The content of this article is based on events (such as Red Candle’s initial input, review bombing of the game, discussions on social media and Red Candle’s apology) having valid proof and existence on the internet. No part of this article has been doctored or created by Spiel Times in order to dramatise the narrative of the report. Every fact laid down in the report can be found on the internet (through translations, on public forums and archives) and does have a connection with the overall incident. However, we’ve included information from sources which have now been deleted. For such cases, we’ve clearly mentioned the required. Keep in mind, we’re not taking any sides in this discussion. It won’t benefit us by any means. We’re just a small team of aspiring journalists based in India, trying to do objective video games journalism, nothing more. This article narrates the Taiwanese perspective, the Chinese perspective and the Neutral Ground on the overall incident. We’d like to acknowledge the numerous gamers from Taiwan and China who helped us understand the overall scenario, gave us valuable feedback and corrected us where we were wrong.
SIDE NOTE: Since we want to provide a balanced narrative, we’re still taking in feedback. If you’re willing to provide some inputs, feel free to mail us on [email protected]
PART I Red Candle Games
Growing up playing video games and getting influenced by them, Taiwanese game developer Coffee Yao (姚舜庭) always had a desire to narrate stories that resemble the Taiwanese culture.1 In 2013,2 he penned down his first game Detention (返校), an atmospheric horror set in the 1960s Taiwan of the White Terror period. Teaming up with Light Wang (王光昊), Doy Chiang (江東昱), Henry Wang (王瀚宇), Finger Chen (陳敬恆) and Vincent Yang (楊適維), Yao incorporated Red Candle Games as an independent game development studio on September 10, 2015.3 Soon after, the team developed Detention and ultimately released it on Steam on January 13, 2017.4
On July 2, 2018, Red Candle Games released a one-minute long teaser5 for Devotion, which saw a positive reception. The teaser had 239,708 views (as captured on January 5, 2019), however, it has since been deleted.
PART II Detention
2017 Indiecade Journey Award Winner, Detention, depicted one of Taiwan’s most sensitive periods – The White Terror.6 It occurred following the February 28 massacre,7 an anti-government uprising in Taiwan that was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led (KMT) Republic of China government, in which, thousands of civilians lost their lives. Detention, in a fictional way, showed how accessing restricted information during the White Terror period was illegal and that it could result in severe consequences.
The game was very well received by both the critics and the players, especially the Chinese gaming community. Gamers of China appreciated Red Candle Games for their excellent work and formed an immediate bond with the studio. Western audience and the Taiwanese gaming community equally acknowledged the game for what it offered.8
However, as reported by a number of sources, mainland Chinese gamers appreciated Red Candle Games for Detention and some claimed it to be a “Chinese game” with pride.
PART III Devotion
When Red Candle Games first teased Devotion in July 2018,9 the studio’s dedicated fanbase received the game with extreme positivity. On January 14, 2019,10 they announced a release date for Devotion – February 19, 2019.
Two days past its release, Devotion made its way to #1 position of Steam’s Top Selling chart,11 with over thousands of positive reviews, making the overall rating Overwhelmingly Positive. Reportedly, a heavy chunk of the Steam reviews was from gamers in China. The Chinese gaming community applauded the game on social media, internet personalities started streaming it, the game was trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo, gamers were adding positive reviews and recommending the game extensively.
Devotion also became Twitch’s 4th hottest game in just a span of two days.12
PART IV The Findings
IV-A The Fulu Talisman
Fulu talismans13 have been a part of the Chinese culture since the ancient days. These talismans can be used for various different purposes – summoning or instructing deities, spirits, or as tools of exorcism and as medicinal potions for ailments. In Devotion, the controversial Fulu talisman is not serving a cursing purpose. It’s being used to ward against the evils as the protagonist is worried his daughter might be under “supernatural influence”. The fulu to the right contains “To exorcise evil, ward against the spirit” (驅邪神煞).
