The latest update to thatgamecompany’s Sky: Children of Light introduced a new hat that has stirred up controversy among the game’s Chinese and Korean fans, with both sides claiming cultural significance related to the cosmetic item and refusing to give an inch on social media.
While accessories aren’t labelled in-game, the Sky community largely assumed that the hat in question was meant to resemble a “gat,” traditional Korean headwear that was popularised during the country’s Joseon period, when the game received its “Season of Dreams” update on January 4. It was even labelled as such in the crowdsourced Sky wiki before several references to Korean culture were removed earlier today.
These allusions didn’t sit well with some Chinese users, who quickly laid claim to the hat as a piece of their cultural heritage both in-game and on social media, echoing a larger movement by Chinese nationalists to discredit Korean culture as “stolen” from China due to the two regions’ historical relationship. Netease, the company that publishes Sky in China, even encouraged players to correct those who referred to the in-game hat as Korean in origin on Chinese social media site Weibo.
(It should be noted that the hat’s accompanying cape was also credited as being a part of Korean culture, but almost all of the discussion has focused on the hat.)
Sky director Jenova Chen eventually addressed the situation himself, writing on Twitter late last night that the headwear was inspired by similar hats worn by the Chinese during the Song and Ming dynasties.
“I sincerely apologise for the recent controversy about the hat in Sky,” Chen wrote. “It was not my intention to create unnecessary confusion or cause any divisions between our community, where we always advocate positivity and inclusion. We come from different places, but in Sky, we are a family of one. The world we aim to create is based on the common thread of humanity, free of the varying labels. I sincerely hope that Sky continues to bring compassion and peace among our community.”
— Jenova Chen (@JenovaChen) February 4, 2021
When contacted by Kotaku, a thatgamecompany representative reiterated Chen’s statement, adding that it was not the developers’ intention to “to emphasise historical identity” with the Season of Dreams cosmetics.
“We did not do a thorough enough evaluation of how our cosmetics may impact our global community, and unknowingly included a garment with historical significance between different regions,” the rep said. “We commit to doing better going forward. Thatgamecompany is a multicultural game studio and we draw upon diverse influences in our development process. Millions of players have connected and built lasting friendships already through Sky: Children of the Light. It is our hope that the game continues to encourage unity and compassion for others, regardless of where players call home.”
Unfortunately, these messages of unity haven’t completely squashed the debate. Chen’s explanation has caused a separate backlash, wherein players who appear to be sympathetic to Korea are expressing frustration that Chen, in their minds, took China’s side in the culture war.
As someone very quickly educating himself on traditional headwear, I can’t say for sure who is right, but I do understand why both sides are protective of something they feel is inherently part of their cultural heritage. It’s just sad it had to happen in a game as peaceful and conducive to meaningful social interaction as Sky: Children of Light.