Detention (video game)

A scene from the game Detention. A girl in school uniform is in the foreground of a dark sinister gym. On the stage there is a male teacher and a seated girl also in school uniform. On the left of image there are 2 lines of Japanese text. The Japanese language was widely used, as Taiwan was a colony of Japan for 50 years before it was defeated in WWII. On the wall of the gym is a portrait of Sun Yet-sen, the founder of Chinese Nationalist Pary (KMT).
A scene from the game Detention. On the left of image, there are 2 lines of Japanese text. The Japanese language was widely used, as Taiwan was a colony of Japan for 50 years before it was defeated in WWII. On the wall of the gym, there is a portrait of Sun Yet-sen, the founder of Chinese Nationalist Pary (KMT).

Detention (Chinese: 返校; lit.: ‘Returning to School’) is a horror adventure video game created and developed by Taiwanese game developer Red Candle Games for Steam. It is a 2D atmospheric horror side-scroller set in 1960s Taiwan under martial law. The game also incorporates religious elements based on Taiwanese culture and mythology. A live action film adaptation distributed by Warner Bros. Taiwan was released on 20 September 2019.

The game references Taiwan’s White Terror period, when martial law was enforced on the citizens. The White Terror era refers to the suppression of political dissidents following the 228 Incident, an uprising that began on Feb. 27, 1947, which was brutally suppressed by the then-Chinese Nationalist Pary (KMT) regime. The government subsequently imposed martial law, which was lifted on July 15, 1987.

Another scene from the game. The point of view of the audience is from a window of a classroom. The grill of the window resembles the grill of a prison cell. The light is warm, soft and diffused. 7 male students, heads down, carrying school bags queue up behind some desks. The student at the head of the queue opens his bag for inspection by a police officer.
A scene from the game.

The background of the story centers on the love affair between a student and a teacher in 1960s Taiwan. The teacher helped smuggle banned books for a secret book club in the school, and when the love affair turned sour, the student reported the book club to the authorities. Consequently, the students and teachers who were involved in the club were sentenced to death or 15 years in prison.

Such persecution was very common during the White Terror period. The punishment was actually much more brutal in reality.

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Part 2: Animal Crossing (Stop playing politics or face a ban)

A scene in Animal Crossing. A black-clad protester with black gas mask stands in the middle of a park with trees in the background and on the left. There is also a bonfire on left. Behind the protester, there are 6 paintings on easels, 2 paintings are with slogans in Chinese character, 1 painting is with an open palm and 1 painting with a finger pointing up. These 2 hand gestures represent the slogan 'Five demands, not one less (fewer)'. On the grass, there are 3 banners with different slogans, images of the protests and key dates in the movement, such as July 21 and August 31, when protesters and passengers in the tube were brutally and indiscriminately attacked by gang of thugs and police.
Image posted by activist Joshua Wong, via Twitter. This is a scene from Animal Crossing. Behind the protester, there are 2 paintings with Chinese slogans. There are also paintings of hand gestures that represent the slogan ‘Five demands, not one less (fewer)’. On the grass, there are 3 banners with different slogans, images of the protests and key dates in the movement, such as July 21 and August 31, when protesters and passengers in the tube were brutally and indiscriminately attacked by gang of thugs and police.

https://hongkongfp.com/2020/11/21/stop-playing-politics-or-face-a-wan-nintendo-warns-animal-crossing-gamers/


• Nintendo told businesses and organisations to “refrain from bringing politics into the game,” and said those who breached the guidelines could be banned.

• US President-elect Joe Biden is also among those who hope to capitalise on the game’s popularity. Biden’s campaign launched its own virtual island last month, allowing players to “volunteer” at the island’s campaign headquarters and visit polling stations. Under the new guidelines, the island is likely to be banned.

• “It is a shame that Nintendo overlooked the significance of this game.”, said Joshua Wong.

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The Gaming Industry: Blizaard

Screenshot of Hearthstone Grandmasters streaming event in Taiwan with Hong Kong player Blizchung. It's a split screen with the Taiwan player on the left and Blizchung on the right. This is the moment when he took off his mask to say "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times".
Screenshot of Hearthstone Grandmasters streaming event in Taiwan with Hong Kong player Blizchung

On October 6, 2019, during the Hearthstone Grandmasters streaming event in Taiwan, Ng Wai Chung, a professional Hearthstone player and resident of Hong Kong known as “Blitzchung”, was being interviewed following his match, during which he donned a mask similar to those worn by protesters in the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests and said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times”. The stream was cut off shortly after. The following day, on October 7, Blizzard announced that Blitzchung had been banned from the current tournament, would forfeit any prize money (approximately US$4,000 by that point), and would be banned from other Grandmaster tournaments for one year.

