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Skeletons Banned in Chinese 'World of Warcraft'
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Bones and skeletons have disappeared from the Chinese version of the popular on-line fantasy game, World of Warcraft (WoW), sparking fierce criticism from the nation's army of players.

Chinese mainland gamers have waited half a year longer than their US counterparts for the upgraded version of the WoW, only to find the appearances of familiar skeletal characters have been fleshed out.

The skeletons, regular characters, grow flesh in the new version and the bones symbolizing dead characters have been changed to graves.

A staff member with the public relations department of The9, which runs WoW in China, was quoted by a Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily as saying the changes were made according to "China's particular situation and relevant regulations".

"It's to promote a healthy and harmonious on-line environment," the anonymous staff said, according to the newspaper.

However, Zhao Yurun, public relations director of The9, denied the explanation in an interview with Xinhua and said the changes were made as part of an "operational strategy".

He said the company updated the game seven to eight times each year, adding patches that required no government approval to the original version.

However, he said the changes in the latest version were the foundations for the first official expansion of WoW, "The Burning Crusade", which was awaiting approval by the State Press and Publication Administration (SPPA) and is expected to be released this summer.

"We hope the expansion pack will successfully get the approval in acknowledgement of the self-discipline of our company," Zhao said.

Wang Guoqing, director with the SPPA Video, Electronics and Internet Publication Management Department, said "The Burning Crusade" was still under expert consideration and she could make no comment till the final decision was released.

The gamers thought the changes made the game dull and voiced their scorn on the official WoW website, filling more than ten pages with criticism.

More than 500 gamers signed a post, announcing they would boycott the game.

"Why should we accept the so-called 'good appearance' without the opportunity of being consulted?" wrote player "Cai Xu".

"We don't need such harmony," wrote "Xue Linglong".

Wang Cong, a journalist who has played the game for two years, said he would continue to play, but "I just think it's funny to make such meaningless changes".

Zhao Yurun said the company had received no formal complaints from gamers, which should be delivered by letters or phone calls with the petitioners real names.

The monster-killing game, first launched by California-based Blizzard Entertainment in 2004, is one of the most popular on-line role-playing games involving multiple players

It has 8.5 million players worldwide, with more than 3.5 million in China.

"The Burning Crusade" was released in other countries on January 16.

The government has been urging Internet companies to clean up websites and offer only legal and "healthy" content.

More than 100 news websites in China published a self-discipline regulation in May, pledging to purify the Internet environment.

The websites vowed to standardize news collection, editing and publication, and eliminate false news and illegal information.

They also promise to exclude pornographic and violent content from their websites.

(Xinhua News Agency July 10, 2007)

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