Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord‘s Chinese moderators have been accused of asking users to report those saying things that would violate Chinese law.
The news comes via the official forums for the game [1, 2, 3, 4]. In a now locked thread, the thread creator cites a thread from the Chinese forums, claiming “The East Asian servers are hosted by a chinese forum, this forum is telling it’s chinese users to report any anti-PRC discussion on EA servers.”
Thanks to archives, we have been able to see the post for ourselves. The first post by the Regional Moderator “White Light” states the following.
“[Announcement] The Chinese station online management team formally accepts complaints about political IDs in the game [Copy link]
1. All political ID complaints have been accepted
2. Please collect as much evidence as possible and send it to the online transaction area
3. The content of the screenshot should clearly express that the person has used the name to promote bad political ideas and intentions”
Translation: Google Translate
A “political ID” would refer to the user’s real ID, as many social media platforms and games demand (under Chinese law) that users use their real IDs to use their services [1, 2, 3]. Another user posted a link to this thread by admin “muyiboy.” It states the following:
“[Announcement] About Horse Riding and Hacking 2: Reporting Post of Violations in the Process of Overlord Online
Recently, many riders responded that the online experience of riding 2 is very poor. Behaviors including personal attacks, insults, racism, undermining national / national unity, etc. are intensifying. In addition to the possible cheating of plug-ins, the Chinese website takes this very seriously. In order to give all riders a fair, harmonious and active riding and cutting 2 online environment. At present, the Chinese website has obtained the management authority of all official servers. Players who violate relevant online regulations will be banned cautiously, seriously and fairly.
The whistleblower shall take screenshots, videos, etc. of the reported person’s violations as required to provide as detailed evidence as required. Attach the online IDs of the whistleblower and the whistleblower. After being checked and verified by the relevant person in charge of the online zone of the Chinese station, corresponding bans and penalties will be imposed for different violations
Among them, the plug-in zero tolerance is permanently sealed.”
The post then lists a user who had been banned (or “permanently sealed” as Google Translate puts it). There is also a persistent claim that bans last until 2029; though users will have far worse to deal due to the country’s social credit system, and notorious human rights violations against those who speak poorly of the government.
One user posted a screenshot of the above post, along with a screenshot a whistleblower sent to admins. “Here’s the screenshot they use to report and ban players. This player’s gonna be banned for simply mentioning ‘coronavirus’, which is outrageous. You can sign up and see for yourself. They’ve started to make new posts hidden btw.”
While some users begged for the US thread discussing the matter to be locked even at its inception, others threw blame at the feet of Taleworlds Entertainment. Some even proposed those asking for the thread to be locked were moderators, users from the East Asian forum, or supporters of the Chinese government.
Many of those users did appear to have the server rank of “recruit,” suggesting they had not made many posts on the forum. However, some recruits did state they would be happy for individual servers for players of different regions. There was also condemnation that the game had game moderators especially for one region.
The issue comes from how this would affect users from Taiwan and Hong Kong being affected by Chinese law. Some proposed that the game server be divided between a Chinese and international version. Elements of the Chinese government had proposed exactly that for all games in the region, thanks to Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was reportedly banned across China. While there was no confirmation as to why, the prevailing theory is that it was due to the game allowing users to express messages the Chinese government would usually ban, such as support for the Free Hong Kong protests.
This reportedly lead to (in Taiwan News’ words) “Local metropolises are scrambling to draft laws to expand the scope of online censorship in video games.” In short, this would ban Chinese gamers from interacting with foreigners via blocking foreign players access; along with map editing, customizing clothes, and “forming organizations.”
Likewise, a patch for “Asian territories” in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege removing assets related to death, corpses, gambling, and sexual content (all things Chinese ratings boards take issue with in media and games) quickly drew ire of the player base internationally. The update was rolled back three weeks later.
Returning to the original thread, it was locked roughly a day later. The section moderator had this to say:
“Since this thread has been heated from the start (just like the other one about the same topic) it’ll be locked for now so everyone’s outrage doesn’t end up in more rule violations. There’s some validity in it that I can agree with, but political debates aren’t part of the on-topic reportoire.
Since it’s affecting players in game it’ll remain visible.
Afaik the issue is something that the team is aware off and we’ll probably get a proper statement soon.
Eitherway thank you for bringing this to attention.”
The thread’s topic soon spilled out onto other platforms such as Reddit, Facebook, and Steam [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. It was filled with similar condemnation of the Chinese moderators, and of the game’s developers.
One Steam user even claims that the Chinese moderators are able to ban international players. “As i know, some of US/UK friends got banned by their steam name have Chinese forbidden words too. Because they have ‘ALL’ Server’s authority.”
TaleWorlds replied to queries from TechRaptor. Later, TechRaptor stated “TaleWorlds has replied to us and updated us on the situation. For the moment, they are thoroughly investigating these issues before taking any definitive action.”
The situation bears comparison to not just the aforementioned Animal Crossing indecent, but an incident involving Blizzard in October 2019. Blizzard had been denounced by many gamers over their suspension of pro-Hearthstone player Blitzchung for his support of the Hong Kong protests, firing the casters, and their overall handing of the entire debacle [1, 2, 3].
Even US Senators wrote to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, condemning the decision. Many at the time wondered if this had been due to Chinese investors having heavy influence over Blizzard, or Blizzard wishing to keep their options in the market open.
Our report revealed that Chinese tech-giant Tencent owned only 5% of Activision Blizzard, along with the entire Asia region only making 13% of the company’s profit in 2018.