GOG’s Refusal To Publish Devotion In The West Is Pure Cowardice
“Censorship” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in this industry.
Score a game too low? Censorship. Have a critical thought about something? Censorship. Block somebody annoying on Twitter? Censorship. It’s a word that’s been repeated so often, and by so many bad faith actors, that it’s begun to lose its meaning when it comes to gaming discourse.
But in the case of the controversial Taiwanese horror game Devotion, the term is apt. Only two days after the game’s original release, it was pulled over an in-game talisman that compared Chinese president Xi Jinping to beloved children’s character Winnie the Pooh. The talisman was a reference to a popular meme directed at the politician, which prompted a nationwide ban on any depictions of the character, and led to some hilarious coverage of Kingdom Hearts 3.
Needless to say, the reference was not taken lightly, especially as the talisman also read, “your mother is a moron.” Supporters of Xi were furious, and many review-bombed the game on Steam – even after the developers patched out the offending text. Hashtags related to the game were hidden on Weibo, and Chinese authorities eventually shut down the game’s publisher over violating “relevant” laws. Over the span of a few months, a small, ambitious horror title had made headlines for everything except the actual content of the game.
As of now, the game has yet to be re-released in any official capacity.
Now, in the West, many people (especially in the gaming community) are quick to cast racist aspersions towards China over things like this. It’s important, I think, to remember that this issue goes far, far deeper than the Chinese public, and to make broad, sweeping claims about almost any nation is pure xenophobia. Yes, this is a problem, and yes, it’s deeply unethical. But to stoke the fires of racism towards Chinese people over the actions of their government and its supporters doesn’t actually solve anything.
What does solve things, however, are Western publishers extending an olive branch to developers harmed by practices like this. Earlier this morning, it seemed like GOG was willing to do just that, with the announcement that it would be bringing Devotion to its platform. It was exciting news, and honestly, a great PR move for the company following the public drubbing of Cyberpunk 2077‘s console ports. From the look of it, GOG was sticking to its principles: to preserve games big and small on the platform, sans DRM. Finally, more people had a chance to experience the game for themselves.
Well, they would have had that chance, had GOG not been complete cowards.
“Earlier today, it was announced that the game Devotion is coming to GOG,” the company announced in a tweet. “After receiving many messages from gamers, we have decided not to list the game in our store.”
When asked for further statement, the publisher simply stated, “GOG released a statement on their social feeds this morning, and that is our only official statement we are providing on this matter at this time.”
For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to recap each and every reaction to this announcement, but it’s safe to say that it wasn’t a positive one. Critics and customers alike took gleeful dunks on the tweet, and many criticized GOG for backing down due to ambiguous pressure from “gamers.” The gaming community had a rare bipartisan moment, where people from all backgrounds came together to cry foul and call out GOG for not having any semblance of a backbone.
And, as you might have gathered from the tone of this piece so far, I’m in complete agreement.
Related: Banned Horror Game Devotion Gets Physical Release
Honestly, I’m baffled at this decision. I’m baffled that GOG would make such a monumental announcement, only to yank it down hours later. I’m baffled that the company that sells Postal 2 and Hatred on its storefront somehow thought this was too divisive. I’m baffled that GOG, owned and operated by the second-largest video game publisher in Europe, caved to angry commenters and potential pressure from a government that has literally no say in what the company can do.
I’m baffled… and furious.
I’m furious because this is the kind of cowardice that stifles art and allows real, tangible censorship to thrive. To offer your support to a developer who’s been put through the wringer over a small detail in an otherwise apolitical game, then to withdraw it when people get upset at you, is to say that you don’t value art and that you only care about keeping everybody happy. But that’s just it – nobody is ever going to be completely happy with any choice a company makes, and to try and make yourself more palatable to appease bad faith actors undermines your integrity.
Look – freedom of speech is a dicey thing, but my “hot” take is that we should probably be in favor of it. Do I like Hatred or Postal’s politics? No, not really. But also, do I think they should be banned? Absolutely not, and it’s preposterous to even suggest that. My life isn’t being made actively worse by their existence, and if I really want to say something about them, I can go online and write a big ol’ article about it that’ll make right-wing mouths froth. Hell, even if I think stuff like Cyberpunk 2077 can work towards actively marginalizing people, I would never advocate for banning it or changing it unless there was actual propaganda or hate speech there. Why? Because those developers are entitled to their worldviews, and I’m entitled to mine, and we’re both entitled to dunk on each other.
That’s the way this works. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.
Point being, I can’t see this move as anything but one of the most cowardly displays I’ve seen from a Western publisher. It would be one thing if publishing the game put the developers in harm’s way, but it’s another entirely to say, “people got mad, so we’re going to keep burying this game to capitulate to ninnies.” If you’re going to offer your support to somebody who needs it, and if you’re going to posit yourself as a safe place for risky art, you need to actually follow through with that and not screw them over by pulling a stunt like this.
As evidenced by developers already pulling their games from GOG, the publisher has done serious damage to its reputation with this move, and how they’ll respond going forward is anyone’s guess.
However, from where I stand, GOG has made me seriously doubt its integrity and commitment to valuing its clients with this cowardly, mealy-mouthed response that only serves to harm a developer who’s already been through enough.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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