Update: The creator of Rape Day, who says they've tried to make a game for sociopaths, has posted another update on Steam. It's ready for launch, they say, but the review process is "taking longer than expected".
"I learned that because the game contains sexual content and content that may be illegal in some countries, the review process will take much longer than expected. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a more specific time estimate for you guys."
That sexual content is rape and murder, and it's hard to imagine how anyone could brush it off as "may be illegal in some countries" unless they were just trying to piss people off. The more the developer says, the more the game seems to exist solely to cause outrage, which is one of the few reasons Valve might actually kick it off the store. For now, however, it's still present, though not released.
Original story: For the last several years, Valve has grappled with the question of which games should and shouldn't be allowed on Steam. Now the largest distributor of PC games faces a major test of its rules around content, as attention centers on one of the most objectionable games to appear on the platform: Rape Day, a visual novel in which the player "controls 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," reads the official description of the game on Steam, which Polygon reported on this morning. "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." The page, which cannot be viewed unless you've logged into Steam and set your store preferences to allow 'Adult Only Sexual Content,' includes a trailer and screenshots of 3D-modeled characters which depict the scenes described.
"Murder has been normalized in fiction, while rape has yet to be normalized," writes Rape Day's creator on the game's website, itself essentially an FAQ defending the project. The only other section of the website is a bibliography of sorts that points to six academic studies and articles that refute a connection between violent video games and real-life violence.
The unnamed creator of Rape Day says they have spent two years developing the half-hour-long game. In the first blog update on Rape Day's Steam page, its creator offered a puzzling defense of the game: that its intended audience includes sociopaths. "Despite what people are saying in the discussion, the game is marked as adult. It's for a niche audience; If it's not your type of game you definitely don't need to play it but as other's [sic] have said I tried to make a game that I would enjoy playing, and there are other people like me. 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. I understand that it is however it is not the majority of people; again the game is for a niche audience."
Valve's hands-off policy
According to Valve's policy, it will disallow games it determines to be illegal and those it determines to be "trolling." The latter rule is vague, but has been applied. Last year, Valve cited it after removing Active Shooter, a game which simulated school shootings, saying that it was "designed to do nothing but generate outrage and cause conflict through its existence." Valve also accused that developer of "numerous misrepresentations, copyright violations, and customer abuses."
Rape Day is already generating backlash: several discussions on its section of the Steam forums are calling for it to be removed. However, it's unclear whether the game constitutes trolling under Steam's rule, which suggests that intent is the issue for Valve, not the content itself. In the most recent update on the Steam page, the developer explains that they've removed a "baby killing scene" to avoid being accused of including "content that exploits children," which is banned in one of the seven guidelines a Steam game must meet, which are mostly related to legality.
The eventual fate of Rape Day will provide a test case for the viability of Steam's current set of rules regarding acceptable content. Valve is left with a few options: apply the 'trolling' rule, remove Rape Day on other grounds, or take no action, indicating that Valve considers games in which one is encouraged to "verbally harass, kill, and rape women" acceptable under the current definition of Steam's policies.
Released or not, however, Steam already hosts several still images from the game (we have used the least explicit of them in this article). This indicates that either Valve does not moderate submissions before store pages are posted, or that it did not find Rape Day too objectionable to host. Rape Day has been on Steam since at least February 19. We know from another game, Boobs Saga, that games are in some cases listed on the Steam store before being approved for sale. We have reached out to Valve for comment.
A brief history of publishing on Steam
Valve's policies and systems around content have evolved significantly in the last few years. As Steam grew to publish hundreds, then thousands of new games each year, Valve placed the burden of choice with its community of players. In 2012, Valve created a user-voting system called Steam Greenlight as the pathway for independent games to reach the platform. But not long after, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell called Greenlight "probably bad for the Steam community." The program was eventually dismantled in 2017 and replaced with a policy called Steam Direct that allowed anyone submit a game to Steam for a fee.
At that point, Valve's rules still banned pornography, so even though it was much easier to release games on Steam, the company still had to define and enforce subjective content rules, deciding when sex and nudity was tasteful and when it was 'pornographic.' In 2018, Valve took its hands-off approach a step further, and did away with almost all content restrictions. "If you're a player, we shouldn't be choosing for you what content you can or can't buy," Valve's Erik Johnson wrote last June in a blog post explaining the policy.
After adding new ways for users to filter and hide adult games on Steam, Valve has mostly followed that mantra, and today it has almost entirely removed itself as an arbiter of what is and isn't appropriate—anyone can publish a game on Steam after paying a $100 fee, submitting tax and payment information, and waiting 30 days.