Steam, the most popular platform for PC gaming, will no longer release “Rape Day,” a controversial video game from indie developer Desk Plant centered around committing sexual violence against women. While the game was viewable in the Steam store for weeks and was scheduled for an April 2019 release, Steam now says “Rape Day” presents “unknown costs and risks” to its business.
In the past, Steam has been vocal about its desire to protect the free speech interests of the developers who release their games on the platform. Last year, after pulling a game called “Active Shooter” that simulated a school shooting, Steam said it would strive to allow any game on the platform regardless of content, so long as it wasn’t “illegal, or straight up trolling.”
The creator of “Rape Day,” Desk Plant, said they followed Steam’s policies and disclosed the game’s offensive content before it was listed in the store. Like other games with sexual content, “Rape Day” was hidden from Steam’s usual search results, but searching the exact title, or the word rape alone, would allow users to see and access the game’s Steam listing. Users were not able to pre-purchase the game, but they could add it to the wishlist while Steam completed their content review.
“Rape Day’s” apparent glorification of sexual violence sparked an immediate backlash from members of the media and the public at large. The game was repeatedly criticized for promoting violence against women and normalizing rape, and a Change.org petition calling for the game to be blocked from Steam gained more than 7,000 signatures.
Some outraged Steam users pledged not to buy any more games until Rape Day was removed from the store.
Meanwhile, a separate contingent of Steam users formed to defend the game on the grounds of free speech and censorship. Both sides eventually met on the game’s Steam community hub, where heated debates signaled a larger cultural clash forming around the game. As the controversy swelled, the landing page for “Rape Day” became one of the top Google results when searching the word “Steam.”
In Steam’s statement announcing that “Rape Day” would not be released on its platform, the company did not specifically condemn the depiction of sexual violence but said the content of “Rape Day” presents “unknown costs and risks.”
“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,” the statement from Steam read.
While blocking the Steam release of “Rape Day” was a goal for the critics of the game, Steam’s response does little to address the concerns raised by the situation. Steam has not said whether it will adjust its policies on sexual violence in games, or if it will change the way games are reviewed before being cleared for sale.
If the content of “Rape Day” was always too problematic for Steam, how did the game earn a listing in the first place? What part of the game’s content or representation ultimately led to it being pulled?
While Steam’s decision to pull “Rape Day” brings the situation to an abrupt end, these are the questions that are still lingering.
Read Steam’s full statement on “Rape Day” below.
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.