Opinion: Valve’s strong stance against ‘adult games’ is getting worse

Valve has faced a lot of criticism over the last year. From Steam Direct being an unmitigated failure in stopping the ‘fake’ games, the Half-Life 3 plot being leaked by a disgruntled writer and this year being flooded with garbage, many are not crazy about Valve. Yet one of the most baffling calls comes from Valve’s reignited stance on battling games that might make little Jimmy learn about sexuality. In another move to combat ‘porn’, Valve has removed an interesting horror game with an incredible premise.

Many websites have picked up on the game You Must be 18 or Older to Enter being removed from Steam. The game is interesting enough in premise and brings to the table something very unique. You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is a horror game about porn, or more specifically, one’s first experiences exploring their sexuality. The game has a very basic look, using ASCII art to show the very naughty scenes. Exploring these sites can be frightening and the game captures that feeling of looking into the unknown. Jump scares are through the harsh overblown sexual sounds of the scenes in the game, and each click to the next category can always be tense. All the while, the player must keep on the lookout for their parents walking in. On the outset, this premise is intriguing and utilises personal experience that almost everyone can relate to. Unfortunately, Valve saw all of this and believed that it can be classified as porn.

The video above shows 10 minutes of gameplay from the indie title. As players can see, there is some graphic ASCII art that leaves little to the imagination, but that is kind of the point. It can hardly be called titillating especially when the premise and gameplay are at odds with that.

The classification of porn is in its intention. There is an old saying that always rings true: “You will know porn when you see it”. The objective of all pornographic material is to create something that serves as a tool for self-pleasure. If the pure intention of the media is to serve someone ‘getting their rocks off’, then it is porn. Now anything can serve this purpose, but it is in the intent of the product itself that determines the classification. HuniePop is porn, the intention is clear that the game with uncensored scenes is meant for self-gratification. The Witcher 3, despite having risque sex scenes, is not porn as these do not have the intention for the player to go wild on them. With this in mind, You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter does not classify as porn as there is hardly any attention given to the player’s sexual needs. It is not porn but Valve seemingly does not care, it is all surface level to the company. Whatever makes them look ‘cleaner’ by removing.

A history of Valve’s shifting stance on ‘adult’ content

Valve barring the game for being ‘porn’ shows that there is a bigger problem in their unbalanced moderation practices. Valve’s battle against “adult games’ is nothing new, but depending on when you were looking at the issue, there are varying messages. The first instance of a game going too far into adult territory can be traced all the way back to 2012. A little game called Seduce Me made waves through the industry because Valve stepped in to remove it from Greenlight. Seduce Me was a dating sim where players would end up courting one of the four eligible ladies in a holiday home. Through card games, players simulated the different forms of conversation in a very engaging and unique manner. There were still images of sexual content, all drawn but they were hardly worth getting into a frenzy over. It was a game that should have gotten more attention for trying something different, but instead got thrown out because it stepped over some line for Valve.

“It’s hard to fully interpret any image in the game. You can generally understand that something naughty is going on, but you won’t “get” the picture. It sits the player in the role of a kid exploring these adult worlds: curious, confused, anxious, caught,” James Cox.

Following Seduce Me, Valve had seemingly found a way to sell porn games without actually having to deal with the negative press. Visual Novels that hit Steam which had racy content originally were sold as censored versions. All the games directly bought would have all sexually explicit content removed by the developers or localisers. However, the workaround was the if the player were to get a mod to bring back the uncensored content, it would then not be Valve’s problem. Nude mods are some of, if not the, most prominent forms of modifications available. Once it was in the modder’s hands, nobody could blame the seller as it was not the version they were giving to the public. Valve also seemed cool with the decision as these mods were allowed to be shared on the game’s official Discussion boards on Steam. Considering the popularity of these games, it worked in everyone’s favour.

This worked for some time as more ‘adult games’ hitting the market censored with a patch ready at launch for players to get back what was removed. While the marketplace did get flooded by more of these titles, it was about the same level as the other schlock that had become a staple of Valve’s service. Yet this year saw a very harsh shift from Valve when it came to ‘adult games’. Almost out of nowhere, Valve decided to start thinking about the children’s emotional well-being.

House Party was one of those weird YouTube fodder games that spread across the internet. The Unity Engine indie game was a cobbled together mess that is still in Early Access. It was a tale where the player went on a quest to get laid at a house party. By no means ‘good’, the awkward attempt at tackling a game like this made strides throughout YouTube making the game sell over 80,000 units despite not being finished. Yet, with the new popularity, Valve stepped in and removed the game from the service. The game did return but with a new censored version that players could remove with a patch. It was the same song and dance every lewd anime game got away with but somehow, House Party caused enough of a stir internally for Valve to rethink their steps.

