Taiwanese studio Red Candle Games had a very bad weekend. After the launch of their 80s-set horror game Devotion, players noticed a scrap of paper in-game which invokes the names of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Winnie The Pooh. Xi (who looks much like the cuddly cartoon bear) being a reasonable man able to take a mild joke, Winnie The Pooh and associated properties are restricted in China – see John Oliver’s breakdown here.
The reference in the game, however innocuous, sparked a review-bombing campaign against the game by aggrieved Chinese players. This led to an apology from the studio, followed their Chinese Weibo social media account being shut down, and the removal of the game from Steam in China. Now it’s just gone altogether, globally.
I find this mess upsetting. Nobody should have to apologise to anyone. Having thousands of fiercely nationalist Chinese gamers rushing to defend Xi Jinping from this mildest of slights is horrifying, and much of the language used in the review spam is sadly familiar in tone. No shortage of ‘Why are you forcing politics into things?’ and ‘Games should be apolitical’, somehow glossing over the fact that half of the horror in Red Candle’s previous game, Detention, was historical and political in nature. The studio pulled no punches referencing the White Terror, a period of brutal martial law in Taiwan, but feel compelled to apologise here, and that’s tragic.
Red Candle Games appear to be scrubbing all reference to Devotion that they can, at least in places where it can be spammed by strangers – it’s gone from their YouTube channel now, not even a trailer surviving. The only hint that it was ever on Steam is the Devotion soundtrack, which is also being review-bombed. The angry mob – thousands, apparently – have even descended on Detention to hurl abuse at the studio there. This strikes me as a good time for Valve to assess their review policy, because something is obviously broken here. Red Candle’s second statement on this mess even has them addressing malicious rumours being spread about the game and the studio.
There are times when customers having control over what appears on a store-front is beneficial. This is not one of those times. Here’s hoping this mess blows over soon, and Devotion can return to stores. I’ve heard nothing but praise for it – well done, Red Candle, you’re doing good.