Devotion + The Uncanny

Similar to Silent Hill and it’s uncanny hallways, we have another no-longer playable horror game with uncanny elements, Devotion. I watched some gameplays of it a couple of years ago, so my memory of it is a little blurry. However, it seems that the true uncanniness is reserved to those who are familiar with Taiwanese/traditional Asian culture. A lot of western players find the game more tame than creepy, but as a Vietnamese person who visits both their rather traditional grandparents’ houses often, I find the game a little personally haunting at times.

The game takes place in a 1980s Taiwanese apartment, centering around a man who seems to be a loving father and husband. However, the player, controlling the father, is then put into many different loops (sound familiar?) of the house — each loop being a different time period. You go through time periods of when they first move in, first have their daughter, and the years after. It’s another “familiar-turned-unfamiliar” effect as each new time period brings a new version of the once-familiar apartment.

What makes this game so personally uncanny is just how familiar I am with the random references to Asian culture. Some of it just looks a little too similar to my grandparents’ houses.

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I swear I’ve seen this calendar in one or both of my grandparents’ homes, somewhere in the hallway or in the fridge.

Devotion might be re-released, but not any time soon | Rock Paper Shotgun

The crowd of shoes at the front door is definitely something I’m familiar with. The little Buddhist shrines and incense candles? Those are also familiarities that reminds me of my grandparents’ place. I guess the game is trying to make it feel more and more like home in order to better distort the viewer’s comfort in what should be their safest place — making it uncanny. There is also the dramatic use of the color red in this game. Now, red in Western Culture is often associated with “danger” or “alertness”, but this is different in traditional Asian culture, where the color is actually linked as a “lucky” or “happy” color. That’s why New Years envelopes and a lot of traditional Chinese weddings are decorated in so much red. Since I grew up in America, I’m more used to viewing red as the “danger” color, but I wonder if those who are more traditionally Asian would find the sudden twist in the use of red, uncanny.

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I think what was most uncanny for me though, was the game’s emphasis on dismissed health issues. In Devotion, the daughter, Mei Shin (I think is her name), becomes sick with some unknown illness, and the doctors are unable to figure out what is wrong with her. Instead of helping his daughter with actual medical treatments, he seeks help from a religious advisor (who turns out to be a scammer) and has his daughter do all these ridiculous rituals. In the end, it’s revealed that he had unintentionally drowned his own daughter after being instructed to bathe her in wine and snake blood — killing her and causing him to be stuck in this supposed limbo.

Some people may find this reveal dumb or unrealistic, but I thought it was a very real thing that Asian people do, as my own parents pretty much do the same. A lot of Asian kids can probably agree that when they are sick, their parents will absolutely refuse to take them to a doctor, and instead give them traditional Asian “treatments”. I guess it’s because they either don’t trust modern medicine or find it overly pricey (and to be fair, hospital bills are stupidly expensive)? But anyways, it’s uncanny to me, because my dad has this really funny little green bottle of some weird oil. He has no idea what it’s called but he keeps buying it, saying that it cures all sicknesses. There’s this weird procedure where you have to pour it on a quarter (like a coin) and then rub someone’s back with it until it burns and is completely red — apparently “sweating” out the sickness is the cure.

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Obviously, I don’t think it really does much (but who knows) but because I recover every time, he believes that it genuinely helps, and it’s weirdly similar to the father in Devotion. The game is like a deranged double of the 1980s Taiwanese family, and it bothers me sometimes, even if I’m not Taiwanese or live in a super traditional Asian household. It’s the familiar turned unfamiliar — and that is what makes it uncanny.

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