The Chinese version of the report was published in The Stand News on October 10, 2019. The English version was published in Global Voices as part of a content association agreement.
A mobile application role-playing game with an argument based on recent protests in Hong Kong was suspended from Google Play for violating the “sensitive events policy” of the platform. On October 8, Apple Store also withdrew the mobile application that indicated in real time the locations of protests and police operations.
The mobile game called “The Revolution of Our Times” was released on October 5 and retired three days later.
The game provides details of the political context that led to the protests with a map of key protest sites in Hong Kong.
The protagonist / player is a typical Hong Kong frustrated by the defeat of the Umbrella Movement in favor of democracy in 2014 and the deteriorating political situation in Hong Kong. He must decide if he joins the protest against extradition on June 9, 2019. When the decision is made, the player enters the game and and must make more decisions to which protest places he should go, which team he should take and if he should join to the next protest. Each decision results in some risks (such as arrests) that affect the personal development of the protagonist, his relationships with others and the public opinion of the city.
In a telephone interview with The Stand News, the game programmer with the pseudonym “Spinner” said that he received an email notification from Google that the mobile game had violated the “delicate events policy” and should be withdrawn. According to the policy, sensitive events refers to “content that can be considered as taking advantage of or lacking reasonable sensitivity to a natural disaster, conflict, death or other tragic event.” It also prevents programmers from earning money for “serious conflicts or ongoing tragedies through video game games.”
Before the game was withdrawn, 4500 was downloaded and generated an income of 1500 dollars from Hong Kong (approximately 200 US dollars). Spinner said that 80% of the proceeds from the game would be donated to the Spark Alliance, a legal fund for arrested protesters and has appealed to Google. He has also asked Google to explain why the company defined Hong Kong’s protests as a delicate event and wondered if the company’s action was not a practice of political self-censorship:
It is a practice of self-censorship if the game could be shelved on Google store upon removing all references to Hong Kong protests.
It is a practice of self-censorship if the game could remain entrusted in the Google store after removing all references to Hong Kong protests.
Spinner of threads studied creative writing at the university and joined an information technology company after graduation. He quit his job and spent more than a month programming the game.
In an inaugural post on the LIHKG forum, similar to Reddit, he explained that his main intention is to capture international attention to the protest situation in Hong Kong.
As the mobile application has the function of sending messages to all subscribers who intended to use it as a channel for updating news of the Hong Kong protests.
Several foreign corporations have been accused of bowing down to pressure from the Chinese government to censor Hong Kong’s protests. The American company Blizzard recently prevented the participation of an electronic player from Hong Kong in a tournament for his game Hearthstone, after he shouted a motto for democracy in an interview.
Apple withdrew the HKmap.live application from its store, which informs users of the locations of the protests and police operations shortly after the People’s Daily, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, accused the company of helping the “ troublemakers ”from Hong Kong. Although the application could help users avoid entering areas of violent conflict. Apple told The New York Times:
The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement.
The application shows places of the police and we have verified with the Office of Cybersecurity and Technological Crimes of Hong Kong that the application was used to attack and ambush the police, threaten public security and criminals have used it to victimize the inhabitants in areas where they know that the law does not apply.
The Stand News contacted Google for further comments on the withdrawal of the mobile game, but Google still does not respond.