Since last June, Valve has claimed that “the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store,” with only minor exceptions for content that is “illegal or straight-up trolling.” But Valve’s decision to block controversial upcoming title Rape Day from Steam shows its actual moderation policy is more reactive and restrictive than originally promised.
Rape Day attracted plenty of headlines over the last week or so for its pre-release description of a visual novel where you “control the choices of a menacing serial killer rapist during a zombie apocalypse.” Trailers and screenshots posted to the game’s (now-deleted, archived, extremely NSFW) Steam page show some very basic branching dialogue choices amid brutal static scenes of hardcore pornography and sexual violence.
Developer Desk Lamp said in a March 4 update that the game had been submitted to Steam for approval and that “the review process was taking longer than expected.” Yesterday afternoon, Valve posted a short blog post stating directly that “Rape Day will not ship on Steam”:
Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary [Valve presumably means “reactive”]—we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct. We then have to make a judgment call about any risk it puts to Valve, our developer partners, or our customers. After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.
We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that.
What are the rules?
Valve’s Rape Day statement is as notable for what it says as for what it doesn’t. For one, it doesn’t explicitly condemn the content in Rape Day, either generally or specifically. For another, it doesn’t argue that the game is either “illegal or straight-up trolling,” the two previously stated exceptions to its “allow everything” policy.
Depictions of rape and sexual violence are not illegal in the United States, as countless works of art and pop culture have shown over the years. “Straight up trolling” is more of a judgment call, but Valve has previously clarified that this generally applies to games that outright don’t work or are “just trying to incite and sow discord.” Valve has previously used this justification to remove games like AIDS Simulator and Active Shooter from Steam, the latter because it was “designed to do nothing but generate outrage and cause conflict through its existence,” according to a statement from Valve’s Doug Lombardi.