At first glance, You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter doesn’t look like porn. There’s far more ASCII than ass, and the game says its goal is to explore the awkward, scary feelings that accompany a person’s first steps into sexuality. However, last week Valve yanked it because it decided the game is porn after all.
In You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter, you explore a series of lo-fi “websites” as a first-time porn liker. To recreate the isolated disorientation of discovering something forbidden for the first time, the game is structured like a horror game, with pop-ups blaring porn noises taking the place of jump scares. There are some ASCII-fied images of people getting up on each other, but they’re blurred out and not exactly titillating. In a post on Gamasutra, developer James Cox explained that despite the blurring and less-than-sexy interface, Valve decided the game was pornographic by its (often inconsistent) standards.
“We got an email from Valve informing us they had decided that they view our game as porn,” Cox wrote. “Less than two months after its Steam launch, Valve banned You Must be 18 or Older to Enter.”
Cox’s post referenced a scene in Saint’s Row The Third in which you fight naked through a BDSM club. He claimed it’s more explicit than anything in You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter, but hardly anyone batted an eyelash at it because it was played for laughs in an over-the-top action game, a genre people are familiar with. When games approach sex and sexuality with ironic detachment, abstraction, or violence—as Saints Row did—Cox wrote, they’re more likely to get a pass from Valve and Steam users because they’re genres and presentations players are used to. Cox said he thinks this leads to a cycle in which it’s difficult to create games that ask players to seriously consider uncomfortable subjects in novel ways.
“Gamers like what they know, and distribution platforms curate to that audience,” Cox wrote. “This means gamers have limited language for addressing games, and that language is curated by the games they play and have access to. If a game like You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is considered porn by a platform, then players lose a nonviolent alternative horror.”
I reached out to Valve to ask more about its rationale here, but as of publishing, I had yet to hear back.
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