Chinese Porn Seekers Use Obscure Steam App to Bypass Government Censorship

Chinese Porn Seekers Use Obscure Steam App to Bypass Government Censorship

BEIJING — Chinese internet users have been bypassing the country’s strict censorship of adult content by using an obscure wallpaper app available on video game distribution platform Steam.

According to a report published today by the MIT Technology Review, Chinese users “now make up at least 40% of Wallpaper Engine’s global user base” and have propelled the app into the global Top 20 chart of Steam’s most popular apps, alongside vastly more popular titles.

Explaining how an obscure wallpaper app has come to consistently rank alongside global blockbuster franchises like Counter-Strike or Dota, the MIT Technology Review’s Zeyi Yang wrote that “the epiphany will come when you begin to read Wallpaper Engine’s many reviews. More than 200,000 of them are written in Chinese, stretching from 2016 to 2022. And these reviews almost all talk about one thing: porn. Or more specifically, about using the software as a cloud drive and a video player for exchanging adult-only content.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China, charged with “monitoring all public information” for objectionable material, categorizes “porn” and even “soft porn” as “serious content prohibited by national law.” 

Steam, according to the MIT Technology Review, is “one of the only popular global platforms still available in the country, and its community features, international high-speed servers, and increasingly hands-off approach when it comes to sexual content, have made it an inevitable choice” for Chinese users seeking adult material.

As of 2021, Steam can only be accessed through the Great Firewall of China with VPN services.

Wallpaper Engine was developed in Germany and was released on Steam in 2016. About 7.5% of the over 1.6 million contributions, the MIT Technology Review noted, are labeled “mature” and “are often nude anime characters in suggestive poses and sexual positions, and occasionally pornographic photos and videos of real people.”

Within Chinese online communities, the article continues, the potential of the app for erotic purposes “has been an open secret among gamers and gaming publications since it was released.”

“It was at least two or three years ago when this went viral,” an anonymous Beijing gamer told the publication, saying they were initially confused why the app was always ranked in the top 10 played games. “Did people like to change their wallpapers so often?” 

The article reports that a Chinese writer and journalist who wrote about the Wallpaper Engine in 2020 downloaded the app in China and “found porn, hentai anime, Donald Trump memes and even pirated copies of Hollywood movies, like ‘Joker.’ His article in the Chinese media helped bring the software’s hidden uses to the attention of those who were not yet in on the secret.”

“If there are no legitimate porn websites,” the journalist added, “then people will consume it wherever they can find it.”

As XBIZ reported, last month a Chinese university research team claimed to have created a “mind-reading device” that detects “porn watching,” which could be used by police to enforce the country’s strict laws against sexual expression.

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