Steam’s ambiguous content rules fail “trolling” test with the pending launch of Rape Day, which is exactly what you think it is

Valve’s introduction in mid-2018 of a new, more or less whatever except stuff that’s “illegal or trolling” content policy is back in the news this week, for the wrong – but perhaps not unexpected – reasons.

Rape Day is “a game where you can rape and murder during a zombie apocalypse”, according to its Steam listing, and features “violence, sexual assault, non-consensual sex, obscene language, necrophilia, and incest”. Not baby killing, though, because indie developer Desk Plant decided maybe that’s too much.

Control the choices of a menacing serial killer rapist during a zombie apocalypse. Verbally harass, kill, and rape women as you choose to progress the story.

It’s a dangerous world with no laws. The zombies enjoy eating the flesh off warm humans and brutally raping them but you are the most dangerous rapist in town.

Rape Day is a choice driven visual novel. It does not include grinding or any other time wasting activities. So skip the foreplay and enjoy your Rape Day; you deserve it.

The game’s 500 images and 7000 words also include subtle, thought-provoking moments like this one.

Games like this aren’t technically illegal in a lot of countries, because showing illegal activities isn’t the same as actually being illegal activities – or almost every game ever would also be illegal. But Valve’s content rules are inconsistent about this, because even showing something “that exploits children”, for example, is prohibited. Why is rape an exception? This hypocrisy is awkwardly (but kind of hilariously) evident in discussions on Steam about the game, which censor the word “rape”.

I think there’s also an important distinction to be made between games that use otherwise questionable things like murder as props supporting a narrative, and games that are entirely about murder because… LOL MURDER. Like in the Assassin’s Creed series, you’re a murderer. But you’re a murderer in a context of some sort, and murder is one of a number of plot devices. This difference becomes somewhat more opaque in games like GTA, where murder is frequently inconsequential and “part of the fun” – but even so, it’s a game about more than those murders.

I’m not convinced that banning games like Rape Day matters much, though. From a PR and tabloid perspective, Steam hosting Rape Day is probably bad, but from a moral perspective? That’s debatable. Back when I was an edgy counter-culture uni student who wore a black trenchcoat even in the middle of summer, I read Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom. It’s a depraved book with zero literary value that grossed me out from start to finish, but should publishers be obligated to not print it because it’s despicable? Nah. Let people choose.

Like I can choose not to buy Rape Day, and so can you. Because besides the rape thing, it looks like a shit game, anyway.