Thus we get to October where Valve decided that it was about damn time to think of the children. Polygon reported that Valve had added a new rule to the service that would stop developers from sharing uncensored patches via the game’s official discussions. For many, it was the easiest and safest way to get these mods to restore the original experience. Almost nobody wanted to play these games without the uncensored mod but Valve decided to put its foot down. While Valve is ready to take down any well known ‘porn’ game from the service, as Kotaku’s Steamed notes, there are still plenty of these games with even less tact falling through (NSFW warning on the article).

The celebration of violence and garbage

Now all of this has been a preface to the inherent issue with Valve’s decision to ban anything that can be seen as porn. You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter is the game that has seriously put into question Valve’s procedures when it comes to adult games. Seemingly, if the game features any sexual content not tied to a AAA budget or big publisher backing, then they must be removed from the service if they get popular enough. If they don’t get any attention, then it is not Valve’s problem. It seems to be all about the press being positive or not.

This sets into question Valve’s own policy and their obtuse quality assurance. We briefly touched on it in the intro, but this year will see the biggest amount of releases on Steam ever. Estimates in November saw that 2017 would see Steam release over 6,000 games to the service, the majority through their ill-thought-out Direct programme which replaced Greenlight this year. Some of the games that have been let through include broken messes, asset flips and just horrific vile trash – yet the “porn” games get taken down with more frequency.

Valve has unleashed a torrent of utter garbage onto their store with almost little to no care, but somehow the adult games are too much. Some years ago, Gabe Newell apologised for Steam blocking the game Hatred from Greenlight. For those who don’t recall, Hatred was a game where the entire goal was the go on a killing spree against innocents. It was vile in nature and served little purpose outside of screaming “Ow the Edge” while flipping the bird at ‘the SJWs’. The game was banned from Greenlight after many were outraged against it, but eventually, the decision was overturned.

Newell came out and called it a ‘mistake’ on Valve’s part to not allow the game through and personally wanted it returned. A game about performing sickening actions and hitting a very sore wound for a lot of players was welcomed back. Yet where over-the-top and grotesque violence of Hatred is still readily available, adult games must be removed at all costs. No ‘porn’ game has ever received an apology or so much a care when removed from Steam due to very unfair rules. Where Newell himself is ready to defend the likes of Hatred, You Must be 18 or Older to Enter gets shafted. To be frank, it is a harsh double standard for the platform to take.

UnitZ asset flip games constantly release on Steam. Needless to say, very rarely do the clones get taken down.

Valve will allow basically any ‘fake’ game they can but somehow anything dealing with sexuality is worth looking into. Games that do not work or are damn near nonfunctional are A-okay with Valve not having an issue if it preys on the achievement and card market. Jim ‘Thank God For Him’ Sterling has an entire series of YouTube videos of these games but yet Valve will do little to stop them from coming out. It is the porn games that get their attention and make them stand strong.

So now a game that presented something special and interesting has faced a ban because it featured some ASCII art of sex. The hypocrisy that runs through the service needs to be called out and addressed. Valve seemingly only cares about quality control when it comes to porn but now it extends to games that feature almost any sexual content. Regardless of meaning or intention, Valve will only ever care when it is about their service selling something that could corrupt the minds through sex. Violence, scams, developer threats, those are all fine but once it comes to a vagina, penis or any contact therein, it is time to take action.

Valve’s quality assurance has increased against the wrong offenders

You Have to be 18 or Older to Enter is currently in limbo. The developer of the game, James Cox, has noted the inconsistent policies by referencing games like Saints Row. The developer wrote a personal piece on Gamasutra which is an interesting read from the standpoint of a developer who is directly hit by Valve’s harsh stance on porn and its lack of nuance. Hopefully, Valve will overturn the decision to block You Have to be 18 or Older to Enter to give more players a chance to explore the subject. Yet, Valve has always been headstrong and very rarely willing to give comment on these matters.

Valve being the powerhouse of the digital market needs to start having better quality assurance. This is not only for the common critique that its hand off approach is only harming the service for all, but that issues like You Have to be 18 or Older to Enter being barred. It is baffling that Valve is seemingly only getting worse despite so many acknowledgements and promises. Valve will likely never change this stance in order to remain the ‘ethical’ storefront.

It is pure hypocrisy at this point but Valve will continue to make prudish mothers everywhere happy that little Timmy won’t see an obscured ASCII vagina, but will more than happily rip a man’s head off. Valve needs to get its act together and start actually looking at titles on the service instead of acting on impulse. Being afraid of genitalia is not helping anyone and only bars more interesting games from getting to players. If you are willing to let murder simulators slide, you should be willing to touch on sexuality just as readily.

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