Gaming and politics do mix, as the recent furor over Blizzard’s censorship of pro-Hong Kong voices has shown: it hasn’t blown over, and the conflict shows no signs of stopping. Today, a new challenger appeared: the nonprofit organization Fight for the Future, which has spun up a campaign called Gamers for Freedom to put pressure on Blizzard to reevaluate its stances on China and Hong Kong.
Fight for the Future organizes online (and in-person) campaigns to, as they write in their mission statement, “ensure that the web continues to hold freedom of expression and creativity at its core.” (They were the ones who mobilized basically the entire internet against SOPA and PIPA in 2012.) For this latest battle, the org has planned two actions, one online and one IRL. Next week, they’re organizing an “online day of action for free expression,” which will “demand that gaming companies make a public statement supporting basic rights in their games and on their platforms.”
While they don’t exactly make it clear what “basic rights” means, I suspect it has something to do with Blizzard’s commitment to not rocking China’s boat as it regards the protests in Hong Kong. They outline five steps: signing a petition; contacting gamers, streamers, and YouTubers on a list that currently redirects to a Google Spreadsheet with more instructions on how to get involved; pressing game developers to have a stance on the issue; tweeting, so your friends know where you stand; and lastly creating fan art or cosplay depicting a character from a video game protesting for Hong Kong.
On Friday, November 1st, Gamers for Freedom is organizing a protest at BlizzCon 2019, Blizzard’s biggest event of the year — it’s when fans from around the world show up to a convention center to hear the company’s latest announcements. The Facebook event is more explicit about Gamers for Freedom’s goals because it spells out the connection between the protest action and Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung’s ban from Hearthstone. Recall: he was banned by Blizzard for speaking up about Hong Kong, and advises participants to “bring an umbrella” — a callback to Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement — “and join other gamers [as] we show our support for free speech and free expression.” At the time of this writing, 84 people have marked themselves as “going.”
While identifying as a “gamer” is a little cringeworthy — and more than a little reminiscent of Gamergate, which the movement’s organizing tactics echo by uniting under that banner — the protests in Hong Kong are deadly serious. The territory really is fighting for democracy and freedom from Chinese meddling. It remains to be seen what’ll happen, both online and at BlizzCon.
For now, Gamers for Freedom has a Discord, a running list of game publishers with their views on Hong Kong appended, and a list of “more ethical” games to play that aren’t Blizzard’s. That language is similar to what gamers said during Gamergate — it was ostensibly about “ethics in games journalism,” which was not the case — and they used the same kind of targeting to get companies to accede to their demands. This, obviously, is very different; Hong Kong is fighting for its right to self-determination. And this probably won’t end in a bunch of people harassed off the internet for the crime of being female.