How 'Devotion' Makes Your Home the Scariest Place on Earth

2019's best banned game is back

Key Takeaways

  • Devotion is a creepy first-person experience that depends on mood and atmosphere for its scares.
  • The game was controversial in China in 2019, but its actual content isn't particularly inflammatory.
  • Set in 1980s Taipei, this is an interesting view into a place and time that video games rarely ever touch.
The cover art from the game, Devotion.
Wikipedia

Devotion is an atmospheric, tense psychological thriller that's also one of the only games, if not the only game, ever effectively banned for political content.

That description makes it sound like it'd be about politics, and that's what I was expecting when I bought Devotion. What I got instead was a portrait of the slow psychological decay of a small family, as told through a series of interactive nightmares.

It turns out that the problem with Devotion amounted to a single misplaced art asset, but that was enough to get Devotion pulled from the international market for over two years.

Now, Devotion has returned on the last digital storefront that's available to it: self-publishing via developer Red Candle Games' website. For under $20, you can download a DRM-free copy of a cool indie horror game that's also, quite by accident, one of the most controversial games of the 2010s.

A Ghost Story, But You’re the Ghost

It's the late 1980s in Taipei, Taiwan. One evening, Du Feng Yu is watching TV in his apartment before dinner. He suddenly passes out, and when he wakes up, he's alone in an apartment that looks like it's been abandoned for years.

When Feng Yu tries to leave, the only working door in the exterior hallway leads him right back to his apartment. It's still empty, but now it's two years earlier, and everything is subtly wrong.

The creepy doll scene from Devotion.

Devotion is a first-person adventure game in the spirit of "walking simulators" like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch. Your first job, as Feng Yu, is to try and figure out what's going on; your second is to determine why. That involves exploration, searching for clues, and solving the occasional puzzle. There's no combat in Devotion, and I've yet to find a way to die, but every step forward comes with another plot twist.

What keeps the game moving is that it's got a very narrow focus. The further you get into Devotion, the more often you end up right back in Feng Yu's apartment, which is a little more twisted every time you visit.

While the game isn't afraid to go for the cheap thrills, like ghosts jumping out at you or creepy dolls, its biggest triumph as a horror game is how it manages to make this unexciting little nicotine-colored flat into a vortex of dread. Each time I visited Feng Yu's apartment, Devotion found a brand new way to get under my skin.

The Million-Pound Banhammer

Devotion was made by Red Candle Games, an independent studio headquartered in Taipei. Like its previous title, Detention, Red Candle specifically set Devotion in Taiwan, drawing on local religion and folklore to sketch out the story. As it turned out, that was part of the problem.

A puzzle door in the Devotion Game.

After its original launch in February 2019, Devotion quickly became popular among players and streamers in China. That lasted for about a day, until one of them noticed a poster on a wall in the game that mocked Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Red Candle Games claimed that the poster was a placeholder asset left in by mistake, but a controversy had already begun. By the time the dust settled, Red Candle Games had lost its original publisher, and censors were scrubbing all mention of Devotion from Chinese social media.

I'd heard Devotion was good, but missed the two-day window to buy it back in 2019. Now, playing it via a direct download from Red Candle Games, I'm glad I got this second chance.

On its own merits, it's a well-made horror game, set in a part of the world that rarely gets any attention from the video game industry, and doesn't rely on gratuitous gore to freak you out.

In a perfect world, Devotion would've put Red Candle Games on the map, and it would be working on its next title by now. Instead, it's a historical curiosity, and I can only hope that it does well as a self-published title.

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