in Shanghai without as much government oversight as before.
A decade-long ban on console games has also recently been lifted (who cares), and China is starting to make tentative steps towards curbing video game piracy. Foreign video game production and retail will be permitted for one of the first times in China’s history, and may actually have a chance of success.
However, games will still be screened on grounds of culture. Games that won’t be permitted are those that, among other things, threaten state security, disturb the social order, or damage China’s glory (yes, that’s a real reason for a ban). The State still wants control over what comes in.
Battlefield 4′s ban, in part then, can be seen as a way to assert their control at a time when they’re cautiously opening up slightly, and show the world they haven’t totally abandoned communism—a way to set the limits on free market shenanigans. However, I don’t think that’s the whole picture.
Bombing bays clear
Officially, China pursues a policy of peaceful development. Despite that its military spending continues to get bigger by 10% each year, China stresses that it is a peaceful country. But that hasn’t stopped people worrying.
Of particular worry is whether its conflict with Japan over the China Sea islands. They’re just a few rocks in the middle of the ocean, really. But both countries seem to have attached a strong symbolic value to these rocks. With both Japan and China sporting more nationalistic rhetoric as of late, many generally sane political commentators have been waxing on whether this could lead to World War 3.
If war does break out, it’s likely the Americans will become involved. Ever since World War 2, America has made enforcing the Asian theatre their “thing”, and to back down now would be a free pass for anyone who wants to challenge them—just look at what happened with Iraq. They’ve already started shifting military power away from the Middle East to the Pacific, with their Guam base receiving the lion’s share of defence funding, and making symbolic flybys over the aforementioned rocks.
China is intensely aware of this and doesn’t particularly want a war—they have booming trade with Japan, America, Australia, and just about everyone else who would be dragged in. America still possesses an overwhelming military advantage in Asia, and the renewed US buildup has been met with disapproving frowns.
These things are sensitive, and that means any game that shows China in combat with America is likely to be seen as an “aggressive attack on our culture”.
Battlefield 4 both described a scenario China wants to avoid and threatened China’s image of a peaceful giant when much of the western world is worried if they’re about to be dragged into war.
* I am, of course, talking about our new video focus this year. (Good save. –Ed)