Steam is a gaming platform much adored by PC gamers the world over. When Valve opened up the platform with Steam Greenlight to allow gamers to help pick which game submissions make it in, they rocked the world of gaming. But it’s not all been fun and crowdsourcing.
For Miriam Bellard and Andrejs Skuja, founders of No Reply Games, the going has been rough. Their offering, Seduce Me, focuses on high-brow interactive erotica. They submitted it to Greenlight to see what the world said and an hour later received a stern form-letter response from Valve saying they had violated the terms and the game was being removed. What are the terms? “Your game must not contain offensive material or violate copyright or intellectual property rights.”
Should the moral compass of certain individuals dictate what content is offered to those with a different view? For Bellard, the side of the argument that Valve chose to take will only convince other developers to err on the side of caution, and create content that won’t transgress a frankly vast possible spectrum of opinion.
Of course, these strictures on what is deemed fit for sale aren’t difficult to find in the games industry. Apple’s guidelines for iOS submissions have attracted criticism for prohibiting a wide range of themes and subject matter, from sex and sexuality to depictions of animal faeces, but Bellard associates Valve with a different set of values.
“I understand it more on iOS, because Apple has this air of, ‘we’re here to protect you, everything just works and it’s a nice, safe place to be’,” she says. “That’s Apple’s whole ethos: I don’t like it, but I understand it. I don’t understand Valve’s, because it’s supposed to be part of the PC, Linux ethos. I’d always seen them as being on the side of the underdog, on the side of free speech. I personally don’t think Valve needs [to play it safe]. I think Valve is in a position where they could push this if they wanted to. Sure, they might lose a very small amount of their audience, but they would gain others… Why they’ve chosen not to is possibly that they’re part of that American culture, and they view this issue with that American point-of-view.”
That Steam allows the objectification and sexualization of female characters in a variety of its games but refuses to accept a game about actually engaging with women characters sexually in an interactive fashion is astonishingly backward.