Freedom of Identity, Speech and Assembly on the Internet

The Internet is said to be a virtual world.  This is all the more true in the particular section of the Internet involving online fantasy games (MMPRGs or Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games).  When you sign on to the game, you pay an initiation/subscription fee.  You adopt an alias name of your own choice, you can interact with other players in accordance to the rules of the game and the unwritten rules of social etiquette.  Some games will allow you to form guilds whose members may assemble in virtual space for group projects.

The following report is based upon, 我喜欢小正太的BLOG and Tianya Club.

The name of the online game is 梦幻西游 (The Fantasy of the Journey West) run by Netease.  This incident concerns one individual player and the guild that he founded.  This player has achieved Level 144 (which is only 11 levels short of the ultimate Level 155).  On July 4, the Netease 'authorities' locked him (specifically, it is his avatar) up in prison (specifically, it is the prison in the game known as 大唐永禁监 (The Great Tang Permanent Incarceration Prison)).  Here is the screen capture of the prisoner:

The player was charged specifically with having an alias that involves certain politically sensitive issues in the real world.  Therefore, he was asked to adopt a different alias or else face permanent incarceration.  The player did not think that there was anything wrong with his alias and therefore refused to change it.  As a result, he is still sitting in prison. 

The player said: "I began playing this game two years ago.  When I first applied to Netease, you did not say that my alias was unacceptable!  But now you come and lock up my ID.  This is obviously depriving me of my private assets.  Over these two years, I have spent more than 30,000 RMB on game point cards, and I have also spent more than 10,000 RMB on equipment trading."

During those two years, the individual also founded a guild with about 700 members, making this one of the top five guilds in the game.  On July 5, all the guild members received emails from Netease: "The guild that you belong to has violated the rules of the game.  It will be dissolved at 12:00 on July 10th."

In response to inquiries, comments and complaints, Netease re-iterated its policy:

Although the names of individuals, guilds, stalls, shops, pets and beasts may be chosen as you wish, Netease is running a healthy and green game.  In order to maintain the purity and harmony in the game world, Netease will not permit any names that include (but this list is not restricted solely to) those that attack, insult or mislead with respect to race, nationality, national politics, national leaders, obscenity, vulgarity, libel, threat, religions and religious figures.

If found and verified, the following penalties may be imposed:

Loss of speech rights;
Change of name;
Forced offline;
Temporary quarantine;
Permanent quarantine;
Dissolution of guild. 

Having read to this point, you must be dying to know what the offending names were in order to decide for yourself.  I am obviously being a horrible tease to have kept you in suspense.  So I will show mercy and inform you:

Name of player: 干死4小日本 ("Kill the little Japs")
Name of guild:
抗日同盟会 ("The Alliance to Resist Japan")

Netease offers this rationale:

In changing the name of an individual player or handling the case of an individual guild, we do not want to cause any unhappiness to people.  We do not want such an incident to affect the patriotism of everybody.  But this is a game.  When we operate this game, we follow the state's regulations on Internet administration and we are monitored by the National Internet Supervisory Bureau.  People come here to experience joy, and we therefore emphasize health, relaxation and happiness and we should not bring in politically sensitive topics.  The experience of history tells us that patriotism should be expressed rationally under the grand theme of protecting the interests of the nation and the people.  Patriotism requires passion, but it requires rationality even more so.  Passion and rationality form our correct way of expressing our patriotism.

... We appreciate everybody's patriotism.  Like everybody else, we deeply remember the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the Nanjing massacre, the Diaoyutai issue and so on.  These solemn histories make us want to become stronger because we are all Chinese.  Patriotism is a form of respect, and it is a belief.  Patriotism is the soul of our people, it is the soul of our nation.  But we sincerely hope that everybody's patriotic actions are rational . We hope and we believe that everybody can make rational expressions.

Has Netease ever done something like this before ? Yes, there is an online post from a Netease manager (at about some historical precedents:

A guild known as "Triad Society" was dissolved.  The manager does not remember the alias of the leader.
A guild known as "Al Qaeda" was dissolved.  The leader had the alias of "I am bin Laden."
A guild known as "Unit 731" was dissolved.  The leader had the alias of "Kill all, loot all." [Note: Wikipedia entry on Unit 731]

This particular post is related to the one published yesterday: Red Rubber Ball.  Now that you have read the above, you may actually appreciate what was happening in that previous post -- namely, Netease was taking the position that the Rising Sun flag incident was in fact hyped up by The Alliance To Resist Japan.

Relevant Link: