China has banned websites featuring or publicizing online games which glamorize mafia gangs, saying violators will be "severely punished," state media reported on Tuesday.

The Culture Ministry said such games "advocate obscenity, gambling, or violence," and "undermine morality and Chinese traditional culture," the official Xinhua news agency said.

"These games encourage people to deceive, loot and kill, and glorify gangsters' lives. It has a bad influence on youngsters," the report said, citing a ministry circular.

In games like "Godfather" people can play at being hitmen or gangsters, Xinhua said.

"The ministry ordered its law enforcement bodies to step up oversight and harshly punish those sites that continue to run such games," it added, without elaborating.

In the early years of Communist rule, the government almost totally extinguished mafia-like gangs, but they have made a comeback in recent decades as China relaxed its social and economic controls.

Despite their involvement in unsavory activities like human trafficking and drugs, movies and television series made in Taiwan and Hong Kong about gangs are very popular in China.

The online game industry in China is expected to grow by between 30 percent and 50 percent this year, with a sales revenue of 24 billion yuan ($3.51 billion) to 27 billion yuan, according to officials.

China has about 200 million online game players, and more than 300 million Internet users, the largest number in the world.

The Chinese government has closed hundreds of websites in an ongoing crackdown on online porn and "vulgar content" that in some cases has netted dissident sites.

The campaign is part of a broader tightening of the media ahead of October's 60th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.

But the government backed down on a plan to require that Green Dam filter software be pre-installed on all new computers to block supposedly pornographic or other vulgar content.