Valve has at last responded to a mounting controversy concerning an indie game designed entirely around the violent sexual assault of women. The statement, posted to the Steam Blog earlier today, makes clear that Valve will in fact not distribute the visual novel, which was called Rape Day and scheduled for release in April through the company’s Steam Direct distribution channel. The declaration marks a quizzical few days of silence from the video game developer and marketplace owner, which has taken varying, occasionally radical stances to moderation on Steam in the past few years.
In a policy change announced last year, Valve said it would let basically anything onto the platform so long as it was not illegal or very obviously trolling to illicit negative reactions from the general public. So far, the only category to meet that definition included visual novels and other games featuring the sexual exploitation of children, which Valve banned last December. In this case, Valve says Rape Day posed “unknown costs and risks,” without clarifying which rule it broke.
Here’s Valve’s statement in full:
Over the past week you may have heard about a game called ‘Rape Day’ coming soon to Steam. Today we’ve decided not to distribute this game on Steam. Given our previous communication around Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?, we think this decision warrants further explanation.
Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary—we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct. We then have to make a judgement 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.
Despite the obvious business and moral incentivize in not abetting the distribution of a game about rape, Valve’s response will nonetheless generate a polarizing response among the gaming community, some members of which feel any form of gaming content, whether it features violence or sexual violence, is a form of free expression worthy of protection.
Some proponents of the game claim it’s depicting simply a variation on violence that is allowed and largely glorified by many mainstream, big-budget titles, like first-person shooters. Despite that very small faction of defenders, Rape Day and its developer faced widespread condemnation from Steam users, critics, and gaming fans of all stripes over the past few days, with a Change.org petition generating thousands of signatures urging Valve to take the game down, as well as hundreds of comments on the game’s Steam page criticizing the developer and calling on Valve to take action.
Not helping the matter is Valve’s new, more codified hands-off approach, which has earned Steam a reputation as a go-to distributor for all manner of violent, disturbing gaming content you cannot easily find elsewhere and that no major game platform would otherwise condone or allow. Because it’s not clear what rule Rape Day violated here — because the rules themselves are vague and poorly implemented — Valve is likely only further inviting criticism toward its moderation approach from members on both sides of the argument.
Nonetheless, the developer appears committed to releasing the game in one form or another. “However, if Steam does change their policy… and it is absolutely their right to do so, as a private company, I will do what I can to try and create/and or find an alternate way of selling and marketing my games,” the developer wrote in an update posted to Steam on Tuesday, which is no longer available because the game page has been taken down.