UPDATE 6/3/19: Valve says it has "decided not to distribute" Rape Day, a sexually explicit game in which, according to its Steam listing page, players are able to "control the choices of a menacing serial killer rapist".

Last year, following the furore around school-shooting game Active Shooter, Valve unveiled a new content policy for its digital storefront, announcing that it would "allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling". In light of this, Valve says its decision not to distribute Rape Day on Steam "warrants further explanation."

"Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary-we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct", it wrote in a new blog post. "We then have to make a judgement call about any risk it puts to Valve, our developer partners, or our customers. After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think 'Rape Day' poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won't be on Steam."

"We respect developers' desire to express themselves," its statement concluded, "and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that."

Rape Day's Steam listing has now been removed.

ORIGINAL STORY 4/3/19: Valve's 'anything goes' content policy has come under fire once more as a game enabling players to "control the choices of a menacing serial killer rapist" is listed on Steam.

Needless to say, some may find the following upsetting.

Rape Day, created by developer Desk Plant, is a visual novel with "500 images" and "over 7,000 words" that, according to its Steam page, enables players to "verbally harass, kill, and rape women as [they] choose to progress the story." Its contents include "violence, sexual assault, non-consensual sex, obscene language, necrophilia, and incest." The accompanying, sexually explicit, screenshots are as unpleasant as its text description suggests.

Desk Plant's game has seemingly been listed on Steam for several weeks now (the first developer update was posted on February 19th), with an estimated release date of "April 2019". Unsurprisingly, questions are now being asked as to how a game with such a brazen title and content descriptors managed to make it onto Steam in the first place, and what this says of Valve's approval processes for listings on its store.

According to Valve's own developer guidelines, a store page (and game build) must pass through a "brief review process" before it can go live. This is designed to ensure that submissions are "configured correctly and running as expected and not doing anything harmful". There is no suggestion, however, that content review is part of this process.

Indeed, following the controversy around school-shooting game Active Shooter in May last year, Valve announced that it would be changing its content policy, to "allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling".

Its official guidelines offer a little more clarity, prohibiting "adult content that isn't appropriately labeled and age-gated", "libelous or defamatory statements", "content [that developers] don't own or have adequate rights to", "content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction in which it will be available", "content that exploits children in any way", "applications that modify customer's computers in unexpected or harmful ways, such as malware or viruses", and "applications that fraudulently attempts to gather sensitive information, such as Steam credentials or financial data (e.g. credit card information)".

Crucially, Valve's policies do not appear to prohibit the depiction of illegal acts, but rather acts whose depiction is illegal. As a result, Active Shooter was eventually pulled from Steam, not because it enabled players to partake in virtual school shootings, but because, said Valve, it fell foul of its "trolling" rule. It's entirely possible that Rape Day's continued existence on Steam, even as it glorifies its abhorrent subject matter ("So skip the foreplay and enjoy your Rape Day; you deserve it", reads the description), is a result of that very same loophole.

When Valve announced its new content policy last year, it noted that, as a result its changes, "Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don't think should exist." It also told developers that, "There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn't take away your game's voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that's it."

At present, users are taking to Rape Day's Steam comments and discussion pages to slam the game and its developer, and to express disgust at its subject matter - inadvertently revealing what appears to be Valve's own hypocrisy in the process. Valve, it seems, is squeamish enough about the word "rape" to automatically censor any comments that use it, regardless of context, even as it fails to apply those same restrictions to games that seek to glorify sexual violence.

We've reached out to Valve for clarity on how Rape Day fulfilled the tests required to be listed on Steam, and whether the company intends to allow the game to be sold via its store.

It's possible, of course, that this particular listing may have simply slipped through the net, in which case we've asked Valve if it has plans to better flag terms such as "rape" in game names in future - thus bringing its policies in line with those it seems to apply elsewhere on Steam. I'll update the story if and when Valve responds.

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Matt Wales

Matt Wales

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Matt Wales is a freelance writer and gambolling summer child who won't even pretend to live a busily impressive life of dynamic go-getting for the purposes of this bio. He is the sole and founding member of the Birdo for President of Everything Society.