Here we go again, talking about games being banned.
Despite Valve openly advertising their take on allowing any game that doesn’t break laws on Steam, this clearly has not been the case thus far. Few days ago, HuniePop 2 was announced to release in censored form on Steam. This shouldn’t be necessary, seeing how the game’s contents wouldn’t break any laws and Valve themselves shouldn’t have anything against it.
That is not the case, however. It is somewhat evident that Valve is practicing behind-the-scenes ruling based on whatever they wish rather than sticking to their guns. Visual Novels are included in these banned and removed games, whilst some are self-playing games like MaoMao Discovery Team. It would seem Valve is mostly covering their asses in case of someone might come down on them whether or not they’re selling titles with child pornography. The aforementioned MaoMao Discovery Team most likely falls directly into this category, seeing Maomao herself has a petite look, though this is more a stylistics choice in design. After all, the design does harken back to the 1980’s character designs, where a lot of adult characters were still portrayed as petite. It can go the other way around, with Pokémon being a good example how all the main characters are about ten years old but look older. Valve did confirm this one by telling the developer that the game exploited children, and thus they deemed to be illegal.
Outside the apparent visual design of the characters, a common element with some of the banned titles is the school setting. Usually this was circumvented by either removing any references to the characters’ ages, like they did in one of the Senran Kagura titles, or just up them to 18 and be done with it. However, Valve’s having none of that at this moment. An All-Ages VN named Hello, Good-bye got the banhammer brought down on it as well.
This raises a question I’ve hard tried to avoid; do games exploit children if they have characters that are younger 18 and in risque situations? Look at me trying to be all politically correct and not mention about games showing teens fucking.
There’s no one answer, there never is. Cultural differences are vastly different across the board, and what goes in Japan doesn’t fly in the US. Most of the titles that have been banned from Steam are Japanese made, and especially the Visual Novels tend to hit that tender ever-seventeen range with its characters. Arguably Muv-Luv should see some scrutiny as well due to Tamase Miki being an effective lolicon bait. In the US, some states legislation state any kind of depiction of children, be it real or fictional, in risque or sexual, or even just overall nudity situations counts as child exploitation. The same applies to numerous European countries, which do no make a difference between reality and fictional. Valve can’t juggle across the board, and most likely has a dedicated person who has been given the command to remove content that might offend any of the laws around. It is effectively a business necessity to cover their assess as one of the larger digital games platform. I discussed how Valve seems to follow the Washington state laws inaccurately, so read on that.
However, there are platforms who would rather fight this mentality. Some of the titles, like the aforementioned Maomao Discovery Team, has been re-released on JAST USA alongside Cross Love and Imolicious. You also have English language DLSite, which effectively gives you free pass to any and all titles that would be banned on Steam the moment they were submitted. This is stupidly evident by itself, but nothing else matters; if it looks wrong, it gets the banhammer.
There are no nuances in the issue as far as Valve or numerous groups and national laws are concerned. To use an example where law was read by its letter, let’s take a look at a case in North Carolina from 2015. In this case, a couple was charged with making and distributing child pornography by sending nude photos of themselves to each other. The couple was sixteen at the time. To many this was a case of dysfunctional law, and was not put into force according to the spirit of the law. To some this was an example of law being exercised as it was written. This case did bring up the question whether or not babyhood and childhood pictures where people can happen to be nude would count as child exploitation as well, and if we go by this example, any and all such pictures would. The same would apply to many television commercials that have nude babies advertising diapers or such, despite having no depiction of genitals. A sensible person probably would dismiss most, if not all of these, as unnecessary noise about nothing and over reaction.
So why are we acting like fictional depictions of nudity count as any worse?
There really isn’t an answer. It might be how humans are creatures that constantly contrast themselves to everything around them in trying to recognise a pattern, like seeing a face on a power outlet, and seeing an immoral depiction of a character having sex or simply nude hits that center hard, forcing us to empathise with non-living entities and attributing them with human characteristics. We anthropomorphise everything by nature, and thus everything that has a human shape or depicts humanity fictionally automatically is given a human status. A drawing of an underage character is not seen just as a drawing or depiction, but as some sort of mirror to reality. This is doubled when it comes to realistic 3D models, especially if details are modeled in with care.
It’s almost as of we automatically install moral ideas and practices to what isn’t there. A drawing having sex is not real, but its depiction of possible reality as true. The more offensive and hard the fiction is, the more we think how wrong it is. That’s the point where we have to remind ourselves that vast majority of fictional characters are not real, nobody could ever exploit them to any extent.
That of course is mostly lost to us. Humans are strange creatures.
If you’d like to hear my own view on this, it’s as follows; you draw and publish anything you like. You should have no limits, as long nobody has been hurt in the making. Nowadays you can do wonders with 3D models anyway, no need for human models to be present.
There’s no real end for this post. While I’d like to directly argue how fictional characters and their situations do not count as exploitation unto themselves, that’s a rabbit hole very few can get out.