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Hong Kong protesters borrow tactics from battle royale game

First-aid kits that looks like zip-lock bags with pink disinfectant solution, saline and bandages, were left along the roadside next to some plants. They were arranged in a straight line around 1 metre apart.
First-aid kits were left along the roadside for protesters to pick up. Each pack contains saline, bandages and other essential supplies.
A scene in the battle royale game Pubg with nine mobile first aid kits scattered on the ground. There a carpet with the gamer's avatar helping another, a first aid kit that is opened to show the content such as scissors and bandages.
A scene in the battle royale game Pubg with mobile first aid kits scattered on the ground.

Hong Kong protesters borrowed tactics from online multi-player games such as PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (Pubg). They would leave supplies such as helmets, masks, umbrellas, water and first aid kits along the roadside for others to pick up.

In the beginning of the movement (June 2019), there were supplies stations at protest sites. Protesters communicated with each other using hand signs, so that supplies could be passed down a human chain to frontliners. But later police began to crack down on these supplies stations. As many protesters are from a generation that grew up with gaming, they very naturally had a tacit understanding with each other that led them to take up different positions during confrontations with the police. Supplies such as helmets, umbrellas, water and first-aid kits were left along the road side for frontliners to pick up as in Pubg.

In October 2019, a Japanese writer/journalist Minetoshi Yasuda for Bungeishunjū came to Hong Kong to research about the protest. After conducting a series of interviews with frontliners, he concluded that protesters were familiar with military tactics because many of them were players of survival games and fans of Japanese manga and anime. He called the protest movement ‘Otaku War’.

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Recreating Hong Kong protest experience in VR game

A night scene in a home-made VR game by Hong Kong activists. Protesters stand behind a barricade as police deploy tear gas. The barricade is made with metal barriers dismantled from the sidewalk. The protesters with yellow helmets and gas masks stand in the foreground  with their backs facing the audience. The barricade is in the mid-ground. The cityscape of Hong Kong with neon signs and high rises are the backdrops of this scene.
A scene in a home-made VR game by Hong Kong activists.

In October 2019, a group of Hong Kong activists have developed a homemade computer game that uses virtual reality to recreate what it is like to take part in pro-democracy protests sweeping the financial hub. Put together in less than a week, “Liberate Hong Kong” allows gamers to don a VR headset and dodge tear gas and rubber bullets during a nighttime clash in the district of Mongkok, a regular scene of battles between police and protesters in the real world.

The developers said they decided to create the game after local eSports player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung was punished by Blizzard Entertainment for shouting a pro-democracy slogan during a live-streamed interview following a competition win.

https://hongkongfp.com/2019/11/13/hong-kong-protests-re-imagined-homemade-virtual-video-game/

Audio description of the visual of the above video

On the other hand, there is a protest game in China called ‘Everyone Hit the Traitor’. The web game lets players beat protesters and pro-democracy activists.

Some view the gaming world as a utopian medium to explore and express their social, ethical and political values, but like any technology, gaming is not deterministic, it is not either good or bad. Video games become a platform where the feature of social movement — Movement-countermovement interaction manifests itself. The pro-democracy camp uses video games to express their political views while the pro-establishment camp borrow the same strategy to counter these views. Such interaction is in fact very common in the real world.

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Digital Library of Banned Books in Minecraft

This video is a fly-through of the virtual library in Minecraft. With interviews of banned writers and journalists from Russia, Vietnam and Saudi.
An image from The Uncensored Library project. This is a view of the front entrance of the virtual library in Minecraft. A virtual sculpture of a raised fist holding a dip pen in a garden with trees and grass is in the foreground. The library itself is slightly of focus in the background in order to emphasize the sculpture. The library is built using a neoclassical architectural style with big columns and a domed rooftop. It is intended to resemble well-established institutions such as the New York Public Library, as well as stylistically allude to the authoritarian structures the project aims to subvert.
An image from The Uncensored Library project. The library is intended to resemble well-established institutions such as the New York Public Library, as well as stylistically allude to the authoritarian structures the project aims to subvert.
https://uncensoredlibrary.com/en
  • Media freedom activists have built a 125 million block library in a Minecraft map called the “Uncensored Library” which contains a collection of banned publications and is available to read for users within oppressive regimes that otherwise censor such information.
  • The publications are available in English and the original language. The texts within the library are contained in in-game book items, which can be opened and placed on stands to be read by multiple players at once. These articles generally discuss censorship, unjust punishment, and other critiques of the writer’s government.
  • The Uncensored Library works because though many of the works currently within the library are censored, the Minecraft software is not currently censored in any country.
  • The Chinese government may try to lean on Microsoft to remove the map from within the game. Worst yet, the Chinese government may leave the map up and instead use their powers to log information on who accesses the Uncensored Library within Minecraft and China and forward that information to their internet police.

