Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh

A new horror game that released just six days on Steam, Devotion, has been pulled from the distribution platform. The game was pulled without warning but it wasn't done by Valve. It was pulled by the game's developer, the Taiwan based studio Red Candle Games.

Though the game is only temporarily removed (more on that later), it was done following a rather hellish few days for the studio. The game has been relentlessly review bombed by a number of irate Chinese citizens and, quite probably, a number of Chinese based propaganda groups such as the 50 Cent Party.

The reason? The game had apparently shipped with a Easter egg that references the joke about how the president of China, Xi Jinping, resembles Winnie the Pooh. This all seems to have started back in 2013 when Xi was walking alongside US President Barack Obama during a trip to the States. See the example at the top of the post for one of the original images that kicked off this "meme." Apparently, Xi really, really hates that joke. So much so that Xi has essentially banned Winnie the Pooh from the country. China, already notorious for their heavy handed censorship, has continuously worked to remove any and all references to the lovable bear.

China also really, really hates Taiwan. To make a long story short: China wants Taiwan to fall in line and Taiwan is all like, "screw you!" For a less idiotic explanation, feel free to read up on the controversies surrounding the "One-China Policy." So when you have a developer from Taiwan making fun of the leader of an authoritarian government run by a stick in the mud that can't take a joke, you're in for a real bad time. There is also the very real possibility that those in China are upset over parts of the story in Devotion. Some specific story beats focus on cult mentality and draw a couple of dotted lines to Chinese politics. However, these connections don't seem to be the spark that ignited the flame but they could be a catalyst for continued ire.

As a result, Devotion was heavily review bombed on Steam. Red Candle's other game, Detention, was also heavily review bombed. It's unclear how many of the reviews come from Chinese citizens that bend the knee to a politician like Xi and which reviews come from troll farms. In the initial round of review bombing, the game received over 8,000 negative reviews. This is in addition to the initial 4,000 or so reviews that were nearly all positive for the game. At last look, the game had gone from a rightfully deserved positive review score on Steam to a "mixed" score.

In all this time, the team at Red Candle Games have removed the offending meme from the game. They claim that it was inadvertently left in and was never meant to be released to the public like that. They say that they tend to enjoy memes, even including Dick Butt as a small piece of graffiti in Detention. As mentioned, Detention has also been review bombed but to a much lesser degree. Though recent reviews are "Mostly Negative," the overall reviews continue to sit at "Mostly Positive."

Right now, Devotion is no longer available for purchase on Steam. Red Candle Games decided to pull the game saying that they want to put the game through "another complete QA check."

Due to technical issues that cause unexpected crashes and among other reasons, we are pulling <Devotion> off from steam store to have another complete QA check. At the same time we'd like to take this opportunity to ease the heightened pressure in our community resulted from our previous Art Material Incident, our team would also review our game material once again making sure no other unintended materials was inserted in. Hopefully this would help all audience to focus on the game itself again upon its return.
This latest statement followed an earlier statement released by the company.

For the earlier sensitive art material incident, the whole team of Red Candle Games bears the responsibility of this awfully 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. Even if the sensitive art element was wrongfully placed before, we kindly ask you not to over interpret other game material.

It is our genuine hope that everyone can remain calm and shift the focus back to the game’s core message, which can be obtained through playing experience of Devotion. After all, it is a mistake to insert the unrelatable material to the game content. Not only does it destroy how people experience the game, but also affect many more people. It is our regret to say that this is not Red Candle Games’ original aim for game development.
Since the news initially broke about the meme being in the game, Red Candle Games has lost their Weibo account (Chinese social network), it has lost its partnership with its publishers Indievent and Winking Entertainment, trailers for the game have been pulled from YouTube, and the team has been hit by all sorts of threats from those in China. Red Candle Games may now also have to compensate their former publishers and former partners as a result of them being pulled into the middle of this.

I would like to add that Devotion is a fantastic horror title and one that I feel all horror fans should check out. I would say it's on par with games like Layers of Fear and SOMA. Hopefully this "complete QA check" is a brief one, as it would be nice to see it return to Steam. Naturally, the game was already pulled from Steam in China prior to the studio pulling it from the rest of the world. I probably wouldn't expect to see it return to Steam China at any point in the future.

Given the content of this article and the header image I chose to use, I also wouldn't expect to be able to read this website in China anymore either. Oh, bother.