Chinese Steam Users Get Around National Porn Ban With Wallpaper App

Chinese Steam Users Get Around National Porn Ban With Wallpaper App
Image: Valve / Kotaku

A wallpaper app is the tenth most-played game on Steam right now for one very good reason: Chinese players have been using it to distribute porn. Porn has been illegal in China since 1997, but the grey regulatory status of Steam has allowed Wallpaper Engine users to share uncensored content.

Wallpaper Engine is software that allows users to create photos and videos and share them with each other. MIT Technology Review reports that the app features 1.6 million pieces of user-submitted content, many of which feature original material like fan animations of games and anime series. 7.5% are labelled as “mature” and contain realistic videos of characters having sex. The most popular porn on the platform features characters from Overwatch, Genshin Impact, and Final Fantasy.

Steam is one of the few platforms in China that can be freely accessed without a VPN (a virtual private network, a network technology which allows users to bypass the Great Firewall of China for a recurring fee). “[Steam] has become one of the only platforms in China where it’s sort of operating in the grey area.” Daniel Ahmad of the analyst firm Niko Partners told MIT Technology Review. As a result, the anime porn ecosystem manages to thrive on Wallpaper Engine’s Steam Workshop despite the current censorship guidelines.

It’s evident that Wallpaper Engine is unusually popular among Steam users in China. The app has 490,000 Steam reviews, and over 216,000 of them are in Simplified Chinese, the main variant of the language used in China. This means that 40% of the Wallpaper Engine reviews are submitted by Chinese users, compared to, by MIT Technology Review’s estimate, about 21% of Steam’s overall traffic from the last week coming from China. The most popular reviews reference R18 content, and a few even repost dick jokes. When the app’s developers were asked about these sorts of videos that have made Wallpaper Engine popular, they laughed and said that they didn’t see any issue.

However, Chinese Steam users’ cheap access to anime porn may not last forever. MIT Technology Review notes that users are worried that regulatory agencies will eventually crack down on animated wallpaper porn. Some Steam functions are currently restricted when accessed in China, and a DNS attack on Steam’s servers last December set off a wave of fears that China’s regulators were finally banning Steam. In the meantime, Wallpaper Engine remains Steam’s worst-kept secret.

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