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Part 1: Protests in Animal Crossing

A scene from Animal Crossing. A masked female protester stands in front of a banner with the slogan 'Liberate Hong Kong, Revolutions of our times'. The protester has an eye patch that references the first-aider who was shot in the eye by police during a protest in August 2019. The colourful post-its on her clothes reference Hong Kong's Lennon Wall.
A scene from Animal Crossing. A masked female protester stands in front of a banner with the slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolutions of our times’. The protester has an eye patch that references the first-aider who was shot in the eye by police during a protest in August 2019. The colourful post-its on her clothes reference Hong Kong’s Lennon Wall.
Burning torches and a protest banner, that reads 'Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now', on a beach in Animal Crossing. Gamers are free to whack the portrait of Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong on the beach. There are 5 characters in the background cheering for another character who is destroying a portrait of Lam. On the left, here is also a small painting on an easel with the image of a piggy (one of the mascots of Hong Kong protest).
Burning torches and a protest banner on a beach in Animal Crossing. Gamers are free to whack the portrait of Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong on the beach.

Gaming activism is not new. It started as early as 2004 when video games broke into the world of politics, advocacy, and activism. In April 2020, Hong Kong protesters began to shift their protest actions to the virtual world of Animal Crossing because of the restriction of public gatherings in the name of health security. The game was used by Hong Kong activists to spread pro-democracy messages, and consequently it was removed from sale on websites in China.

In July/August, protesters in the US also started to voice out in Animal Crossing and other video games such as World of Warcraft, Splatoon, ToonTown, Grand Theft Auto, and NBA 2K20. In The Sims, a BLM rally hosted by Ebonix (as her avatar is known) was attended by at least 200 players. (from The Guardian)

A screenshot from a Black Lives Matter Animal Crossing rally with 2 black-clad protesters wearing BLM caps and t-shirts.
A screenshot from a Black Lives Matter Animal Crossing rally. https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/aug/07/black-lives-matter-meets-animal-crossing-how-protesters-take-their-activism-into-video-games
A scene from Animal Crossing where protestors sit and chant for Black Lives Matter. 7 characters are sitting in a backyard with a sign at the entrance that says Black Lives Matter. Photos of George Floyd and other victims are one the ground with small bouquets of flowers. There are 2 speech bubbles, one says 'BLM!', the other 'No justice, no peace!'.
A scene from Animal Crossing where protestors sit and chant for Black Lives Matter. With photos of George Floyd and other victims. https://www.businessinsider.com/animal-crossing-users-are-having-virtual-black-lives-matter-protests-2020-6

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香城Online (Heung Shing Online) Part 2

Screenshot of the Heung Sing Online App. The key image is an illustration of a black bloc leveling up to a frontliner in full gear with gas mask, helmet and umbrella. These two characters stand on a grassland with a blue sky. The illustrations are created in the style of pixel art, with game energy bars. Underneath the key image are tabs that are available in the app such as 'Frontliners' Duties', 'Protest Schedules' and 'Map of Yellow Shops'. There are 2 QR codes and also facebook, instagram and twitter links.
Screenshot of the Heung Sing Online App. The key image is a black bloc leveling up to a frontliner in full gear with gas mask, helmet and umbrella.

A spin-off of ‘Heung Shing Online’ was launched on 31 December 2019 (with revenue from advertisements donated to the cause). This time it is a real game but in a milder/more peaceful form. It’s actually an information sharing app in disguise of a game. In the app, protesters can find a timeline of major events, memes, information about protest schedules, frontliners’ tasks and a map of all the yellow shops (shops that voice out for the movement) etc. Once you enter the app, you can create your own character like in any other game. There are both tasks online and in real life that you can complete. For online tasks you can tweet info or ‘like’ a post on other protest apps such as LIHKG; for real life tasks you can participate in street protests or visit yellow shops. Once a task is completed, points can be earned.

