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‘Rape Day’ tests the free speech policies of the most popular PC gaming store

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“‘Rape Day’ is a game where you can rape and murder during a zombie apocalypse.” This is the no frills description of “Rape Day,” a game scheduled for release next month on Steam, the most popular storefront for PC video games, and the most commonly used video game platform in the world.

As the name implies, “Rape Day” is centered around graphic depictions of sexual violence. As a digital-only release, the game has no official rating, but it would fall deep within the realm of ESRB’s Adult Only rating. Like other games with explicit sexual content, “Rape Day” is hidden from regular Steam search results unless the user has allowed those sorts of games to be shown.

Those without a Steam account cannot see the game at all, but when logged in, a search of the word “rape” alone will show that the game has been excluded from the results. Steam gives the player an option to reveal unfiltered search results and preview the game for themselves, if they’re of age. The preview page for “Rape Day” shows 25 screenshots of the game, which include nude women being sexually assaulted and held at gun point.

“Rape Day” is a visual novel game with still images and story choices, but no animation or voice acting.
“Rape Day”/Desk Plant

Members of the press and the larger video game community have only recently became aware of “Rape Day,” but the game has been live on Steam for weeks and is scheduled for an April 2019 release. In the past Steam’s policy has been to allow games so long as they work properly and don’t break the law.

A game called “Active Shooter” stirred up controversy in the wake of the Parkland Shooting last summer for its depiction of a school shooting. Steam eventually pulled the game before it was released, but also put out a statement saying that games that were viewed as problematic would be reviewed on a case by case basis to determine whether they violate international law.

“We’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling,” the company’s statement read in June 2018.

The creator of “Rape Day”says the game will have more than 500 images, 7,000 words of story and “evil choices.”
“Rape Day”/Desk Plant

With “Rape Day,” Steam is facing a new wave of criticism for profiting off a game that glorifies rape and sexual assault. While the game hasn’t been officially priced, Steam takes 30% of all sales made on the platform. The game is currently under review for its content, but is still available for preview and can be added to a user’s wish list.

Read more:A ‘school shooter’ video game has been removed from the biggest PC gaming platform, along with the person who made it

“Rape Day” is a visual novel game, meaning players choose from options in a pre-written story to progress through the game. “Rape Day” isn’t actually animated either, each scene is told with a sequence of still images, with written dialogue and story choices. The game is more like a choose your own adventure book with multiple paths than a traditional video game where a player controls their character.

Steam sells dozens of visual novel games with a range of sexually explicit content. The genre was popularized by Japanese developers who used the style to weave layered stories on top of basic dating simulator games. While some visual novels choose to emphasize the visual rather than the story, the genre has produced plenty of engaging games.

Japanese developers popularized the visual novel with dating simulators and mystery games.
“CHAOS;CHILD”/Spike Chunsoft

Indie developers can use the visual novel format to create compelling mystery or romance games without spending a ton of extra time and money on animation and voice acting. Others developers who are more interested in capitalizing on players’ basic desires for raunchy content will use visual novels as a cheap vehicle for selling pornographic images with fictional characters.

On the preview page, the game’s creator, Desk Plant, promises more than 500 images in total, more than 7,000 words of written story, and “evil choices.” While there are different story paths, Desk Plant says the game should take about an hour to complete. The project has been in development for two years.

On his website, Desk Plant describes “Rape Day” as a dark comedy and power fantasy. The creator compared the “Rape Day” to best-selling games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Hitman” that glorify violence, stating that most people would not be influenced by its depictions of sexual assault. The “Rape Day” website includes a page linking to multiple studies that deny a link between video game violence and real life crimes.

“Most people can separate fiction from reality pretty well, and those that can’t shouldn’t be playing video games,” Desk Plant wrote. “The point of games is to do things, or experience things that you can’t or shouldn’t in reality. If games and movies were just like real life, they would be pretty boring.”

Steam pulled the game “Active Shooter” ahead of its release last year in response to controversy.
Revived Games / Acid

Desk Plant said that “Rape Day” followed all of Steam’s policies and he disclosed the game’s offensive content before it was publicly listed in the store. The creator understands that Steam has the right to ban the game if it chooses, and will look for other ways to sell and distribute the game if that happens. If Steam bans Desk Plant from publishing other games in the future, the creator plans to start a new platform for pornographic video games.

“If both my game is banned and I am banned, then I will ensure that a content platform for all kinds of legal, quality porn games exist.” Desk Plant wrote on the “Rape Day” website. “I will ensure that it provides the stable foundation for the porn gaming industry to grow and flourish to be the billion dollar industry that basic biology would have it be.”

“Rape Day” puts Steam in a compromising position; the game unapologetically glorifies rape, and has little to offer in terms of actual gameplay. Even if Steam isn’t promoting the game, it would profit from every sale. While Steam has been reluctant to restrict content on the grounds of free speech, there’s not much moral wiggle room left in this situation.

More than 2,000 players are currently discussing “Rape Day” on the game’s Steam Community Hub, with clashing opinions on censorship, free speech, and the overall legitimacy of the game. We’ve reached out to Steam for further comment on the status of “Rape Day.”

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