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The real reason these games were banned in China

China has always had something of an interesting relationship with the video game industry. In fact, the country completely banned the manufacturing and sales of video game consoles in the year 2000. This was due to a fear that they could cause delinquency in children, as well as other physical and mental side effects. The ban was lifted in 2015, but the regulatory board in China is still very particular about what it allows to be widely distributed in the country.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why some games just don't make the cut. Sometimes they have to be heavily edited before they're considered appropriate for Chinese consumers. Other times, however, they are seen as an outright affront to Chinese values and are banned. Let's take a look at some of these unfortunate titles that couldn't make it past the Chinese censors, as well as why they were considered unsuitable for release in the country.

As you'll soon find out, even some of the cutest characters ever couldn't make it in China.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was too subversive

Animal Crossing: New Horizons might just be one of the least aggressive games in recent memory. Heck, the central premise sends players to their own islands, where they can build a life for their cute animal citizens. It's definitely not the kind of game you'd expect to see in the center of a political uprising, but that's exactly what happened shortly after the game's release.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong began using the game as a platform to protest China's rule over Hong Kong. He reasoned that it would be easier for people to show their support for the movement within the game, considering it was impossible to have physical protests in light of the COVID-19 outbreak keeping people indoors. To that end, he and others began posting screenshots to Twitter of their Animal Crossing characters shouting "Free Hong Kong" slogans and hanging protest banners in their adorable island dwellings. Before long, Chinese retailers announced that the game would not be carried within the country, leaving fans on the hunt for import copies.

PUBG couldn't be monetized

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds had something of an uphill battle the entire (brief) time it was actually playable in China. The game had to undergo extensive censoring to make it more palatable to the Chinese government, but even that proved to be too little to make it a viable release. The final straw came when PUBG's Chinese publisher, Tencent Games, was told that it would not be allowed to charge real world currency for in-game purchases. After this, Tencent essentially abandoned testing PUBG and pulled the game in Chinese territories. Afterwards, Tencent began directing interested PUBG players to another title, Game for Peace.

Game for Peace is essentially PUBG in terms of gameplay, but features a storyline and tone much more in line with the patriotic views encouraged by the Chinese government. The most memorable thing about Game for Peace is how fallen enemies are portrayed. Instead of dying, enemies wave their hands as if they're actually saying "goodbye" to players. That is certainly a choice.

Plague Inc. vs. coronavirus?

Plague Inc. is a virus simulation game that has seen a resurgence in recent months. Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, many gamers have taken to using the game to help manage their fears and expectations in the midst of a pandemic. Unfortunately, that's no longer an option for Chinese gamers, as Plague Inc. was suddenly pulled from sale in China in March 2020. 

The game's developer, Ndemic Creations, released a statement explaining the situation to fans. The statement read, "We have some very sad news to share with our China-based players. We've just been informed that Plague Inc. 'includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China' and has been removed from the China App Store. This situation is completely out of our control." 

Ndemic was reluctant to speculate that the ban had anything to do with the COVID-19 outbreak. However, some have theorized that the game was in fact banned as part of an effort to control public opinion and concerns surrounding the Chinese government's handling of the crisis.

Battlefield 4 picked the wrong villains

Battlefield 4 has been hailed as one of the best FPS games of its generation, but it was outright shunned in China. Not only was the game not released in the country, but the very mention of its name was outlawed.

"[The Chinese] Ministry of Culture issued a notice prohibiting use of all materials pertaining to the game, including game downloads, demos, patches, and news reports," Forbes reported in December 2013. "The name of the game itself, 'ZhanDi4' in Chinese, has been added to the vast lexicon of censored words on China's largest social media site, Weibo."

This all stemmed from the fact that the game featured the Chinese military as one of the main enemy forces. The plot of Battlefield 4 revolved around Chinese soldiers teaming up with Russian soldiers in an assault on American soil. It was decided that the game "smears China's image," which spelled doom for any hopes of the game receiving a release in the country.

Devotion's hidden jokes caused a stir

It's not out of the ordinary for a horror game to have a few hidden gags. Never forget that the Silent Hill series has had a few joke endings featuring cute dogs and UFOs. However, a hidden joke is exactly what got Taiwanese horror game Devotion banned in China.

The trouble started when a magical poster was found in the game that had the names of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Disney's Winnie the Pooh written on it. Around the poster were Taiwanese characters that spelled out the phrase "Your mom moron." This was seemingly a reference to infamous memes comparing Jinping with the cartoon bear. These memes led to backlash from the Chinese government, which outlawed any jokes on the matter and culminated in the 2018 Pooh-starring film Christopher Robin being banned in the country.

After Chinese gamers discovered a similar Winnie the Pooh joke in Devotion, they began noticing other references that seemingly poked fun at the Chinese president. Following numerous complaints and negative reviews from Chinese gamers, the game was officially banned.

