China Bans ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’ Trailer Because of 1989 Tiananmen Square Footage

Footage of protesters clashing with Chinese troops in 1989 was briefly featured in the two-minute trailer for the highly-anticipated game.
August 24, 2020, 1:03pm
tiananmen square
A man holds a poster of the famous 'Tank Man' standing in front of Chinese military tanks at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 5, 1989, during a candlelit remembrance in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020. Photo: AFP / Anthony WALLACE

The official two-minute teaser trailer for the highly-anticipated worldwide release of Activision’s critically-acclaimed first-person shooter game Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War has been banned in China. 

California-based gaming giant Activision says that the latest installment of its popular gaming series was “inspired by actual events.”

The trailer features real-life historical documentary footage, including that of the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. China has never released an official death toll for the pro-democracy clashes, though it is estimated that several hundred to thousands of people were killed

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The Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War trailer only features about 1 second of footage from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. 

“Know your history or be doomed to repeat it” an ominous message on the Call of Duty Twitter page reads. Activision plans to showcase the game on August 26.

Known for its strict internet regulations and heavy-handed censorship, China’s ruling Communist Party regime has gone to great lengths to censor and ban popular video games it deems sensitive in nature. 

Ardent gamers in Hong Kong have been known to take protest messages and transport them online, using games like the Nintendo Switch offering Animal Crossing to criticize China’s President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong’s unpopular leader Carrie Lam. 

Blizzard Entertainment, an arm of Activision, also saw Chinese censorship controversy after professional Hong Kong-based Chinese player Chung Ng Wai chanted pro-Hong Kong political slogans while promoting the company’s popular Hearthstone digital card game at a tournament in 2019. In a move seen as bowing to Chinese state censors, Blizzard suspended Chung for a year and forced him to forfeit his winning prize money. 

The Tiananmen Square protests are said to be an especially sensitive topic in China, which bans mention of the event on its mainland internet. 

Experts say that the creation of China’s Great Firewall, regarded as one of the world’s most advanced forms of online censorship and surveillance, is rooted in the government’s efforts to erase the memory of what happened at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. 

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An edited-down version of the original trailer has been released instead in China, cutting out the controversial scene. 

Singapore-based Chinese gamer Luo Gan, who watched the original, unedited trailer, told VICE News that China’s savvy gaming community would be able to easily navigate around state suppression and censorship.

 “The government is definitely cautious about the short clip because it reminds people about the atrocities that took place in Tiananmen Square. It tries to erase it but what happened in Tiananmen Square isn’t forgettable,” he said.

“China is a huge market for Activision and other gaming giants, a new and edited version of the Call of Duty game will probably be released to appease censors but for those in the know, we know how to get our hands on the material that the government doesn’t want us to see.” 

A search for the original Call of Duty trailer on the official Chinese state Sina Weibo microblog yielded little results, though some Chinese netizens shared an edited version of the trailer

Some users seemed oblivious to the obvious censorship of the game trailer by the Chinese government, expressing their excitement for storytelling around the Cold War era. “I’m looking forward to the game missions and local wars in North Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and of course, the U.S.-Soviet Union battles,” said one Weibo user