IV-B Your Mother Is Idiot
In this context, 呢 on the top right corner, can be homophonic with 你, meaning “you/your”, 嘛 on the bottom right corner, can be homophonic with 媽, meaning “mother”, 叭 on the top left corner, can be homophonic with 八, meaning “eight”, and 唭 on the bottom left corner, can be homophonic with 七, meaning “seven”. In their initial forms, the letters make no sense. However, when spoken out loud, they form the sentence – “Your Mother is 87”. However, because of the homophonic nature of 87, when pronounced, it sounds like “idiot” in Chinese. 87 is also a Chinese Internet slang,14which represents “bitchy” in English and “idiocracy/idiot” in Mandarin. Ultimately, the letters make “Your Mother Is Idiot.”
Reportedly, this sentence doesn’t appear only in this particular fulu talisman. Many players have found the writing on multiple talismans throughout the game, including the fulu to the right. Since it has been used in multiple assets, it’s possible there’s no direct connection between the seal and the writing.
IV-C Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh
The red seal in the centre of the fulu talisman says Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh (習近平小熊維尼). According to Red Candle Games,15 the seal was a temporary placeholder they used during the game’s development process, which, “wasn’t removed properly” due to a said “version synchronisation problem”.
In the evening of 21st February, Red Candle Games replaced the aforementioned red seal with a different one. Have a look –
IV-D The Newspaper Clipping
The vertical characters in bold in the extreme right is the name of the fictional newspaper. The main headline in the top-centre is basically a promotion for the game’s singing competition. It roughly translates to, “Come to compete at our stage and you’ll be shining your entire life.” The headline in the bottom-left corner roughly translates to “Red Candle Garden”, a reference to Red Candle Games.
The image on the top-left corner. It’s an image of Devotion’s producer Doy Chiang (江東昱). Here’s the visual explanation –
The image below Doy’s is a screenshot from Red Candle Games’ first game Detention. The images in the centre and on the bottom-right corner are actually photographs of Red Candle Games’ team members. The first circle says “Baozi has been sentenced a death penalty of more than three years.” Boazi is actually the nickname of one of Red Candle Games’ programmers Henry Wang (王瀚宇). The second circle says “Baozi gets arrested for attacking primary school students.” The second headline was actually indented for fun as it is a reference to Henry’s personal Lolita Complex.
IV-E-1 Lu Gongming
The controversial personality Lu Gongming is the cult leader from Devotion’s pre-launch ARG event.16 There’s no reference to him in the main game at all. “Lu” (陸) itself means “land”, however, it’s also a common surname. Gongming (恭銘) sounds like “citizen” (公民), but in Taiwanese-Hoklo it can also be pronounced as “light” (光明). After the outbreak, however, the Chinese gamers interpreted the name to reflect as “the citizens of the mainland”.
IV-E-2 7 Days
7 days is an ancient Chinese belief that the spirit of the passed-away will come back for a brief moment to reunite with their family so that the family can say goodbye to the deceased for a final time before they go into the beyond.
49 wasn’t supposed to be interpreted as “forty-nine”. There are just a bunch of “4” and “9” candles in the birthday scene from the game. And there are three 4s and three 9s respectively. A more plausible reason is that 4 in Chinese sounds like 死 (death), and 9 in Chinese folklore and customs also can be seen as an unlucky number. In I Ching,17 one of the oldest Chinese classics, 9 is a number of “turn of fate” (because then you need to wrap the number around back to 1), so it’s a kind of numerology. And also there’s a superstition which you are more likely to die when your age ends in 9s.
IV-E-4 October 7, 1987
The protagonist starts the game exactly on October 7, 1987, on his couch. And that day coincides with Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn). Coincidentally, there was a Lunar eclipse18 on that day, which was considered a bad omen as there was a lunar eclipse during a festival in which, people were to celebrate a full moon. DEVOTION SPOILER: In the game, October 7, 1987, is also the date when the protagonist discovers which daughter dies.
