With the recent removal of the early access title “Active Shooter” from online gaming platform Steam, due to the public uproar caused by the game allowing players to play as a school shooter and murder civilians and police, Valve, the company running the platform, has been struggling to set a bar for what it will and what it will not allow on Steam.
This is a more complicated problem than it initially appears. While “Active Shooter” was certainly a controversial title, there were many other titles that are perfectly active on Steam and hold positive ratings: In Hatred, players take control of a man who, for no discernible reason other than he dislikes all humanity, takes an assault rifle and goes on a killing spree through a neighborhood block party. This game also received its fair share of public outcry, but was never removed from the platform.
Following the “Active Shooter” media event, Valve has promised to look over its rules and terms of service, and to put up more detailed guidelines on what will and what will not be allowed on the Steam platform.
Earlier today, they have officially released those guidelines:
There are no guidelines.
In a blog post earlier today, Valve’s Erik Johnson released a statement detailing the process the Valve team takes in reviewing “controversial” titles. He admits that the Valve team is not a homogeneous group, and that they don’t share opinions on what should and what should not be censored. He also revealed that he feels that forcing his team to review and debate over these titles is a waste of time. He spoke about how him and his team wanted to do what they could to make people happy, and different people have different ideas about what kind of content should be censored.
In terms of moving forward with the issue, Johnson had this to say:
“…we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see. We already have some tools, but they’re too hidden and not nearly comprehensive enough. We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in.”
Johnson’s proposed approach to the issue of what and what not to censor is to allow the user to choose for themselves. In the future, Johnson and the Valve team plan to focus less on curating the Steam Store based on some overarching company guidelines and more on supplying users with the tools to curate their personal stores as they see fit. This will likely include the ability to exclude or “hide” games that fall under certain categories, categories that are certain to become more and more popular in the weeks following this statement: Controversial titles based on disturbing themes, titles containing disturbing imagery, and titles containing NSFW or sexual content.
Johnson and his team will surely receive significant backlash from individuals who believe this digital market should be more closely curated. In addition, the market will likely receive a sudden influx of offensive or lewd titles from individuals uploading titles in an attempt to make a statement or capitalize on the buzz of this story. The coming weeks will likely decide the fate of this decision, and this is an event that Johnson and co. have surely prepared for: Being in the business of running an internet-based online platform, they surely have significant experience in dealing with the internet’s more volatile and reactive side.