Online Censorship

[Update: Steam said, “nevermind.”]

There are numerous reports of Steam contacting publishers of games with sexual content about de-listing their games. Folks in my social media feeds are describing it as “the war on anime tiddies,” which seems fair, given that most of the targets seem to be visual novels and other, apparently mild hentai content of the sort that had been approved for Steam before. (I have not wanted to throw off my future search results by checking, but I was under the impression that Steam games might have some titillation but not exactly hardcore porn.) HuniePop has shot up in popularity under the heading of “get it while you can,” along with a Humble sale.

Meanwhile, games where you slaughter by the hundred are being advertised, including this weekend’s free play of Shadow of War, with its fatality system that gives you a variety of ways to have lovingly rendered, slow motion, close up kills. Boobs and dating sims: risky. Mass murder: fun for all ages. I live in the United States.

It is hard not to see this in relation to FOSTA, a law theoretically about fighting human trafficking that has the main effect of making it more dangerous to engage in sex work or anything close to it. FOSTA reduced the Section 230 safe harbor for websites, which kept the sites from being responsible for things commenters/posters might say, for example escorts using dating classifieds to advertise their services. You may remember news stories earlier this year about cracking down on Backpage, but the effect has been much larger, because you don’t want to be the site where sex work advertisements go under thin euphemisms, which tends to mean blocking out anything kinda like sex work. This strays well off topic for Kill Ten Rats, so I will not pursue it just now, but any form of censorship leads to chilling effects and broad collateral damage. Once you are on a moral crusade, you can’t stop just because you eliminated your original target.

Steam is a private publisher and of course is entitled to decide what sort of content they want to make available. If they have decided that games showing female nipples are beyond the pale, while games where you literally play terrorists trying to overthrow society are fine, those are lines they are allowed to draw. Those lines even make sense when you are selling to a predominantly American audience, given that elements of the American right and left are united in sex negativity (from different but aligning moral purity notions). But it seems unnecessary, inconsistent with past precedent, and incoherent as a moral line to draw.

: Zubon

One thought on “Online Censorship”

  1. To be clear, Steam apparently only objects to games that feature nudity without corresponding graphical violence. Witcher series, which often features completely plot-free sex? Fine. GTA? Fine. Metro? Fine. Far Cry? Fine. Even the excuses people come up with to explain the exceptions, “these games aren’t focused on the sex!” demonstrate the absurdity.

    I can sorta see Valve’s dilemma in the whole situation, insofar as Steam would instantly become the biggest hub of porn games on the internet if their nebulous standards were relaxed “too far,” but it’s just getting real dumb at this point.

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