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Update: TechCrunch has been in contact with Apple, and claims they did not intend a blanket ban on Confederate Flags in the app store. Apple is allowing displays of the flag for historical or educational uses, however other uses of the flag are still banned. They are now reported to be working with developers to restore their apps to the store if they were mistakenly banned. Despite Apple’s statement on the matter, its possible that Apple had originally intended a much broader ban of the flag and is simply backpedaling after the widespread negative reaction across tech sites and forums.

It is unclear from Apple’s statement whether Civil War games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg are considered educational or historical by Apple, and will be allowed back onto the store. At the time of this writing, Ultimate General: Gettysburg was still not available on the App Store.

Original story below.

In response to the recent Charleston shooting, retailers such as Amazon and Walmart have ceased selling merchandise that contains the Confederate flag. Apple is now following their lead and cracking down hard on any apps that contain the flag. Numerous Civil War games have been pulled down from the App Store for displaying the flag in a historical context.

The reason given by Apple to the developers over the removal of the games is that they, “includes images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways.” This has baffled developers, who had intended no offense by their usage of the flag, but were simply using it in a way that was historically accurate due to the subject matter of their games. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has also made a statement on twitter about eradicating symbols of hatred, which may shed some light on this decision by Apple.

Andrew Mulholland of HexWar Games stated, “We’re in no way sympathetic to the use of the flag in an offensive way, we used it purely because historically that was the flag that was used at the time.” HexWar Games has developed multiple Civil War games which have been removed from the App Store. They plan on resubmitting the games with a lesser known version of the flag from 1861, but are unsure if that change will be sufficient for the games to be accepted by Apple.

Game Labs, developers of Ultimate General: Gettysburg, have published a blog post in response to their game being removed from the App Store. In the post they make it clear that their app would be accepted back onto the store if they remove the flag, and explain the reasons why they will not be doing so. The team has put in a lot of work to make the game as historically accurate as possible, and they are not willing to compromise that historical accuracy, even if it means that they will no longer be able to sell it on the App Store. One paragraph from the post is especially eloquent in conveying that message.

Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical “Gettysburg” movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money.

It should be noted that there are still Civil War apps available that contain the Confederate Flag such as this one about the Battle of Antietam. Of course that one is classified as a book rather than a game. It’s entirely possible that Apple is allowing an exception to the ban for historical usage, but is simply not extending that exception to video games. While that sort of inconsistent policy is disappointing, it is not entirely unexpected. Certain countries have bans on distributing works containing swastikas, but often have an exception in the law for historical works. So far, video games have not received the benefit of such historical exceptions, and many World War 2 games require changes to art assets in order to be sold in those countries.

It’s hard to see any benefit from this move by Apple. There’s no reason to believe that banning historical simulations will prevent acts of violence from being committed. It only encourages historical revisionism by pressuring developers to change factual details contained in their games. Whitewashing history doesn’t benefit anyone.

Is Apple right to remove all games with the Confederate Flag, or is it a poorly thought out overreaction? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.