Nothing is braver than the modern gamer, and few things are as dear to their heart as censorship. Tifa's bust size doesn't look as big in the Final Fantasy VII remake? Politically correct madness! A game about World War 2 has women in it? Stop re-writing history scream the massed ranks, while hurriedly checking Wikipedia. We don't need no thought control!
Back in February Kotaku UK reported on a game called Devotion disappearing from Steam, following the discovery of a piece of in-game art that mocked Chinese president Xi Jinping. We checked back in May, and the game had not reappeared.
The Chinese Communist Party, world-famous for its sense of humour, has now decided that merely disappearing this game was not enough. Now it has revoked the business license of one of the game's publishers, Indievent, as first flagged on twitter by Iain Garner.
The Chinese publishers of Devotion (the horror game that had anti-Xi artwork in it) have had their business license revoked. pic.twitter.com/LIAJFOmdTF
— Iain Garner - Buy Our Games (@memnoch87) July 1, 2019
Garner's the co-founder of Another Indie, a publisher that focuses on Asia and Europe (there's no connection to Indievent). Without a business license, you cannot legally operate in China. So that's that for Indievent, though of course the authorities' focus is much more on the message this sends to game publishers worldwide.
Devotion was developed by a Taiwanese studio. This isn't quite the place to go in-depth on the question of Taiwanese independence (here's a BBC primer), but to summarise: Taiwan is independent, China thinks it's part of China, and the two countries have a mutual antipathy (not least because Taiwan is democratic). So in that respect, it's little surprise that a Taiwanese-developed game which insulted the great leader should attract the wrong kind of attention.
One of the interesting aspects of this story, however, is that the negative reaction was as much from Chinese people as their authoritarian government. Devotion's great offence was an in-game scroll that aligned Xi Jinping with Winnie the Pooh and said 'moron'. In this context, Winnie the Pooh is no mere children's character. The bear has frequently been used in memes mocking Jinping, to the point that last year’s Christopher Robin film was banned in China. Some players extrapolated from this that Devotion was an allegory mocking China as a whole, leading to the game being review-bombed by Chinese users on Steam.
What can one say: living under authoritarian rule is a powerful drug.
So that's that: Indievent can no longer operate in China, and every game developer and publisher around the world will take notice of that. This is how real censorship works. It's not even about Devotion, when you get down to it. The point is that everyone else sees this 'punishment', and takes notice, and self-censors future content along similar lines. Is any big publisher going to release a game that contains even the mildest criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, having seen this, and risk cutting off the Chinese market? You know the answer to that, and so does Xi Jinping.