Command & Conquer: Generals wasn't flattering

The Command & Conquer series offers players the chance to lead their own armies to victory in a series of escalating real-time strategy skirmishes. The first installment in a spin-off series, Command & Conquer: Generals, depicts a near-future scenario in which a fictional terrorist army attacks China with a nuclear strike. The surviving Chinese military and American armed forces must then take the fight to the terrorist army. Players can even choose to control the terrorist cell in an attempt to conquer its Chinese and American enemies once and for all.

Unfortunately, it was decided that Command & Conquer Generals did not portray the Chinese military in a flattering light. Not only that, but Chinese censors took issue with the game's "realistic warlike elements." It's worth noting that German censorship boards had a similar issue with the violence and political content in Command & Conquer: Generals and enforced several changes to the game. However, the game was eventually released in Germany in an edited form. Not so for China, where the game was outright banned.

Hearts of Iron was deemed inaccurate

The Hearts of Iron series is a strategy game franchise that puts players in charge of their own nations during wartime. Like so many games, unfortunately, Hearts of Iron made a few big mistakes in the eyes of China's Ministry of Culture. The biggest issues stemmed from the game's seemingly half-hearted attempts at historical accuracy. These gaffes included the portrayals of Italy and Germany during World War II, which the Ministry of Culture felt to be inaccurate. The game also depicted Manchuria and West Xinjiang as independent countries, a designation hotly contested by the Chinese government.

This all led to the Ministry of Culture concluding that the game was guilty of "distorting history and damaging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity." The Ministry of Culture concluded, "The game should be immediately prohibited."

The first installment wasn't the only one in the Hearts of Iron series to fall victim to this punishment. Though it featured an entire expansion based around China, Hearts of Iron 4 was removed from Steam in China because it allegedly "does not comply with local law." 

Call of Duty Mobile was a victim of new regulations

As you may have been able to figure out by this point, China has a bit of a spotty reputation when it comes to officially sanctioning the release of war-themed games in the country. However, this particular case didn't really have anything to do with the game's actual content. Instead, Call of Duty Mobile crossed the line on the monetization side of things.

In late 2018, China put a freeze on new video game release approvals. Then, in 2019, the Chinese government began enforcing new regulations hoping to combat video game and device addiction. In the midst of all this, Tencent released Call of Duty Mobile, which was a major hit. However, following all of the controversy surrounding the new regulations and the company's uphill battle trying to release PUBG, Tencent opted to cancel Call of Duty Mobile's Chinese release. Instead, Tencent released a Sim City-style game called Homeland Dream

Yet again, it just seemed like a more gentle and patriotic release would be the safer, more lucrative alternative, so that's what Tencent went with. Call of Duty Mobile became another victim of China's strenuous gaming guidelines.

Football Manager 2005 had a Tibet problem

Sports team simulation game Football Manager 2005 seems like the last release that would be able to offend anyone. However, the game's portrayal of certain territories caused it to be seen as being in violation of the Chinese Ministry of Culture's guidelines. Among these problems was the fact that game showed Tibet to be its own independent country. The legal status of Tibet has been a hot-button issue for decades, and the independent portrayal of Tibet and other territories like Taipei allegedly drew complaints from gamers. 

As a result, the Ministry of Culture resolved to "investigate, confiscate and punish websites, computer software markets and Internet cafes, who disseminate or sell 'Football Manager 2005.'" Retailers found in violation of the ban were threatened "with a fine up to 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) or cancellation of business license." Not only that, but internet service providers that did not stop users from downloading bootleg copies were similarly warned to crack down on Football Manager 2005 or suffer the consequences.

I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike was an insult

I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike, a.k.a. Project I.G.I. 2, was a military action game released in 2003. Given China's history with military-based games, you might have an idea of where this is going. Unfortunately for I.G.I.-2, it was yet another title that got in trouble for featuring the Chinese military as enemies.

The game was apparently banned because of a section in the game that featured a mercenary character infiltrating a Chinese military base and stealing intelligence from it. According to Chinese news outlet Xinhuanet (via GamesIndustry.biz), "the game has violated China's gaming regulations that prohibit introduction and publication of games that hurt China's national dignity and interests."

There's one more interesting wrinkle to this story. It turned out that Codemasters, the game's publisher, had never officially released the game in China. This means that China had banned a game that was already being illegally bootlegged or otherwise imported by Chinese gamers and retailers. 

Pokemon Go was a security risk

Pokemon Go has proven to be a bit of a headache for authorities in the past, and not just in China. Earlier this year, the Canadian military released reports of the difficulties it had dealing with players of the game wandering onto military bases. Even the Holocaust Memorial Museum had to ask patrons with zero common sense not to play the augmented reality game on museum grounds.

There were similar concerns surrounding the release of Pokemon Go in China. In fact, it was initially not allowed within the country due to the fear that it posed a "threat to geographical information security and the threat to transport and the personal safety of consumers." In other words, authorities were afraid of overzealous gamers getting hurt in their pursuit of Pokemon, but the government was likely also worried about security leaks resulting from the game's use of Google Maps to create its environments.

After much deliberation, however, Pokemon Go finally saw a Chinese release in 2018, nearly two years after the game's original launch.