After a weekend of fire and fury, Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games pulled Devotion, their latest game, from Steam earlier today. The decision came after heavy review bombing and social media backlash stemming from anti-Chinese government memes and messaging within the game. Devotion, which has been a huge hit with gamers both in and out of China, is a horror game about the extremes of parental devotion. As you might imagine, three consecutive days of negative press ultimately resulted in Devotion's delisting from Steam, a move Red Candle said was due to "technical problems." The post also clearly stated that Red Candle will be checking over Devotion once again to ensure that "no unintended materials [were] inserted in." Hopefully, we'll see Devotion on sale once again before long.
The controversy surrounding Devotion stems from a likening of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh. An unusually sensitive topic in China, the lovable star of children's books is something games have struggled with in the past. Back in 2013, former President Barack Obama and President Xi partnered for a routine military inspection. The internet being what it is, Chinese users compared the pair to Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, respectively. The jokes at the expense of President Xi continued, comparing Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Winnie and Eeyore in 2014, and again in 2015, during a parade. It would take Chinese censors another two years before banning the character entirely, along with disallowing the release of the Christopher Robin movie last year.
Notably, Kingdom Hearts 3 had mentions of Pooh scrubbed from screenshots and trailers, though the censorship is best described as "adequate." Much like our original article notes however, none of the Kingdom Hearts 3 material contains references in any form to the memes or images that ignited a controversy in China. Still, in order to avoid attracting attention from government censors, websites were left to cull the offending material on their own, the results of which you can see below. Despite the official ban on Pooh, considering that PS4 games aren't region locked, it's a simple matter of importing from any number of options to see Pooh in all of his Kingdom Hearts 3 glory.
The images found in Devotion, on the other hand, were not so innocuous. The direct connections between Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh drew the ire of the vast Chinese community on Steam, as well as the Chinese government. In addition to getting review bombed on Steam, Red Candle Games also saw its Weibo (Chinese Twitter equivalent) suspended. As if that weren't enough, the relationship with Chinese publishers Winking Entertainment and Indievent and the developers were terminated too. Reportedly, the cult imagery in-game are also thinly veiled references to Chinese people and their "cult of personality" regarding their government, but such links appear to be tenuous, at best.
The poster in the image below is a "fulu" a talisman used by Daoist practitioners. While typical Fulu talismans are used to ward off evil, the talimans used in Devotion are instead used as powerful curses. Near the bottom of the Fulu is a stamped seal containing the Traditional Chinese characters for Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh. Adding insult to injury, the four characters on the corners of the talisman combine to form "you idiot," roughly translated. When the Fulu was discovered over the weekend, Red Candle was quick to remove the offending poster and put out an announcement apologizing for the content, as well as remove it from sale in China.
Red Candle was still left to put out fires all weekend, culminating in a lengthy apology and acceptance of fault on Steam. Still, geopolitics being what it is, many of the reviews accused the Taiwanese developer of propagating independence-focused ideology, an immense social taboo in China. With anything concerning Taiwan considered incredibly sensitive in China, the developer likely sought to avoid any further damage and harm Steam's image in China, as it attempts to launch an official Chinese version in the mainland. Still, it seems that not even Taiwanese game developers are immune to "fake news," however, as they are fighting "extensive implication[s] about the game content," Photoshopped screenshots purporting to be from official channels, and fake sales figures.
Hopefully, the beleaguered developer can find some respite soon. With Devotion proving to be a massive critical success both at home and abroad, hopefully, Red Candle Games is able to clean up any remaining offending imagery, so the rest of the world at large can enjoy an otherwise stellar game.