Steam Greenlight has been billed as a way to let the community decide what makes it to the Steam store and what doesn't, but it seems Greenlight is giving a red light to the Red Light District. If your game contains sexual content, you might not even be allowed to put your work to a vote, as Seduce Me (opens in new tab) developers No Reply Games discovered.
An article on Gamesindustry.biz describes the content of Seduce Me as "[comparable] to erotic literature, photography or film," and "scarcely more hardcore than 50 Shades of Grey or The Joy of Sex." Some of the screens on the official site (opens in new tab) are fairly explicit, but the apparent bottom line is that sexual content is an immediate Steam barrier. While the article states that Greenlight's voters were polarized, Valve pulled the plug on Seduce Me before a community verdict could be reached. No Reply co-founder Miriam Bellard was taken off-guard by this.
"It was just a very generic e-mail saying we'd violated [the content guidelines] and the game was being taken down," she told Gamesindustry International. "It struck us as them not wanting to deal with it, not wanting to engage. We were actually really shocked when it went down, because we thought that it would at least be allowed on Greenlight to be discussed. We wouldn't have minded taking down some of the images if they were considered too racy for the forum, but there was no communication - nothing."
The guidelines stated by Valve simply refer to "offensive content," without any clarification on what, exactly, that consists of. Bellard criticized the interpretation of these guidelines as being largely American-centric, as much of the rest of the world would see the content of Seduce Me as far less offensive than many of the depictions of violence seen in games already on Steam.
"I personally don't think Valve needs [to play it safe]," she asserted. "I think Valve is in a position where they could push this if they wanted to. Sure, they might lose a very small amount of their audience, but they would gain others... Why they've chosen not to is possibly that they're part of that American culture, and they view this issue with that American point-of-view."
Sex in games is an evolving issue in a relatively new medium, but it's readily apparent that nudity and sexual themes are not as tolerated in an artistic context as they are in, say, film or literature. "There's still that historical view of games being for children," Bellard said in regards to the disparity. "And even though the average gamer is now 30 yeas old it's still the gut reaction. With books, you have children's books, teen fiction, adult books of all genres. But we tend to view games as one solid category. I think things like this can just be about habit; it's just what we're used to."
Should sex in games be less stigmatized? Is Valve failing to push forward, or take its international audience into account with its policy enforcement?