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香城Online (Heung Shing Online) Part 1

First page of the strategy guide of Heung Shing Online, with an image of the adaptation of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. A protester with a yellow helmet holds a makeshift shield in one arm and waves the Black Bauhinia flag. Designed by pro-democracy protesters, the flag is a powerful symbol of the fight for freedom. The flag bearer is leading other protesters in full gear (helmet, gas mask, shield,  umbrella) to march forward despite poisonous smoke coming out from tear gas canisters on the ground. The night sky is full of smoke, with a hint of a blazing fire in the background. One protester reaches out his arm to help a fallen protester, while a few others hold up an angry fist. There are banners and also road blocks made out of makeshift materials such as orange-coloured barriers, traffic cones, and yellow metal fences that are commonly found in construction sites.
First page of the strategy guide of ‘Heung Shing Online’, with an image of the adaptation of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People

The story of ‘Heung Shing Online’ is fascinating. It’s a perfect demonstration of how the virtual and physical realms are blurred. The yellow text in the above image reads,

‘Disclaimer: We urge all netizens to be clearheaded. Please distinguish reality from fantasy. Don’t indulge in gaming to excess. This webpage is only for the purpose of gaming, we don’t instigate nor encourage real violent acts nor criminal behaviour. We take no legal responsibility in the usage of the content of this webpage’

On 19 July 2019, one month into the Anti-ELAB movement, a netizen on LIHKG posted about their idea of creating an online game like Sim City, that mimics the street protests in Hong Kong. (LIHKG is an online forum much like reddit. It was highly influential, generating images, slogans, discussions and strategies. I would say LIHKG was the leader of the leaderless movement, especially in the early months.) On the same LIHKG post, they also uploaded a ‘strategy guide’ created with excel.

‘Heung Shing Online’ was never meant to be a real game, only the strategy guide exists. However it was labeled by pro-Beijing media as the ‘Biggest real life RPG (role-playing game)’ that instigates violence against police, the strategy guide as a training manual for frontliners, especially secondary school kids who ‘do not’ have the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

This image indicates Some of the roles in the 'game', including 'Painter' (to create protest art), 'Sentinel', 'Combat Medic' and 'Keyboard Fighter'. The background colour is yellow with 4 illustrations of a piggy in 4 different attires. This particular piggy ('Li-Pig') is one of the mascots of the protest. As an example, the Combat Medic Li-Pig wears a white helmet with the symbol of the red cross. Illustrations of the different supplies (saline solution, bandage, scissors, gloves, isopropyl alcohol, scissors.. etc) floats around the piggy. The texts underneath the illustration list out in details, the supplies needed and the medic's duties.
Some of the roles in the ‘game’, including ‘Painter’ (to create protest art), ‘Sentinel’, ‘Combat Medic’ and ‘Keyboard Fighter’.

In the following months, netizens continued their discussions of strategies on LIHKG with gaming terminology as if the protest was a real RPG. This was to minimise the risk that one day the posts could be used against these netizens in court.

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Dutil-Dumas Message

Page 1 of the Dutil-Dumas message. The 1999 message is made of 23 images (or pages) of 127x127 pixels. All the symbols in the messages are created in black and white grid formation. This particular message is an introduction of numerical digits used in human civilisation.
Page 1 of the Dutil-Dumas message
A table of symbols that represent different physical concepts such as energy, density, temperature, etc. All the symbols are built using a 5x7 bitmap.
A table of symbols that represent different physical concepts

The Dutil-Dumas messages were sent out by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientists in 1999. Different messages about the conditions on planet Earth were represented with special symbols designed to maintain a high level of information even in a noisy reception. The whole set of characters is made by small bitmaps of 5×7 pixels.

For my residency, I will selected a series of symbols and re-create them on the virtual art space of Hong Kong’s Cattle Depot Artist Village. I will also compile my own glossary for these symbols on the studio page.

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Miku made Minecraft

A screen shot of a website that tell the story of how Hatsune Miku created Minecraft. Miku looks like a Japanese anime character with long, turquoise twintails. She stands in front of a scene from Minecraft.
A screen shot of a website that tells the story of how Hatsune Miku created Minecraft. https://noise.thehardtimes.net/2019/08/29/miku-created-minecraft-how-queer-vocaloid-fandom-brought-a-parody-account-to-infamy/

In 2017, the original creator of Minecraft Markus ‘Notch’ Persson made a series of controversial comments on social media, such as referring to feminism as a “social disease” and claiming that most feminists are “overtly sexist against men.” In March 2019, he made a number of transphobic comments that eventually triggered backlashes including Hatsune Miku declaring herself creator of Minecraft.

Hatsune Miku is a Vocaloid software voicebank developed by Crypton Future Media (Japan) in 2004. The face of the Vocaloid is a 16-year-old girl with long, turquoise twintails. Soon after Notch published his tweets in March, queer Minecraft players decided to have the virtual superstar Miku as Minecraft’s creator.

A tweet by Miku claiming that she is the creator of Mincraft

Subsequently, Minecraft update silently removed references to Persson from the game’s menu, though his name is still in the credits. Persson was not invited to be part of the Minecraft tenth anniversary event later that year, with Microsoft saying that his views “do not reflect those of Microsoft or Mojang”

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