A recent blog post from Steam has caused quite a stir on the internet. And to understand why, you have to feast your eyes on this circus of tragedy.
In simple terms, Valve are going to stop blocking most Steam releases. This means that all the nightmare scenarios from the days of Steam Greenlight are a sure thing now. And it’s not just asset flips either, Valve even admitted that they don’t really care about people using their marketplace to push racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQIA+ and other bigoted garbage.
Seriously, read this trashfire of a statement.
The challenge is that this problem is not simply about whether or not the Steam Store should contain games with adult or violent content. Instead, it’s about whether the Store contains games within an entire range of controversial topics – politics, sexuality, racism, gender, violence, identity, and so on. In addition, there are controversial topics that are particular to games – like what even constitutes a “game”, or what level of quality is appropriate before something can be released.
Common questions we ask ourselves when trying to make decisions didn’t help in this space. What do players wish we would do? What would make them most happy? What’s considered acceptable discussion / behavior / imagery varies significantly around the world, socially and legally. Even when we pick a single country or state, the legal definitions around these topics can be too broad or vague to allow us to avoid making subjective and interpretive decisions. The harsh reality of this space, that lies at the root of our dilemma, is that there is absolutely no way we can navigate it without making some of our players really mad.
In addition, Valve is not a small company – we’re not a homogeneous group. The online debates around these topics play out inside Valve as well. We don’t all agree on what deserves to be on the Store. So when we say there’s no way to avoid making a bunch of people mad when making decisions in this space, we’re including our own employees, their families and their communities in that.
Say hello to the far-right openly putting horrible games about murdering minorities onto Steam. And rest assured, those games already exist, and the communities of extremists are already well-entrenched on Steam. No seriously, all you have to do to get a game with blatant racist elements onto Steam now is to pretend that “it’s all just a joke”. Valve just conveniently ignores the influence of this particularly insidious form of bigotry because it suits their financial interest to do so. And if these new changes come to fruition, not even that barest minimum of effort would be required to disguise this trash.
Valve, this is a terrible move, mostly because you’ve just given the go-ahead for political extremism to propagate through your platform. You’ve already got a problem with alt-right crap all over your storefront and its discussions, and now the company admits that they won’t police the problem at all. Frankly, Valve only removing the Active Shooter game from their service due to “trolling” on the part of its creator is pretty indicative of how they’ll handle offensive content from now on. This is a horrifying trend, because the ultimate conclusion is a bunch of crypto-fascists using Steam to create another front in their ongoing assault on decency and common sense online. If Valve wanted to turn Steam into a much more visible version of all the toxic crap from 4chan, this is how they do it.
And to make it even worse, Valve is relying on a combination of developer honesty and a simple user blocking system to make it so users don’t see the content they don’t like.
We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in. So if you don’t want to see anime games on your Store, you’ll be able to make that choice. If you want more options to control exactly what kinds of games your kids see when they browse the Store, you’ll be able to do that. And it’s not just players that need better tools either – developers who build controversial content shouldn’t have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we’ll be building tools and options to support them too.
Let’s be clear, bigotry and the political ideologies built on it are not just something not to like. These ideas are dangerous and genocidal in their ambitions, and any person or group interested in protecting the people that extremists would victimize should feel a moral obligation to oppose these kinds of extremism. It’s clear that Valve couldn’t care less about the impact their platform has on the spread of these kinds of ideas. And the fact that Valve openly admits that they’ll help support extremists by protecting them from being rightfully told to clear off is somehow even more disgusting.
And if you think people won’t lie to Valve to push extremism or to make a quick buck, you’re stupidly naive. There’s even a related issue that I haven’t seen discussed in any of the coverage of this statement online. Valve may well run into the same problem YouTube is having with far-right agitators controlling the discourse through disingenuous means.
The far-right has become scarily effective at suppressing criticism on YouTube through a combination of fallacious mass-reporting, harassment, doxing and huge amounts of negative feedback. Depending on how strict Valve is with policing user reports and feedback under this new system, we may well see the far-right apply many of the same tactics to dominate the dissemination of games and discussion on Steam. I don’t know how you feel dear reader, but I don’t feel comfortable with that possibility, not even a little.
It’s not even necessarily about the propagation of adult or violent content that’s the problem. Sure, extreme examples of that kind of behavior have existed on Steam before, and do also contribute to a wider negative stereotype around gaming, but the deeper problem is Valve finally admitting defeat and seemingly refusing to commit to serious control of the torrent of garbage on their platform. Tons of low-quality games are already there, now we’ll have to deal with increased numbers of openly bigoted games to boot.
It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values, beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create & consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it’s almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you.
So Valve, serious question here, what the heck is wrong with you? This dogmatic adherence to spineless “centrism” is not only cowardly, but also dangerous. Opening the floodgates for political extremists to spread propaganda, and then washing your hands of any blame is not how you create a hospitable and welcoming service for gamers both new and old. Valve is openly allowing bigoted and otherwise offensive games onto the platform to make a profit, and then claiming moral superiority by saying that the games they host don’t reflect their values.
So Valve, when your storefront is awash in thinly veiled religious extremism, Fascist imagery and overt racism, what bullshit excuse are you going to trot out then? Because the storefront already buried under garbage games, it’s only a matter of time until the worst part of these changes comes to fruition. By the way, this is already a problem in Steam groups.
I’ll go ahead and say it, I’m avoiding purchasing any additional games on Steam if these kinds of issues come to pass. I honestly dread the message it sends about the terrible hill Valve is choosing to die on. The wasteland of abandoned early access scams, asset flips, and achievement-farming games will only be bolstered by a whole new breed of vile edgy crap masquerading as subversive entertainment.
I sincerely hope other gamers are as angered about this kind of decision as I am, because actually removing this toxicity would serve to disprove the stereotype of some gamers being unstable bigots. Which, by the way is a stereotype constantly complained about in gaming circles, so it’s time to put up or shut up, either you’re for this change and its negative consequences, or against it. It’s clear that Valve doesn’t care about breaking that stereotype by actively removing content that reinforces it.