Content Warning: This article discusses adult only games with content you may find problematic (and some of which definitely is), such as nonconsensual sex, sexual depiction of minors, and fantastical kinks such as mind control, vore, and the like. There are no images of such content in this article, although there are images of BDSM content.
A long while back (Well, in games. Last May, with some half examples beforehand), Steam decided to take a stand. Sort of. Not really. Essentially, after a lot of controversies about hateful games, asset flips, and shovelware hitting the Steam Store (and yes, in the cases where the term applies, it is Shovelware, not “Dev’s first game”), Steam decided to… Say it was allowing everything that wasn’t illegal or trolling.
Ever since, it has been inconsistent on even this stance. For example, Negligee, a yuri visual novel with then censored sexual content, was removed (later clarified to be a re-examination due to the slight clarifications, and uncensoring patches, from the developer, were no longer deemed to be necessary. The game was banned in several countries, but, considering how widely the sexual content laws of countries vary, this came as no surprise. But this is by no means the only example in the past, or, indeed, in the present, as several games have been okayed, or censored somewhat, and then, later on… Censored some more, removed, put back, allowed or disallowed to mention they have R-18 patches…“Mutiny!!!”, “Hello, Goodbye”, “HuniePop 2” are further examples, but the one thing that these have in common is that they were okayed… And then they were not.
There are several potential reasons for this, of course. Payment processors are antsy at the best of times about sexual content (itself partly due to having to comply with differing laws about sexual content and sex work), there have been groups pressuring Steam on this non-stance (such as The Morality in Media Group) and, contributing to this, Steam’s non-hierarchical structure could very well mean that one employee or group of employees could okay a work one day… And another delist it, the next. But what cannot be excused, and what continues to happen, is the lack of clarity about reasoning, and the lack of consistency in this stance, which, if you may recall, was a non-stance of “If it isn’t illegal, or straight up trolling”, then it was fine. Although some of the content, especially in J-Games, is illegal in, well, a lot of other places (specifically lolicon and shotacon, the sexual depiction of minors), and thus fair game, by no means all of it is.
And so we come to Taimanin Asagi, a set of visual novels that heavily feature non-consensual sex, that has been removed from the store only a short time after Steam allowed its sale. “Ah, okay,” you may say “This is clearly on the illegal e-” No, ‘fraid not. Rushimaru’s Goblin Walker, for example, is still on the store, and an R-18 patch is available for… A game that heavily features non-consensual sex. Or many of the RPG Maker offerings, which, as I’ve discussed previously, include the monsters (often non-consensually) having sex on the defeat of the protagonist(s.) Not to mention that nonconsensual sex is, whether clear or of dubious consent, is okayed in other media. So… The illegal argument doesn’t really hold, and the trolling argument doesn’t hold either. The only thing that does hold is that Steam has been, unsurprisingly, inconsistent about its stance. Because yes, as has been pointed out several times, no stance is a stance. But what about the effects of this?
Well firstly, the lack of consistency, and, more importantly, the lack of clarity about the inconsistency, creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, that hardest hits… The indie developer. We’ve already talked, previously, about how obstacles to financing and marketing NSFW games, themselves not always consistently applied, and how games that the average horny individual on the internet would like can quite easily die on the vine because… Well, they can’t consistently market, they can’t consistently finance, and, due to social stigma, you can’t even talk about except with trusted friends. Hell, I often wonder if one of these articles is going to be the one I’m ratioed for, despite being confident in my stance.
And this inconsistency is one more example of this. Nobody wants to spend the £100 fee if they can’t be sure if it’ll need censoring, if a censor patch is fine or not, or if their game is going to be removed just a few days after release because someone at Steam changed their mind… Or someone else decided differently, due to their non-hierarchical policy allowing this. Bigger developers (and yes, there are Big Names in adult games media, mostly, it must be said, on the eastern hemisphere) can largely take the hit, while smaller devs generally cannot.
There are other platforms, such as Itch, or Nutaku, who recently started rolling out an LGBTQ filter: A feature I applaud, due to normal tagging in the adult games sphere being less than useful when both queer and heterosexual content is present. But, for all that they are more consistent than Steam on this front, they are also perceived to be smaller, less useful. But let’s talk a little about subject matter, while we’re on this.
I’ve talked before about how yes, it can be hard to disentangle content which is kink with some context removed that makes it look more problematic than it’s intended from genuine misogynerdery, transmisogyny, or transfetishism. But one thing I failed to mention is that the queer community actively engages with and enjoys content that those not in the know would find problematic. Hypnokink (Mind Control, often a BDSM roleplay) is one example, some others being vore (Being devoured, with both harder and lighter elements), Dronification and Bimbification (A combination of transformation and mind control) … A lot of these are what we would call “Fantastical Kinks”, kinks that have little to no basis in reality, but they’re used in a variety of different ways.
For example, if I told you that gender transformation was often used in gender euphoric stories (Stories in which somebody overcomes dysphoria and discovers, attains, and is acknowledged as their true gender), you may not be surprised. But I’ve seen illusion used to safely explore kink. I’ve seen temporary and consensual mind control, bimbification, transformation, used to various ends in fiction… As I said, the subjects are engaged with, explored, in a similar way to how various types of fiction explore their own subjects, from science fiction asking questions about the impact of technology, both science fiction and fantasy exploring different cultures… Things are a lot more nuanced than you’d think, lots of blurry lines, almost like a… Spectrum, of sorts. Hrm, file that one for later.
So, secondly, we have an effect on the expression of the queer community, on top of questions of consistency, ability to market and finance, and the attitudes taken toward NSFW games. And, as Reb Valentine of Gamesindustry dot Biz pointed out, there are three interlocking, important, but different questions that have to be answered by Steam in each case, answers which, for the most part, have not been forthcoming: Does a game fit within Steam’s current content policy (Ill defined as it has mostly been)? What should be on Steam’s sexual content policy? And what should Steam’s policy be on extreme content?
Unfortunately, for Steam to be consistent about this, one of the things they have to do is agree, and not take the easy route of not saying anything. We’ve talked about reasons why this might be, early on, but these are theories, plausbile though they may be. Right now, it’s like a black box puzzle, where the lasers change places, and it doesn’t agree on the rules. The laissez faire attitude toward holding themselves to rules, to moderation is, in this case, not only harming minority developers and indies who might want to improve the sphere… It’s once again, as it has plenty of times before, putting Steam itself in a poor position. Steam, in short, needs to not only take a stance, but stick to it. Something it has a poor track record for so far.
UPDATE 9/9/19: Although Steam has not commented on this, one of the developers at LilithSoft, the creators of Taimanin Asagi, did tweet about the issue. The tweet is here, and a translation is as follows – ” Thank you for your comments. This work will be a work close to a fallen married woman. Unfortunately, Asagi Shinobu Asagi 1 that was being reviewed by Steam became NG, but I learned that Steam is very strict in judging visuals that may be suspected to be minors. I will use this experience in my new work.”
From research, there are two characters who may fit this bill (emphasis on may, as age is less than clear visually), and a school setting for part of the work. Beyond this, it is unclear beyond “reasonable doubt.”