Stray makes the same mistakes that other cyberpunk books do when it comes to Orientalism.

The cat simulation game uses Asian aesthetics, but it doesn’t deal with the historical legacy of the Walled City.

If the rice paddy hats in Stray have made you feel weird, you’re not alone. Stray uses Asian aesthetics to create a sense of the strange and dangerous, but it doesn’t look into the history of the city it takes from. This is a big problem because the real-world setting of the show has painful historical baggage that can’t be explained away by neon signs and small apartments.

The Walled City was the most crowded city in world history. It had more than three million people per square mile, which is 47 times more than Manhattan. Because the buildings didn’t let much light in from above, neon signs were used to light the streets. The creators of Stray told USA Today that the Walled City of Hong Kong was “the perfect playground for a cat.” The artists at BlueTwelve Studios were inspired by how the real city was “organically built and was full of details and interesting points of view,” like the air conditioning units and exposed pipes. They liked the environment, but they weren’t the only ones who did. Photographers and architects were impressed by how creative people were when they didn’t have safety codes or a central government.

But that organic design came about because of painful events in the past. During the Qing dynasty, when the Walled City was first built, it was a military base. After the Sino-Japanese War, which hurt China, it became a separate enclave from Hong Kong, which was ruled by the British. Throughout the Walled City’s history, Japan, China, and Britain all tried to claim it as their own. After the end of World War II, both China and Great Britain gave up trying to rule the Walled City. This was done to ease tensions between the two countries. Because there was no law, organized crime and opium dens grew. The Triad gangs made the enclave “the center of the drug trade in Hong Kong.” When you walk around the dusty streets of Walled City 99, none of this makes much sense.

Jessie Lam is a video game concept artist whose family is from Hong Kong. She says, “[The Walled City] was this super crowded city block that was so full of crime and poverty (thanks to triads) that it was torn down decades later. We don’t talk about the high-rise apartments that are the size of coffins… There is quiet anger there.”

The history of the Walled City is all about rivalries between colonies, but Stray doesn’t show any of that. In the game, the city was a place where people could go to avoid the plague. Only self-aware robots called “Companions” are left, and they have built their own society in place of humans. When I first met these robots, my first thought was, “Why are they wearing rice paddy hats?” But as I got to know them, I realized how nice they were.