In February of last year Devotion, a Taiwanese horror game, was pulled from Steam after a controversy regarding a hidden Easter egg. Today GOG, the online PC gaming store run by CD Projekt, announced it would be selling Devotion. Then, hours later, declared it would not.
“Earlier today, it was announced that the game Devotion is coming to GOG,” Gog tweeted this morning. “After receiving many messages from gamers, we have decided not to list the game in our store.”
Devotion’s hidden piece of art that caused so much fuss last year contained what news reports at the time described as “an ancient style of writing” that read “Xi Jinping” and “Winnie the Pooh”—a meme that has been outlawed in China thanks to the particular sensitivities of its leader, President Xi Jinping. He, some say, bears an uncanny physical resemblence to the cute little bear.
Outside of China, the meme couldn’t seem more innocuous. But as has been extensively covered by the likes of John Oliver, it appears to be something the leader is particularly offended by. As a result, such references tend to bring with them a lot of anger from Xi’s supporters, as Valve learned last year when the image was first found.
After some extensive Steam review bombing, which followed in the wake of the game’s hugely popular reviews, developers Red Candle Games pulled Devotion from Steam in an effort to control the situation. Months later, it still hadn’t reappeared.
Red Candle denied that the inclusion of the art had been deliberate. Its developers said the comparison, along with another reference to Xi in a newspaper in the game, had been placeholders that had been missed when finalizing the game. “When making the prototype, the team often referred to the then known internet slang as placeholder,” they wrote at the time. “However, due to the version synchronizing problem, not all of the placeholders were deleted properly. This is purely an accident, and we have no intention for causing harm nor hatred. The art material has been taken down and replaced at the evening of February 21.”
People have often wondered what became of the game, although it has been preserved at the Harvard-Yenching Library and had a Taiwan-only physical release earlier this year. The news that what was widely considered an excellent horror inspired by the likes of P.T. would be available once more on GOG was welcome. But really didn’t last long.
GOG’s attributing the decision not to sell the game to “gamers” seems particularly strange. Clearly there is a very vocal group that is determined that the game not be sold, but it seems disingenuous to claim they would be representative of the game’s potential customers on GOG. It could be perceived that the decision might be driven more by a desire not to anger the Chinese government, but of course in doing so only engages with their practices of state censorship. We’ve contacted GOG for comment, and will update should they respond.
Responses are happening, however. Megan Fox of Glass Bottom Games has announced that as a result of GOG’s decision, her game, SkateBIRD, will no longer be for sale on GOG’s store.
It will be interesting to see if others follow. We’ve also reached out to Red Candle Games to hear their thoughts, and to find out if they have plans to release Devotion elsewhere. We’ll keep you updated.
Update - 8:15 a.m. ET, 12/17/20: Red Candle got back to us, linking us to a statement they’ve put out on Twitter. In it they state, “Though regretful but we are willing to understand and respect GOG’s decision.” The developers continue, “For the players looking forward to Devotion’s re-release, please accept our most sincere apology. This is a difficult predicament to overcome, but we won’t stop striving.”