A popular Taiwanese horror game, Devotion, has been removed from Steam after players alleged that it contained easter eggs making reference to China’s “paramount leader” Xi Jinping, linking his name with Winnie the Pooh. Images likening Xi to the Disney interpretation of the fictional teddy bear went viral in 2017 and were quickly shut down by China’s censorship apparatus.
Devotion, created by Red Candle Games, was first on our recent list of new indie titles coming out of the region. We described it as, “a first-person atmospheric horror game depicting the descent into darkness of a 1980s Taiwan apartment complex.” What we didn’t realize however, was that certain parts of the game apparently featured mention of Winnie the Pooh and baozi (literally meaning “steamed bun”), both of which have become sensitive terms in China when used in relation to the general secretary of the Communist Party.
The game’s name and parent company both quickly disappeared from Chinese social media as censors became aware of the hidden references, leading to a grovelling apology from Red Candle on Facebook:
“The whole team of Red Candle Games bears the responsibility of this very unprofessional mistake. It is not Red Candle’s vision to secretly project extensive ideology, nor is it to attack any person in the real world. We sincerely hope that this ends with Red Candle, and please do not take it out on all of our innocent partners.”
That last line hints at a bigger issue here, and one that many Chinese gamers are more worried about: the status of Steam itself in mainland China. The gaming platform has been operating in a bit of a gray area for some time now, being available for use in the country but not officially sanctioned by the authorities. That’s meant that games that technically don’t have licenses for China have still been playable in the country.
Steam creators Valve are working on a China launch for the platform in partnership with Shanghai company Perfect World, but there’s still not been any officially confirmed release date. Moves such as the decision last year to apparently restrict users in China from accessing “adult-only content” show it’s prepping to comply with local regulations. Yet the fall out from Devotion demonstrate just what they’ll need to deal with if they want to really make Steam China work.
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