A few days ago, a game on Steam Greenlight was launched and subsequently banned in the course of two hours. Independent developer Randall Herman, the one man coder of company Skaldic Games, posted a small, poorly designed duck-shooter titled Kill the Faggot. The objective is simple, shoot as many gay and transgendered people as possible while avoiding straight people as they run and roller skate across a static screen.
Boasting the quality of a Newgrounds flash game from 2001, KTF is a rather poor attempt at satire and comedy, with thinly veiled jokes at the expense of homosexuals, shouting with full lisps colorful phrases such as “I just dropped the soap” and “Can I put my wiener in your butt?” Dripping with the stereotypes that many in the LGBT community have constantly pushed away from, KTF simply becomes another derived, poor excuse for humor, and for many others, a possible example of homophobic speech.
Sites such as Gaygamer have condemned the title. Writer Greg Rayo stated, “The game was a blunt example of hate speech being used to target queer people, literally by shooting them.” Journalist and Internet celebrity Jim Sterling posted a short video of the game on YouTube, criticizing the title as a poor excuse for satire and Herman and his company for even posting the game.
Sterling succinctly sums up everyone’s reaction towards the end of his video, “I don’t even know how even the most hardcore…of game developers who should be allowed to do what they want could stick up for this one.” A sentiment we all share, as KTF is a terrible, disgusting game, but that is also the point of its creation.
Herman, in a statement he wrote to several companies, has responded to the criticism of his title on Skaldic’s official website: “The reason behind this particular game is because of how tired I am of people being overly sensitive and how easily offended people are by every little thing, especially with LGBT issues,” writes Herman. “I didn’t make this game to attack LGBT people personally, but I made this game just to piss off those people that are way too sensitive, which includes straight people.“ In essence, Herman created this game as a statement on political correctness in the industry, and brings up a valid, if morbid point, regarding the industry by and large.
“I mean come on, its just a crappy made video game made by a no-name developer. Why do you care so much?”
Since the game was taken down on Greenlight, Herman, who did QA testing on titles such as Disney Infinity and Call of Duty: Black Ops, has since reposted it on Skaldic’s website. Herman is also planning on releasing another title in the future named The Shelter: A Survival Story. However, there is no need to give Herman any further, unwanted promotion for his work, as the bigger problem is not the game itself, but the response to it by gaming media.
Writers like Rayo, for example, opined on why the game was posted in the first place stating,“What DOES concern me is how this was allowed to happen…the glaring lack of responsibility on Valve’s part to protect its users from abusive content is shocking and disheartening. Valve should protect its consumers from having to be exposed to this obvious bile.” Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica stated, “Whether or not that fee has been backed by any active filtering or monitoring service, Greenlight still failed to stop a game from launching that clearly violated its terms of service.”
The terms of service in question do mention, “Porn, inappropriate or offensive content, threats of violence or harassment, even as a joke,” to be conditions you agree to not post, which this game clearly violates. However, several games on Steam Greenlight, and Steam in general, also can be categorized as this tangentially. Hatred is perhaps the most obvious example, with its tumultuous relationship on Steam being well documented in the past several months. Other recent titles like Hotline Miami 2 have been criticized for including a “simulated rape” in a staged movie scene in the game, to the point where the sale of the game has been banned in Australia.
The questions presented by Rayo, Machkovech and other journalists are fair, but founded in the wrong context. It should not be a whether or not Valve essentially “dropped the ball” on allowing a game like KTF to be released, but rather it should be a question of dealing with controversial games; namely, should Valve censor content on their service, or should the market censure it for them?
The thorny issue here boils down to a few factors. Many, including some on the staff of Techraptor, have debated the merits and protections of censorship of violent and sensitive subjects in various forms, but it feels that each editorial seems to be missing one thing from the equation, and that is the necessity of controlling content when necessary. It is not a question of agenda or ideology, but rather a common sense notion of what is actually appropriate for your audience, which always leads down the rabbit hole of not only the perception of video games, but its status as “commercial art.”
Herein lies the key, and it is laid at the feet of the “commercial” portion of the creation of video games. Anything can be considered a work of art and have the protections as a work of art, but that doesn’t mean it should be made, sold, or even showed publicly because of its subject matter. Controversial games range from obviously racist such as Ethnic Cleansing, to politically charged titles, such as Under Siege or Super Columbine Massacre. However, what truly regulates the market is not that these titles should be censored, but rather the public has chosen to censure them.
Censuring content, of course, is an “expression of formal disapproval” towards some matter of content. The gaming public at large is savvy enough to disapprove of practices within the gaming industry all the time, which leads to us all actively participating in the censuring of content. This is different from censorship, which is the suppression of objectionable speech, public communication or information.
Which leads us to the opposite of what the likes of Rayo, Sterling and Mackhovech have said, a game like KTF should not have been removed from Steam Greenlight. The terms of service of Steam Greenlight, while clearly violated by the title, are broad enough to allow games such as Hatred to fall into the same category. It is not a stretch to say that Hatred should still be banned for its content of hyper violence and complete, nihilistic amorality, in fact doing so would eliminate the hypocrisy presented by removing KTF.
An argument can be made that context is key, which is a very valid and rational way to look at controversial games. The community by and large, however, tend to be antagonistic towards those we don’t agree with first. The ability for rational discussions is there, but the path getting there is mired in outrage and debate, bringing us full circle to the heart of the question once more, should games be censored or censured?
In truth, it is a question we may not be equipped at solving any time soon. If we are to deny one game, clearly made to antagonize on purpose for political reasons, while simultaneously championing another title designed for the same purpose, we skirt that slippery slope of becoming hypocritical ourselves. However, should we simply allow any game to be posted, regardless of the amounts of violence, nudity, sex, and racism presented in it to avoid censorship?
It is in cases like this where it may just be best to let the market decide things itself, a stance that Valve has actively taken with Steam in general. Consumers are the arbiters of their own content, and the massive outrage over a game like KTF has shown that we can censure titles that are clearly deplorable. Make no mistake about it, a game like KTF is a bad game, and no one is endorsing it to even play, but do we allow it to exist is another question entirely; one that we need to really ask ourselves.
It is very likely that more and more controversial topics and subject matters, both in good and bad taste, will pop up on Steam Greenlight, online and in general in the public eye of the video game community. The community by and large must not only use their better judgment to censor themselves, but be tolerant enough to allow materials they disagree with to exist. It is a stance that leads to uncomfortable feelings, but perhaps it is the best course of action when it comes to what we all perceive as controversial.
So what are your thoughts on this? Should games be censored or censured? Leave your comments below.