The developer of the massively popular battle royale title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Bluehole, is in quite a spot of bother after releasing an offensive in-game mask skin.
The offending item borrows from the sombre history of World War II in East Asia, specifically bearing the Imperial Japanese emblem of a rising sun with outwards shining rays. The symbolism of this isn’t lost on many players, notably those in South Korea and China, who associate it with the Japanese invasion of many parts of Korea and China in their ambitions to annex huge swathes of the region.
The BBC and Korean website Bzit report a backlash in Korea, where the game is hugely popular, prompting Bluehole to issue an apology and swiftly remove the mask from the mobile version of the game where it was featured as a purchasable item. Those having acquired the skin have been refunded.
Further adding fuel to the fire was the discovery of a reference to Unit 731, a notoriously vicious and murderous division of the Japanese army known for abominable experiments on prisoners of war, often with debilitating consequences and at times death. It is estimated 10,000 people from the Russian, Chinese, and Korean armies died at the hands of Japanese military experimenters. In PUBG mobile’s code, the name Unit 731 was used as the name for an AI bot.
Bluehole has promised to promptly remove the reference to Unit 731 from the game, explaining it should never have been accessible to players. As for the mask, the developer also promised to ‘conduct an overall re-examination of our image production process to prevent such a recurrence’, confirming ‘it will enhance procedures to scrutinize game items before their release and hold the person in charge responsible’.
Bluehole has weathered a tough couple of months, notably with heated criticism over performance issues affecting PUBG, a dropped lawsuit with Fortnite creator Epic Games, and backlash surrounding the game’s now altered Event Pass. Here’s to calmer times ahead for the developer.