PART V Taiwan And China – The Political Tension
Taiwan is an island off the southeastern coast of China and its sovereignty has been a controversial topic since Kuomintang (KMT) retreated to the island in 1949. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) views it as a province, which, the Taiwanese political voices don’t agree with. The PRC asserts that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of it. The “One China” principle is a major issue and also a major contributor to the entire Devotion debacle. Although its essence isn’t known to a fair amount of the world, the political tension between the nations is severe and extremely sensitive.19
TAIWAN. The game was already a heated topic of discussion by 20 February 2019. Taiwanese gamers were appreciating the game, internet personalities were streaming the game and video games discussion forums were filled with Devotion material. This is when people started to notice the Fulu talisman.
CHINA. Just like in Taiwan, gamers in China received the game with positivity and a majority of the Steam reviews were from the Chinese gaming community. No possible findings so far.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The seal in its in-game form isn’t distinguishable. The game was possibly reverse engineered to find the source material, which then, made its way to the Internet.
CHINA. Since the 21st, Chinese gamers started discussing occurrences such as Baozi’s death sentence. People considered all of these as mere coincidences and nothing important.
TAIWAN. In the afternoon of 21 February, the red seal started circulating across Taiwanese gaming forums. Most of the initial threads have since been deleted. In Taiwan, gamers took the seal as a mere joke and started creating memes, and t-shirt designs, making the issue a funny incident.
RED CANDLE GAMES. In the evening of 21 February, Red Candle removed the seal while still keeping the fulu talisman in the game.
CHINA. On 22nd February, images of the red seal started circulating on the Chinese forums and it was then when players started becoming aware of the entire issue. The circulations became widespread between the midnight of 22nd and 23rd February. After the discovery of the seal, Chinese gamers reconsidered the events and upon further investigations, found out about the “Lu Gongming” part and similar. This is when the issue became wide-spread.
TAIWAN. There were no significant progressions happening related to the event.
CHINA. On 23rd, the review-bombing started. Gamers in China started showing their disappointment towards Devotion and Red Candle Games in general, by dropping negative reviews on Steam.21 Streamers and internet personalities started discussing the topic and showing their disapproval. As a general idea, the entire gaming community knew what lies ahead.
23rd February was also the day when Chinese gamers started creating connections of politics, Red Candle’s alleged political agendas and the game’s alleged “mocking” nature towards the country and its people. Since players were able to connect multiple threads with their own interpretations, the situation was moulded in a way that Red Candle Games wanted to politically attack the Chinese president and its people.
Gamers in China weren’t particularly happy. The concern here was that Chinese gamers supported Red Candle Games, both Detention and Devotion, however, Red Candles “backstabbed” and “betrayed” their loyalty.
Devotion was soon delisted from the Chinese Steam store, censored in Weibo and most of the discussions related to “Steam”, “Devotion” and “Red Candle Games” were removed from gaming forums entirely.
Not only Devotion, but Detention faced the backlash as well. The game, which initially boasted an Overwhelmingly Positive overall rating was soon bombarded with Mostly Negative reviews. The conversion happened on a massive scale.
TAIWAN. More and more people from Taiwan started to notice the increasing magnitude of the incident. After the Taiwanese public heard about the game getting delisted, they assumed hostility at first sight. Because of the outbreak, many Taiwanese gamers started to mock Chinese gamers even more.
Soon after, the situation grew out from just a gaming issue to a more political one. The general public who had no prior idea about the studio or the situation started joining in the conversation and voicing their individual opinions. A lot of the mainstream Taiwanese media and internet personalities started reacting to the events and criticising the Chinese public. This wasn’t a gaming issue anymore.
Following the backlash, Red Candle Games stopped their communications temporarily and rather maintained a low profile. The two publishers – Indievent and Winking Skywalker were removed from the game’s steam page and were replaced with Red Candle Games. For the context, both the aforementioned publishers are based in China.
GLOBALLY. On 23rd February, we broke out the story that attracted a lot of Western mainstream media, including Eurogamer,22 PC Gamer,23 and Comic Book24. The incident soon went viral. Red Candle Games initially announced their apologies in Chinese. Interestingly, however, after they noticed the situation being covered worldwide, they added English translations to their announcements as well.252627
The Chinese Perspective
On The Fulu Talisman & Your Mother Is Idiot
Before the outbreak, it wasn’t really paid attention to. After the discovery of the red seal, people deconstructed the image, possibly through reverse engineering, and connected “Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh” with “Your Mother is Idiot”, creating a meaning that Red Candle is not only creating similarities of their President with Winnie-the-Pooh but also referring his mother as an idiot.
On Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh
Gamers who were supportive of Devotion and Red Candle Games were hurt and felt backstabbed. They showed their disappointment by review bombing the game on Steam and abusing it on gaming forums and social media. Streamers and internet personalities voiced their disregards as well. The general public that discovered the red seal contining “Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh” through social media and chained-sources started blaming and ill-treating Red Candle Games for involving unnecessary politics in the game.
On The Newspaper Clipping
As the newspaper clipping was scrutinised, players immediately connected Devotion producer Doy Chiang’s photograph on the top-left corner to the incident and misinterpreted it to be a photograph of Xi Jinping. To back the claim, a photoshopped image started to circulate on Chinese social media. Have a look –
The headlines claiming Baozi receiving a death penalty and attacking primary school students coincided and a relation of the same was made with President Xi Jinping.
Gamers in China made a connection of Lu Gongming from the ARG game and interpreted that Red Candle Games, very smartly, is cursing the citizens of China. Additionally, they made connections with the Chinese Independence Day, i.e., October 1, with the cult events in the game.
The Overall Perspective
Since the outbreak, a fair amount of resources, links and discussion threads related to Devotion and the issue have been either deleted/censored or entirely pulled off in China.
In China, these issues turned out to be majorly disturbing. Gamers showed their outrage by review-bombing Devotion on Steam. The heavy chunk of positive reviews that pushed Devotion to an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating, were now all in the reds. Comments related to backstabbing, the involvement of politics in Devotion, Red Candle’s “intentional doing” and similar started to fill up the entire Devotion’s Steam reviews section.
The issue also caused a severe uproar in social media platforms, including the popular Weibo. The situation took an even worse turn when streamers started pulling out their streams, internet personalities started commenting on the issue and the chain-reaction started exploding.
It became an issue related to nationalism. From the Chinese perspective, Red Candle Games not only insulted their President but also thrashed the general population of the nation. Whether or not the Chinese population was over-interpreting the links in the game, the red seal itself was enough of an evidence to provoke them in the first place.
From a different angle, many have claimed gamers were hurt even more when their loyalty was rewarded with backstabbing. On a Taiwanese forum, a Chinese participant wrote that everyone in China was very supportive of Devotion until the 23rd. Allegedly, some Chinese piracy circles were discussing to pirate the game, which, the gamers didn’t support. They criticised the piracy groups and wanted to support the game through legitimate purchases. However, when the gamers found out about the red seal, they felt Red Candle Games cheated and backstabbed them, even when their support was beyond any measure.
Another serious issue is the grey gaming market in China. And Steam is a part of it. Although you can purchase and play almost every game on Steam, you can’t access the Steam Community which includes profiles, friends, groups, broadcasts, discussions, achievements and similar. A separate Steam “China” version was in the process of being set up and it wasn’t clearly decided whether or not Steam’s global version will be banned. Following the controversy, there’s a strong possibility that Steam’s global version might be banned entirely in mainland China. This acted as one of the main reasons for the inflammation from the Chinese gaming community as well.
The Taiwanese Perspective
On The Fulu Talisman
Before the spread of the issue, the fulu talisman was considered as a funny easter egg, nothing more. After the discovery of the seal, a majority of the Taiwanese gaming community mocked the gamers in China and acknowledged the connection of Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh and Your Mother is Idiot, while some clarified the art material.
On Your Mother Is Idiot
A mere joke, both before and after the discovery of the seal. However, the number of gamers making fun of it increased.
On Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh
While some stood by Red Candle’s side and acknowledged the studio’s mistake, many claimed it was the right thing to do and that Red Candle did a great job sneaking in the symbol to humiliate the Chinese community.
