Henry Jenkins gives a fascinating account of an ongoing controversy occurring in a MMORPG in the People’s Republic of China, the fastest growing market for these online games. Operated by Netease, Fantasy Westward Journey (FWJ) has 22 million users, with an average of over 400,000 concurrent players. Last month, game administrators locked down the account of an extremely high ranking character, for having an anti-Japanese name, as well as leading a 700 member guild with a similarly offensive name. The character would be “jailed” and his guild would be dissolved unless he changed his character and guild’s name. The player didn’t back down and went public with accusations of ulterior motives by Netease. Rumors flew across FWJ about its purchase by a Japanese firm which was dictating policy decisions. A few days late, an alarming protest of nationalism broke out, consisting of 80,000 players on one of the gaming servers, which was 4 times the typical number of players on a server.
The ongoing incidents are important for several reasons. One is that it is another demonstration of how people (from any nation) bring their conceptualization of the real world into the virtual space. Sino-Japanese relations are historically tense. Particularly, memories of war and occupation by the Japan during World War II are still fresh and volatile in the PRC. In a society whose current calender year is 4703, the passage of seventy years accounts for a relatively short amount of time. Here, political and racial sentinment seamlessly interweave between the real and the virtual. However, these spaces and the servers which house them are privately owned.
The second point is that concentrations of economic and cultural production is being redistributed across the globe. The points where the real and the virtual worlds become porous are likewise spreading to places throughout Asia. Therefore, coverage of these events outside of Asia should not be considered fringe, but I see important incentives to track, report and discuss these events as I would local and regional phenomenon.