A sexually explicit game that was removed from Steam last week has come back to the popular game distribution service after the developer added forced censorship bars blocking the view of in-game private parts.
Eek Games' House Party launched on Steam Early Access just over a month ago, attracting more than 35,000 sales thanks in part to largely bemused coverage from a number of prominent Twitch and YouTube streamers. But the game also attracted negative attention from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), an anti-pornography lobbying group that took issue with the game for what it called "literally training its users in predatory tactics for sexual assault, and even sex trafficking."
The goal of House Party is to convince women to have sex with you, and achieving that goal can involve getting those women drunk, blackmailing them over nude photos stolen from their phone, or jamming their phones to isolate them from others at the party. In a letter NCOSE sent to Valve last week, the group complained that the game "not only normalizes but instructs its users as a virtual how-to of sex crimes and misogyny... If anyone were to apply actions from the game in real-life situations, they could inflict immeasurable harm to others and potentially be in violation of state or federal law."
NCOSE encouraged its followers to complain to Valve via e-mails and tweets about the company's "marketing" of House Party "to an estimated 35 million children who buy videogames off of Steam." The complaints seemed to have worked last week, when the game was removed from Steam much to the chagrin of the developer.
"House Party was temporarily removed as a result of a number of complaints that were sent to Steam about the game," Eek Games wrote in a post about the removal. "The game is meant to be funny, and I advertise it as a 'raunchy comedy adventure.' The amount of on-screen sex and nudity is very small in comparison to the rest of the game-play. Unfortunately, because I chose to write a game about sex, this set off a few alarms with some groups."
While Eek's post complains about "unfair censorship" and the double standard applied to House Party's sex and other games' gratuitous violence, the developer said they could "understand where Steam is coming from. They are responding to an alarming societal perception of sex and nudity as something evil, even more so than murder, genocide, torture, and gore which is widely accepted and prevalent in most other video games that are offered up on Steam and many other gaming platforms. I don’t agree with Steam’s decision, but I respect it."
Valve has not responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica, but Eek writes that Valve asked the company to "forcefully [enable] an in-game censor during certain scenes regardless of the user’s preference setting." That appears to be just what has been done in an updated version of the game that went back on Steam this morning.
Eek says that "the entire story of the game is 100 percent in tact [sic], and there have been no changes made to the content of the game." It's merely the "portrayal of sex acts" that has been partially blocked by black bars in the new version. The developers are also offering a "Steam Uncensor Patch" through their website to restore the original, un-barred version of the game, and the developer continues to sell uncensored versions via GameJolt and Patreon.
The addition of a few black bars seems unlikely to satisfy the game's fiercest critics, however. "The video game company Steam cannot simply pixelate scenes of rape," NCOSE Executive Director Dawn Hawkins said in a blog post late last week. "We believe the game’s problems go beyond simple animated pornography to include the actual functionality of the game itself. This game both normalizes and instructs its users as a virtual how-to manual of sex crimes and misogyny."