Popular game offline in China after live feeds show politically sensitive nicknames
A hugely popular online game has gone suddenly offline after users in China assumed politically sensitive handles referencing Chinese leaders, disgraced former officials and exiled dissidents.
“Goose Goose Duck,” available on the Steam gaming platform, took off at the start of the year after celebrity livestreamers started broadcasting their game-play to Chinese users.
To the huge amusement of some viewers, their livestreamed commentary included phrases like “Get ready, Zhou Yongkang and Guo Wengui! We’re going to start playing! … Wang Dan, get ready now!”
Zhou is a former security czar jailed for corruption amid unconfirmed reports that he spearheaded a coup attempt to topple Xi Jinping in 2015
Guo Wengui, or Miles Kwok, applied for political asylum in the United States in 2017 after China issued a “red notice” via Interpol for his arrest in April. Guo has aired a number of salacious allegations via his Twitter account, and has blasted the administration of President Xi Jinping as a small clique of mafia-like “kleptocrats.”
Wang Dan is a former 1989 student leader who fled to the United States, where he uses his platform to educate followers about recent Chinese history, democracy and analyze the latest developments in Beijing.
The 1989 student movement and the Tiananmen massacre that ended it is regarded as a “counterrevolutionary rebellion” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and scant details about the events of that summer are available on China’s highly censored internet.
Other reported usernames included references to late ousted liberal premier Hu Yaobang, whose death sparked the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement, jailed former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and “Professional Hitman Mao Zedong,” in a reference to China’s late supreme leader.
“This is killing me … think they’ve shut down the livestream now,” one user commented on a video capture of the livestream posted to Twitter by @jak
Beijing-based tech news site Pandaily said the game’s popularity in China has been driven by professional players livestreaming their gameplay since last month.
“On Jan. 2, the number of online players of Goose Goose Duck exceeded 470,000, causing the server to crash that night,” the site reported on Thursday. “After that, players poured into major social platforms to search for the game, and the next day, it appeared on the trending topics list compiled by Weibo and Bilibili.”
It said the game had gone down in China due to overloaded servers and hacker attacks, making no mention of any political reason for the downtime.
A game developer for makers Gaggle denied rumors that the company had been acquired by Chinese social media giant Tencent on a Steam forum on Wednesday.
But Pandaily said it had discovered a trademark application for “Goose Goose Duck” made by Wuhan Mingyou Network Technology, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wuhan Weipai Network Technology Co, makers of Snake Battle.
“Everything is on track so far,” the developer wrote in a Jan. 11 progress report on Steam. “I also saw rumors that we will be operated by Shenzhen Tencent Computer System Co., Ltd., and that Tencent owns the exclusive copyright of Goose Goose Duck. Neither of the rumors is true.”
“There are no plans to launch on the WeGame platform. We will not be leaving Steam. I don’t know the source of this misinformation,” the developer wrote in Chinese, urging users to only trust information posted to Steam.
Gaggle tweeted that its server was back up late on Jan. 11, but Chinese users continued to complain that they couldn’t access the game well into Jan. 12.
“The Chinese players have been waiting all night, and it is six in the morning … Let me in, please!” one user responded to the tweet.
Social media influencer GFWFrog (Great Firewall Frog) said the game was likely taken offline in China while the makers added filters blocking politically sensitive usernames.
“If the game allows players to use sensitive nicknames like the names of Chinese political figures, it’s going to inevitably be seen as humiliating China, so the Chinese government is sure to move quickly and forcefully to take it offline,” GFWFrog said.
“I’m guessing that the Goose Goose Duck developments team is scrambling to patch the game with sensitive word filters, or they … could just update the game and randomly generate nicknames for Chinese players to avoid anything offensive,” he said.
He said the irony of the professional gamers calling out the names of banned or disgraced political figures lay with the sheer effectiveness of Chinese Communist Party propaganda in recent decades: the livestreamers quite possibly didn’t even know who half of these people were.
“It’s such a farce, because a lot of these gaming livestreamers have no knowledge of these taboo figures or events whatsoever,” GFWFrog said. “They just read out these nicknames during their livestream, and get their accounts banned by the admins.”
He said there are precedents for younger Chinese influencers having no idea when they are getting themselves into hot water, citing the shutdown of beauty influencer Austin Li’s account after he displayed a tank-shaped ice-cream cake ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in June 2022.
“Once more, we have a vivid depiction of the Austin Li paradox,” GFWFrog said. “We can expect similar absurd dramas to play out more and more frequently in future.”
YouTuber “Someone called Xu who tells the truth” said some gamers were annoyed with the players who picked the nicknames and precipitated the issue.
“This is illogical,” he told Radio Free Asia. “Don’t blame the players who changed their names: blame the system of censorship that puts so many obstacles in the way of creativity.”
Xu said most people had found the incident extremely funny, even supporters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“I think even the little pinks couldn’t help laughing when the players started reading out those names without a care,” he said. “Laughter is a form of resistance against totalitarianism.”
“Once someone has enjoyed this freedom, they won’t forget what it felt like, so we will definitely see more of this kind of thing in future,” he said. “Cyberpunk should be used to resist cyber-totalitarianism wherever it occurs.”
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.