The new Taiwanese Indie Game Detention (返校) is a 2D point-and-click horror game depicting 1960s Taiwan’s White Terror and folk beliefs.
A White Terror poster asking student to rat out communists and receive huge rewards.
Unlike many Chinese culture-theme games depicting ancient — typically 1000 years ago — events and praising how great Chinese culture is, Detention took on the dark side of Taiwan’s history and folk beliefs often despised by scholars and authorities.
One of Taiwanese’s folk belief: offering a ghost a rice bowl to escape its harassment.
In this review we will focus on the cultural/visual elements of Detention.
Creepy household temple with traditional red lighting.
Game Plot Overview — Spoiler Alert!
The game’s plot centers around an ordinary girl, Fang Ray Shin (方芮欣, Ray for short) a student at Greenwood High School (翠華中學).
Ray, the main character, wearing a traditional high school uniform.
Of the game’s four chapters, the first two are of the traditional survival-horror game type, with Ray going around the school solving puzzles and avoiding ghosts by using clues.
Clues to face the Lantern Specter.
Facing a Lantern Specter in the game
As the story progresses, the last two chapters slowly reveal Ray’s story, and how the White Terror, forbidden love, and folk beliefs mingled together. The ending depends on how the player characterizes Ray’s life.
An honor suicide? Find out in the game.
Detention’s Cultural Elements
One of Detention’s unique elements is its display of Taiwan’s cultural elements during the 1960s, and how it seamlessly fuses all elements together.
1960s Authoritative Government Environment
Using mimicked historical documents, sketched scenes, and symbolic representation; the game portrays the suffocating, fearful environment ordinary Taiwanese people lived under, as well as people’s silent rebellion for freedom of thought.
Sketch of people taken away by the military during the White Terror.
During the White Terror, even reading forbidden books was enough for people to be executed, hence the symbolic gun representation.
The barred and wired classrooms represents no academic freedom during the White Terror. The six words say “Forming parties and organizations are strictly forbidden.”
Traditional Taiwanese Folk Beliefs
As a horror game, Detention takes many horror/mystery elements from traditional Taiwanese folk beliefs.
HeiBai WuChang (黑白無常), a pair of white and black ghosts who appear and lead the newly dead.
Poe divination (擲筊), a way to ask deity questions. Hold the wooden piece together, ask the question, and throw them to the floor. One up one down means approval. Two ups means indetermination (“answered with a smile”). Two down means disapproval.
A Joss Paper burning furnace. Traditionally people burn joss paper for the dead to use in the afterlife.
Chenghuang (城隍), the afterlife judge.
The BaGua numbers used extensively for many aspects of Chinese culture.
1960s Taiwan Social Cultures
As Detention is set in 1960s Taiwan, it contains many era-specific social elements. Many of them can still be seen in rural parts of Taiwan to this day.
Old school health center.
Fantasized old Taiwan shop elements, with lanterns, signs, round dinner tables, goldfishes and a shaved-ice machine.
A private investigator is called a “monkey catcher” in Taiwanese.
High-rise theater stage.
Similar theater stage in rural Taiwan.
Detention is a great Taiwan indie game mixing the fearful White Terror-era with Taiwanese supernatural folk beliefs. The detailed artwork and clever lighting make Detention a great artistic horror game.
For those who have had enough heroic Chinese culture games and movies, I highly recommend Detention to take a glimpse of the shadows behind the glamour, the scars hidden behind Taiwan’s high economic growth past.