When writing about Steam Greenlight a week or two back, I mentioned Seduce Me, a game that was pulled from the service due to its risqué content. Seduce Me, if the name doesn't already kind of give it away, is a game about sex. In it, a faceless young man attempts to romance any of a group of different women; his success is marked by wooing his partner into having sex with him through apparently explicit scenes. The message received from Valve by Seduce Me's developer, No Reply Games, explained that the game had been removed from Greenlight because Steam does not sell "offensive" titles.
That makes me think.
Right now I'm playing through F.E.A.R 3 (more on that next week) and, before that, had run around a bit in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. Both of these games are in my Steam library and both of them were also purchased not from a different digital retailer, but from Steam itself. In F.E.A.R 3 (or F3AR if you want to be a jerk) it is not uncommon to see an enemy soldier liquefied into bright splatters of viscera after shooting them. The enemies pretty frequently lose limbs after being wounded. After a monster ran through the dark shadows dispatching soldiers during one section, I came across one of them lying in a corner of a gore-covered room gasping in fear, bloody stumps where his legs had been before. Similar situations have the player walking past eviscerated guys with their intestines hanging out like some grim plate of wet noodles.
In Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, Frank West must regularly wade into packs of brain-hungry zombies with improvised weapons in order to traverse the game's Vegas shopping mall setting. Whether attacked with a drill, a spiked baseball bat or a propane tank filled with nails, the zombies explode into ragged piles of body parts. Frank, previously dressed in clean clothes, will be soaked red with blood, ready to carry on tearing through more enemies, his entire body marked with the gore of his actions.
Though offering it for sale would be a victory for free speech and probably open up an interesting dialogue about mainstream erotica
These are both, needless to say, really violent games. Their playtime is filled with brutality of the kind that would turn the stomach of most non-monstrous people if they were ever to encounter it in real life. When I think about these moments next to the sex scenes of a title like Seduce Me, I have to wonder at where Valve's — and the rest of our — definition of offensive really comes from.
No Reply Games' Miriam Bellard (the company is based in Holland) has been vocal in blaming her game's removal from Greenlight as a reflection of American cultural values. Her argument is an old one; Europe is sexually enlightened while North America suffers from the lingering influence of a puritanical past. There's a lot of truth to this view (we don't have topless women in our daily papers after all), but it doesn't seem likely that an alternate history Valve, operating out of Madrid, Paris or Budapest, would be likely to sell a game like Seduce Me either. To me, it seems like there's more to the idea that Western culture in general is far less comfortable with sexuality than it is with violence, regardless of continent.
It's only realistic to suspect that a company can pretty easily diminish its reputation by offering products that most people would consider pornographic. For whatever reason, this is a well established cultural fact. Valve very likely chose to remove Seduce Me from its service for the simple reason that a single title could cause people to regard the company in a different light. Though offering it for sale would be a victory for free speech and probably open up an interesting dialogue about mainstream erotica (a conversation that could be worth having in light of all the people reading 50 Shades of Grey on subways and airplanes without embarrassment), Valve is a business and businesses aren't in the habit of taking risks that question existing cultural values.
I'm an open-minded guy and I support games like Seduce Me being added to Steam, but I also have to admit that I wouldn't buy it. It's a shame — but a fact — that I can play F.E.A.R 3 or Dead Rising 2's violent scenes without any embarrassment while I'd feel weird about loading up Seduce Me. Violence, for a number of reasons, is far less taboo than sex and, while playing a violent game is normal, playing an erotic game is strange.
What does this say, when someone who doesn't object to the idea of sex in videogames on any serious moral level (although the games does have the potential of indulging a creepy male power fantasy element) wouldn't want to play one released through Steam?
Until our culture shifts so future generations don't think the way we do today, something like Seduce Me will never find a place on a service like Steam. This is by no means a good thing. That horrific violence is commonplace in Western media while sexuality is far less visible is a real problem and one that needs to be solved. Seduce Me's removal from Greenlight is only one small part of a far larger issue that needs more attention directed toward it.
Some of the details referenced here were sourced from Adam Gauntlett's September 7th, 2012 news article at The Escapist and Joseph Bernstein's interview with No Reply Games' Miriam Bellard at Kill Screen. Click here for more:
Reid McCarter is a writer and editor who lives and works in Toronto. He has written for sites and magazines including Kill Screen, The Escapist and C&G Magazine. He founded, writes and edits the videogame blog digitallovechild.com and is Twitter-ready @reidmccarter.