On The Newspaper Clipping
No such perspective. It was only after the Chinese gamers that the Taiwanese gamers observed the paper clipping. Chinese gamers, most of them being unaware of the team members at Red Candle Games, claimed that the image on the top-left corner was a doctored image of President Xi Jinping. The headlines talking about Baozi’s relation with illegal tasks was also taken as an offence, as Xi Jinping is also referred to as Baozi. The Taiwanese gamers clarified the meanings, made it clear that the image was of Devotion’s producer Doy Chiang (江東昱) and declined any connection with Xi Jinping.
No such perspective. The Taiwanese gamers claimed that the connections and interpretations made by the Chinese gamers were false and that they were totally coincidental.
The Overall Perspective
Past the outcry, gamers in Taiwan took the situation with witticism. It wasn’t a problem for Taiwanese gamers. Some did show their concerns regarding Red Candle Games and the backlash they might face, but the majority was still participating to mock the Chinese public.
Many Taiwanese gamers mocked the gamers in China, claiming that Red Candle Games have done a great job with the hidden messages and provoked the Chinese gaming community through multiple forum posts. And the situation worsened after the mainstream media’s outbreak on the issue.
Internet celebrities and mainstream media joined in the conversation, not because they were concerned about Red Candle Games or Devotion, but because of the existing political tension between the two nations. The entire debacle served as an opportunity for the general public of Taiwan to voice their opinions against China.
The general public that wasn’t even familiar with the initial incident started questioning the freedom of the press in China, the censorship status and similar, destabilising the already-worse political situation.
The media outlets28 that covered the issue were narrating the events in a stretched, funny and ridiculous way. Netizens started circulating memes, t-shirt designs with the red seal and creating a joke out of the entire situation.
The Neutral Ground
Despite the majority and their reactions towards the issue, I came through many individuals who were rather disappointed and sad from how the situation turned out to be. Not everyone was playing the blame game, but instead, reaching out to me with solutions, proper explanations and laid-down facts to help create a fair and objective report.
This group of people from both sides actually agrees that the entire situation was somewhat misinterpreted and stretched. Individuals from Taiwan helped me understand how, due to homophonics and obfuscations, the situation worsened, and individuals from China helped me find shreds of evidence and the missing pieces of the puzzles, and both the sides together helped me understand the political tension between the nations, the existing uproar about nationalism and why the issue turned out to be such a massive one.
Devotion Pulled Out Of Steam
On 25th February, Red Candle Games pulled out Devotion from Steam temporarily. “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”, the team wrote. “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.”
Regarding the current state of Devotion, Red Candle Games announced –
1. Red Candle Games herein confirm the following information spreading on the Internet is incorrect.
(1) The highly-estimated sales number of Devotion
(2) Extensive implication about the game content
(3) Photoshopped statement screenshot made by the forged official account
For the official information, Red Candle Games’ Facebook account and the Steam page are the only reliable sources. We kindly remind you not to be misled by other incorrect information.
(At the moment, Red Candle Games’ official Weibo account has been shut down. But we will keep contacting Weibo officials in hope to provide an official channel with correct information to all the player.)
2. The theme of Devotion is about how cult does harm to people, leading to the tragedy caused by pure parental love. 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.
3. As a game company, Red Candle Games’ only goal is to provide an impressive and good playing experience to all. However, we failed our players’ anticipation and offended many others due to the said mistake. For that, we feel awfully sorry and devastated. Again, we would like to reaffirm that the severe art material mistake is made by Red Candle Games. It has nothing to do with any of our partners. Red Candle Games take full responsibility and bear all the condemns. We sincerely hope that this end with Red Candle, and that please do not take it out on all the innocent partners.
4. 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.
5. At the moment we are in the process of business mediation. We kindly ask for everyone to remain calm and give Red Candle some time to address the incident. This will be the greatest support for us. Thank you.
Red Candle Games made the initial mistake, no doubt. Had they not included the red seal, none of these would have occurred. And for what we know, they’ve apologised for their mistake. However, whether or not they intended political meanings and connections through their game remains unanswered.
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- UPDATE: “Xi Jinping Winnie the Pooh Moron” Found In Devotion; Game Is Being Review Bombed By Chinese Players, Spiel Times
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