If you’re a PC gamer, there’s every likelihood you’ve come across Steam. For the uninitiated, it’s a gaming platform and distribution service developed by the Valve Corporation. It makes it a whole lot easier to purchase games online and while its collection is enormous, not all games make it to Steam and some games, specifically those with an adult twist, have been removed from the service. The reasons behind their removal seem obvious, but remain a point of contention among developers and gamers alike.
You know those late nights on YouTube? You know the ones. You start off looking for something practical, like “Top 30 Best Open World Games Involving Zombies” and then regain consciousness an hour later in front of “101 Ways the Government is Secretly Drugging You” with zero ideas as to how you got there. That roughly sums up my relationship with Steam. I’ll go in looking for a survival horror game, maybe one of those indie story-driven titles I’m a fan of – then suddenly I’ve taken a deep dive and I’m surrounded by heaving anime bosoms and pixelated genitals on all sides. Officially, Steam states that it doesn’t allow graphic nudity or ‘porn’ – but the games that have ‘slipped through the cracks’ seem to stretch the definition of ‘pornographic’, and it’s this inconsistency when it comes to content that players take issue with.
In 2017, popular titles like House Party and Strangers in a Strange Land were removed from Steam. To be fair, House Party (which has been compared to Leisure Suit Larry), has been called out for being problematic for a host of other reasons, namely its depiction of women, but in the case of its removal from Steam the big issue was its graphic sexual content. Both games were allowed back on the platform, but only once they’d been heavily censored. It’s fair to say these games were pushing the boundaries of Steam’s TOS. But when AAA games such as Witcher 3, with sex scenes that are arguably more graphic than the pixelated fumblings featured in these indie offerings, remain unscathed, players and devs are arguably perplexed as to what exactly Steam’s prerogative is.
It’s not only games that are more explicit with their imagery that are targeted, either. You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is a stealth horror game in which you play a teenager looking at porn for the first time and trying to not get caught. It was removed from Steam only a few months after its debut for being ‘pornographic.’ The images in the game are created using ASCII Art: so, a whole bunch of dots and dashes. If magic eye puzzles do it for you, then by all means, squint away. But the pacing and tension of the game make it far from titillating. Many of these games could be considered victims of their popularity, which has led to inevitable complaints from those puritans among the player community. However, it seems as though the situation is getting worse. Previously, developers were able to provide patches to un-censor their games, however, several studios have reported that Steam no longer allows them to officially post this information or links to where it can be found. Despite this, players are still able to share these details on community discussion boards.
Steam practically has a monopoly when it comes to PC gaming. But its inability to definitively state where it sits when it comes to adult content shifts its role from moderating, to censorship, as well as further widening the gap between popular indie titles and AAA games – which is the last thing the gaming community needs or wants.
Note: You can still find and play You Must be 18 or Older to Enter for free at: seeminglypointless.itch.io/18orolder