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Damaging Our Trust In The Platform

At one time I was an anti-Steam Luddite. I was used to an old model of game distribution whereby a person would go to a store, pick up a disc, bring it home, and the household would be able to play the game. I resented the very notion that my dad, my brother, and myself would EACH have to pay ~$70 for the game we wanted to play. But, as the platform grew, their extreme discounts made things more affordable, and when I was no longer living in the same house as family members with whom I might want to share I was primed for my eventual turn: there was no other way to play Civilization V. It was a choice between Steam and no Civ. We know how that turned out.

So, now the majority of the video games I play are on Steam. Ever since the Full Steam Ahead series started on this blog, at least half of the content here has been related to games that were purchased and played through the increasingly ubiquitous platform. As far as gaming and content goes, I have come to put a lot of trust in Valve’s Steam. Unfortunately, they have chosen to punch a hole in that trust. As of this morning, Super Seducer was still available on the Steam Store. In case you haven’t heard, it’s supposedly a dating sim. I didn’t think I would be writing about this genre again so soon. It’s not normally my thing. But this goes beyond things I personally don’t like. It’s very, very bad. It basically teaches men not to take “no” for an answer, and to pursue in the face of requests to desist. This “game” should not be given a platform, and I already trust Steam less because it’s been available for some time now. Sony’s PlayStation has done the right thing in not publishing this. Good on them.

This won’t be a platform for normalizing stalker behaviour.¬†Steam shouldn’t be either.

Now, before anyone starts shouting “FREEZE PEACH!” at me, let me be very clear: this is not about banning the existence of this game, nor using state-sanctioned coercive force against La Ruina. This is about a private platform that has many times exercised its right to limit the content that they provide on their service. They did so in 2012 when they pulled Seduce Me, in 2014 when the developer of Paranautical Activity tweeted a death threat at the president of Valve, in 2015 when a GLBT murder simulator was removed within hours, in 2016 when Digital Homicide was deemed to be hostile to customers¬†and when a whites-only mod came our for Stellaris, and more recently when they pulled almost 200 “spam” games which were evidently an attempt to abuse the trading card market. The point here is that they have made no pretence that their service is a completely free pipe like the internet in general.

So, if Valve does remove games from Steam for various reasons, then I see no reason why they should permit this. If they don’t want sexual content, it’s like Seduce Me. If they don’t want hostility towards their customers, they need to remember that women use Steam too. If normalizing the stalking behaviour advocated by the incredibly toxic PUA community is acceptable under their terms and conditions, it’s time to make a change. If they are not willing to do this, it is time to reconsider how much we trust their platform. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, everything runs on trust. There was a video game industry before Steam. There will probably be one after Steam. How long that period of time is may depend on how much we can trust the content on their platform.

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  1. Par Lennox Par Lennox

    Simply put, no. Everything does not run on trust. You use “trust” too often as a noun rather than a verb, however insubstantial. I do not use Steam based on some vaguely formed amorphous moral bargain, but on legal descriptive terms in the EULA . You failed to mention the name of the offending title, but within the sub-genre of dating app games, one would be foolish to attempt to impose any code of behavior on that emotional field. Trust does not enter the relation Customer X Steam. Best to choose other words to make your point. I will make my own moral judgement on the buy/patronize game as offered; I “trust” Steam will not try to make that choice for me. I hope they will continue to offer as broad a selection as possible. No removal necessary, thank you.

    • Graham Graham

      I did mention the title, it is called Super Seducer. It is also mentioned extensively in the articles I have linked to. If you don’t click through to the various external sources I link to in the body of my posts you will often miss out on a lot. Anyway, this would be a very different conversation if Steam had committed itself to being a completely neutral, 100% laissiez faire market as you suggest. I cited many examples where they have clearly taken action based on the content of the game. That ship has sailed for them unless there was a substantial change in their policies.

      Of course, one can always choose what content to search for, and what to buy. A person could restrict their Steam library to games that involve cartoon ponies if so desired. But, as a privately owned platform, Steam is under precisely zero obligation to carry a pony game I just made if I do something that violates their policies. I trust them to use reasonable rules when it comes to choosing what content to restrict. I expect that my pony game would appear in the store whether or not people like it. If I tried to use microtransactions in that game to facilitate illegal gambling and money laundering, I would expect it to be pulled. The “trust” I refer to as an abstract noun is what they build up when they say no to things that are obviously bad and allow the things that are of questionable value but don’t do any harm.

      There is a different between broad selection (some people want to play first-person shooters rather than anything that involves ponies) and allowing absolutely anything. Don’t like 4X? Don’t buy, don’t play. Offering 4X games that I do not want to play is not a violation of my trust. Offering a 4X game that is explicitly Islamic State recruitment propaganda would be. I would want nothing to do with a content provider that permits that on their service. Sure, that’s a moral judgement just like the ones Steam made when they pulled Paranautical Activity and the Stellaris mod. Sony made the right call on Super Seducer. I would certainly have a problem with Valve/Steam if they have deliberately decided that it’s cool to sell games that encourage stalking and harassment just so long as one doesn’t try to abuse the platform’s trading card system. I don’t think that’s what happened. It is far more likely that it was either overlooked or policies and rules were misapplied. It was probably a mistake. I am saying they should be correcting it.

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