An independent developer called Desk Lamp says it has spent over two years working on a game called Rape Day. Now it’s waiting for approval from Valve to sell it on Steam.
“Rape Day is a game where you can rape and murder during a zombie apocalypse,” reads its description on Steam. I’m not exaggerating when I say that looking through the screenshots for it made me physically ill. While the game, which seems to be structured like a visual novel, focuses on applying the choose-your-own-adventure formula to simulated rape, it almost seems designed to test just how far Valve is willing to go in its promise to keep Steam open and unrestricted.
“At some point in the future, game historians will look back on visual novels such as ‘rape day’ as game historians look back on games such as “grand theft auto” now or even the first time nudity was shown on television,” writes the developer in an FAQ section on the game’s website.
The very first update on the game’s Steam announcement page is from February 19 and titled “Controversy.” In it, Desk Lamp calls Rape Day a “niche” game that’s not for everyone. “4% of the general population are sociopaths and the type of people that would be entertained by a story like this is not even limited to pure sociopaths,” it wrote.
In a post from a few days later, the developer tried to differentiate Rape Day from Active Shooter, a school shooting simulator Valve ultimately removed from Steam last May for constituting “straight up trolling,” one of the two reasons a game might get taken down according to a policy laid out by the company a week later. The other reason is illegal content. Desk Lamp claims Rape Day falls into neither category. Yesterday, the developer announced the game was in the middle of being reviewed by Valve. Neither Valve nor Desk Lamp responded to a request for comment.
Last year, Valve ended up banning some games from Steam for containing elements of “child exploitation”—mostly young-looking characters in animated sex games. It also removed over 100 porn game with titles like Big Dick and 69, which it deemed to have violated its decree against “trolling,” in October. While the rule against games containing illegal content is pretty clear-cut, the trolling criterion has provided the company with a lot of subjective wiggle room.
In a September blog post, the company described its process for determining when a game is trolling as a “deep assessment” beginning with the developer’s history, past associations, banking information, and other biographical details. It sounded an awful lot like Valve’s equivalent to the Supreme Court’s “I know it when I see it” test for deciding what counts as obscenity.
“We get as much context around the creation and creator of the game and then make an assessment,” the company wrote. “A trend we’re seeing is that we often ban these people from Steam altogether instead of cherry-picking through their individual game submissions. In the words of someone here in the office: ‘it really does seem like bad games are made by bad people.’”
The resulting policy on regulating Steam’s content has been heavily criticized for being both too hands-off and also opaque. In the past, developers have reported having their sexually-explicit games wait in limbo while Valve reviewed them, sometimes without any clear indication as to what they could do to alter and re-submit their game in order to get it approved for sale.
The “straight-up trolling” criteria also has a flattening effect, combining different types of mature content under the same heading. The warning before accessing Rape Day’s Steam discussion page is one example. “Content posted in this community may contain Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Violence, or Gore,” it reads. The fact that Steam doesn’t have a unique tag for sexual violence, or in this case failed to deploy it, offers a small glimpse into why the platforms existing approach to curating content is so inadequate.