It’s been more than two months since Devotion disappeared from Steam. The highly praised Taiwanese horror game about the horrible secrets inside a family’s apartment had become a legitimate phenomenon on places like Twitch and YouTube, but vanished after being embroiled in a political controversy involving a joke about Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We have been working our best to bring it back to Steam,” the game’s developer, Red Candle, told me in a brief statement this week. “As there is still uncertainty to the future progression, we will update further news on Red Candle's Facebook page in the future.”
Red Candle, frustratingly, refused to get into any specifics. There is no end in sight for a game that became an unexpected source of regional tension, after players discovered Devotion included a piece of artwork that basically said “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh moron.”
(Winnie the Pooh has a specific, complicated history with China and Jinping, after a meme started unflatteringly comparing the two.)
In a world of noise, where literally hundreds of new games are being published every day and nobody notices most of them, breaking through is extremely difficult. Devotion did, riding a wave similar to many horror games. But you never know how long that moment in the spotlight will last. Nonetheless, Devotion briefly had it—and despite all this, Red Candle decided it was in their best interest to pull the game, not knowing if that was their one shot.
That Facebook page being referenced has not been touched since February 25, the point at which Red Candle threw their hands up and went dark. Devotion was scrubbed from Red Candle’s YouTube hub, and the last tweet from the studio was published February 19, announcing the release of Devotion—with a link to a Steam page that no longer exists. Red Candle has essentially gone radio silent ever since then, almost like Devotion never existed.
Devotion was removed from Steam for “technical reasons,” the developers said back in February, and, likely more importantly, “to ease the heightened pressure in our community.” Red Candle seemed to feel the best way to ratchet down tensions was to simply disappear.
Lots of games have hidden jokes, references, and memes, but Devotion’s struck a specific nerve. The Verge’s Shannon Laio dutifully connected the dots on this issue earlier this year:
“Many reviews on Steam said that the real reason why the Easter egg ended up being so antagonizing was because it felt like the developers of Red Candle Games were hiding political views within a product and baiting Chinese users into buying it. Basically, the game was tricking mainlanders into supporting Taiwanese independence from China and the hidden politics ruined all the fun.
Ever since 1949, when China became communist and the Kuomintang Nationalist Party, which lost the civil war, fled to Taiwan, the question of whether Taiwan is a country or a province of China has been a subject of huge controversy. The number of countries that recognize Taiwanese sovereignty has slimmed down over the years, under pressure from Beijing. Some in Taiwan still hold views that it should remain its own country, practicing democracy.”
Memes themselves are built on a shared, often messy and complicated history of in-joke telephone, and it’s not exactly shocking to see one launch a backlash. Welcome to 2019!
The reaction at the time was swift; the game’s publishers, Indievent and Winking Skywalker, dropped the game. (Winking Skywalker did not respond to my request for comment, and I was unable to find a way to contact Indievent, who does not have a huge Internet presence.)
Maybe that has something to do with the game’s two month absence? Red Candle having to find a way to figure out its own finances, its own publishing terms? It’s unclear, and when pressed, Red Candle was unwilling to divulge what’s complicating the game’s re-emergence.
“My apologies but I am afraid it is inconvenient for us to elaborate on it,” said the company’s PR director. “Please kindly give us some time and privacy to address the recent incident before we could share further update about Devotion to our community publicly.”
Part of what made Devotion special was how it was scary enough to be a roller coaster attraction on streaming, while also telling an artful, tense story about generational trauma.
“Devotion knows that some of the scariest and most truly fucked up stuff happens at home, wrote Danielle Riendeau on the day the game came down from Steam. “It happens among family and friends and mentors, maybe even among well-meaning family and friends and mentors. It occurs both in plain sight and behind closed doors, in the inner sanctums that are supposed to be a person’s safe place from the terrors and toils of the rest of the world.”
(Pro Tip: Don’t publish a review on the same day a game disappears! Not great for traffic.)
Red Candle told me the “plan” is “the game’s content will be the same,” when it comes back. For the sake of all horror fans, hopefully that’s sometime soon, because I still haven’t played it! In the meantime, Red Candle’s first game, the also-excellent Detention, is on Steam now.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have any additional any tips about what happened to Devotion, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He's also available privately on Signal.