Sometimes I have to wonder what the hell Valve is thinking as a company. Back in September Valve opened up their rules and restriction regarding the games and allowed anything legal on the platform, that that was great. That was a large step forwards when it comes to the market. However, recently there has been multiple takedowns and bans regarding visual novels and few adventure games and there seems to be one unifying theme across the board; children, be it in a school or fantasy setting .
It would seem that Valve is using Washington state legislature in order to cover their bases regarding obscene content, but as One Angry Gamer points out, Valve is technically already complying with the state law by usage of adult filter, preventing the general public from viewing the material. However, that’s not really the issue, is it?
Visual Novels and most products based on Japanese culture tend to follow the culture of cute. It’s not uncommon for some of the materials to, especially material directed at an adult audience, porn or not, to throw some sexiness into the mix. The whole concept of sexy and cute isn’t anything new, but we can see that Japan has the whole thing on another level. I’ve discussed Comic Lemon People (planning on a historical on that for next year), Iczer-1 and numerous other series and products that have their roots in lolicon culture to some extent, and that sub-culture does seem to be partially responsible to these bans and removals.
This clashes harshly with American mentality when it comes to character designs and settings. The aforementioned sub-culture does have sexually suggestive themes regardless of its settings or characters and also in terms of visual design. To most Westerners, the lolicon culture seem to depict child characters, which would be somewhat inaccurate. It is not just a genre and way to depict something, but a sub-culture movement that began in the mid-70’s and came together in the 80’s. However, all that is lost in the discussion about the topic with pretty much anyone.
So you’re saying cultural differences are the reason why Valve is banning titles with minor-looking characters in a school setting? Partially. Whether or not we follow Washington state laws or not, the overall consensus about characters is that they’re depicting people or reality to some extent. We naturally refer characters as she or he, rather than it; we anthropomorphise characters naturally and give them humanity by sheer nature of our brain. Characters seem real, and in some cases, we regard them as real. Nevertheless, your favourite fiction is just that, fiction. It’s all make believe, and no real people are hurt. We know that, of course, but at the same time we can’t disassociate with the fact that an action made in fictional setting towards a character seems real.
The question I am asking of myself while reading these news stories and finally writing about the subject is whether or not it’s lolicon content as understood in modern Western terms, rather than in its popular culture context, should be allowed freely on Steam? Within the writer personae the answer is yes. In principle, the market should be voting with their wallets. But in person, I understand and see all the troubles and arguments that can be made left and right. Even if there was no sexual depiction, the issue is muddy. Japanese design, in and out of lolicon culture, often clash with the Western designs overall. There’s no winning against design choices that seem to sexualise schoolgirls, especially if the style makes them extremely cute. At the same time, I do feel Valve, and Western values overall in this subject, are taken to an extreme rather than concentrating at the core of the matter.
The problem here is the following: the core is different based on who views it.
Fictional depiction is regarded on the same level as photography (or real things as a whole) in certain parts of the world, and that’s the angle we most often see. The rest doesn’t even count as far as most modern Western legal systems are counted. How far are things going with this? Dead or Alive Dimensions on the Nintendo 3Ds and comic named Love Hina was pulled from sales as they were deemed to sexually depict minors. That might be ‘just Sweden’, but this is the exact same mindset Valve is employing, though not across the board. There are numerous titles on Steam that would fulfill the criteria they’re using behind the curtains with titles like Nipleheim’s Hunter and The Key to Home. However, to what extent Valve’s staff are extending their rules is unknown, as it seems to be based on the personal views and issues of the person who makes the decision. Those, ultimately, can’t be swayed.
Is this censorship under the guise of law? Most likely, but at the same time I understand Valve not wanting to be blamed for supporting child abuse through fictional characters. After all, Vale is ultimately responsible what’s on Steam, for better or worse. None of us need to like it, but at the same time, we can’t really achieve that utopian goal with things being still banned. Or is the problem the characters and settings? Some would say there wouldn’t be any bans if people weren’t creating hurtful and mentally sick content like this. The core of the matter is always different with different views.
You know what? No, I have a habit of making clear statements with the blogger’s angle, so let’s wrap this post up with a little bow; Valve has set up its rules. If the developer follows them and their title directly does not break law to any extent, it should not be banned. Screw personal views, screw cultural contexts or whether or not people like seeing things that make them uncomfortable. If it’s not breaking the law, Valve’s employees should hold their fingers off from the ban button.