Playing Politics: The Backlash Against Topical Gaming

By RPS on February 13th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

Where once games had their focus in historical conflicts, more frequently we see contemporary matters appearing in the medium. While mainstream games have touched on ongoing wars, indie games have taken this a step further, asking more complicated, political questions of gamers, to mixed responses. William Drew investigates this current trend, the backlash against it, and speaks to the developers behind the games.

When the App Store turned down Auroch Digital’s Endgame Syria (still playable on PC), the news stories highlighted the question at the heart of the Game The News project from which it emerged. The idea behind the Syrian civil war strategy game was for the developers to become the “first news correspondents who cover global events as games.” But the App Store’s guidelines stated that an app cannot “solely target a specific race, culture, a real government, corporation or any other real entity.” There was no suggestion that Endgame Syria trivialised the conflict: it was the very fact of representation that seemed to be the problem.

Games aren’t just about representation. Within an interactive medium, the player adopts a position, plays as someone: in Endgame Syria, you play as the Rebels and you have no option to play as the regime. Yet the game fell foul of this ultra-contemporary idea.

“I think that pressure comes in part from how people think news should be, offering both sides of the story and being impartial,” explains Auroch Digital’s Tomas Rawlings. “However news is not impartial nor does it always offer both sides of the story. Games have come unstuck offering ‘both sides’ (think of the Medal of Honor Taliban story) in real world events and I think there would be another group of critics who would say we were wrong to do that, if we had offered both sides. The best you can do is follow what you feel is going to work, fact check that, then be confident in what you have done.”

He also points out that the decision to allow players to explore the conflict from one side only wasn’t necessarily a political one. It was also an aesthetic and practical one he had to make as a designer. “It was a decision about what I felt the game should focus on,” Rawlings continues. “If I did make a game where the player could play the Assad regime, then you’d need to be able to select the way the politics and military campaigns would be conducted as the game we’ve made does. That would involve choosing not to, for example, bomb cities if that is how the player wanted to go. But we have no plans to implement that currently.”

As Rawlings observes with the example of the Medal of Honor Taliban multiplayer option, which caused controversy a couple of years ago, representing both sides doesn’t necessarily save developers from censure. 1378(km) caused huge controversy in Germany because it allowed you to play as either an East German border guard or as a refugee trying to escape the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. It was created as a student project by young German designer Jens Stober and based on Frontiers, a Half-Life 2 mod featuring a migrant’s journey from Africa to Europe. Stober explains that the controversy erupted before the game was even available to download. “All the discussions were formed out of sometimes very imaginative press reports. The biggest newspaper in the EU (BILD) called it “revolting”. (“Will the revolting East German shoot-’em-up be banned?”). You have to know that the BILD is the German yellow [tabloid] press. They also described in the article that you will have to hunt as many refugees as you can and shoot them to beat the high score and win the game. But this is bullshit. The quintessence of 1378(km) is: If you shoot, you will lose the game!

Unlike Game the News, Stober’s motivations were less about covering current events and more about exploring a sensitive issue that he felt hadn’t been well covered by the German educational system when he was growing up. “You have to imagine that you got the order to stop people fleeing from Germany to Germany,” says Stober. “There was an order to shoot at your own people. Because this issue was not covered pretty good in school it was my aim to address it to a young generation by using their medium – computer games.”

While games can allow players to engage with current events, and with difficult aspects of their own national history, they can also engage with the world around us in a more radical, subversive way, making us consider the moral and political implications of even the goods we use to play them on. Molleindustria’s Phone Story was initially accepted onto the App Store before being removed after few hours, when Apple realized what it was targeting: smartphone manufacturing itself. The game begins with a big green smiley face saying, “Let me tell you the story of this phone, while I provide you with quality entertainment.” When you die in the game it tells you, “Don’t pretend you are not complicit.”

Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria freely admits his intention to cause trouble, but it’s trouble driven by strong political convictions. “Phone Story was in part a media intervention, it was about sneaking an ugly gnome inside Apple’s walled garden. Because the production of meaning doesn’t only happen on the screen, from the interaction between players and software/rules. The context a game inhabits, the community it creates, the platforms and technologies it adopts, all these things are also part of what a game ‘says’.”

He is unsurprised by the App Store’s decision to turn down Endgame Syria. “[The decision] is not surprising,” says the developer. “There is now a long list of apps that have been turned down simply for touching upon political issues. After the ban of Phone Story people were asking me whether I intended to modify the game to make it less ‘questionable’. Maybe removing the enslaved children or the suicidal workers, or using more subtle metaphors. I responded that I didn’t think the problem was really the graphic representations as Apple stated, but the very intent of the game. Then a few months ago this other iOS game called In a Permanent Save State came out, and it was doing exactly that: tackling similar issues in an allegoric, tasteful and lyrical way. It was turned down.”

But why? What is Apple’s problem with an app expressing a viewpoint that they might not censor in a song or book they might publish. “Apple is very clear about their views regarding the cultural status of the ‘App’,” says Pedercini. “For them, games and applications are not part of culture like books or music. In their guidelines they say, ‘If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app.’ For them, apps are not culture, they are more like screwdrivers or toys.”

Pedercini sees Apple’s decision to turn down Endgame Syria, In A Permanent Save State and Phone Story as political acts motivated by a particular ideology. “The rise of personal computers and decentralized networks allowed us to decide what kind of information we wanted to consume, and made [it] dramatically easier for everybody to produce and distribute their own culture. I believe this has been a huge step toward a more democratic society. The post-PC future aggressively pushed by Apple and other corporations, this future of tablets, consoles and various locked-down, lobotomized computers is an attempt to reverse this trend. Of course, Apple doesn’t want it because they are simply looking for profits, and it make sense to transform these powerful and flexible tools into tightly controlled terminals for consumption.”

Pedercini’s argument suggests the in refusing to allow space for political discourse, the desire is to restrict the position of games in a culture. That’s certainly the response of a lot of mainstream media to both apps and PC games. However, in counterpoint to this, Jonathan Blow recently wrote an opposing position on his blog.

“I think this is the wrong attitude about games, but look, ultimately it is game developers’ fault, not Apple’s. Apple is treating games as shallow commercial entertainment experiences because they have been taught by game developers that that is what games are. If we had built a world where games routinely work with serious issues in ways that people care about, Apple would not be able to take this stance, because it would not make any sense.

Why do they say, “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book”? It’s because it’s obvious that banning books is bad, because there have been a lot of books that people find important (and we have had many cultural cycles involving people attempting to ban books, and culture has worked out ultimately that this is not a good thing). Games do not have this history. Right now Apple thinks a game is Angry Birds or maybe Infinity Blade. So who can blame them?

Apple may be badgered enough to change their policy someday, or they may not. But that doesn’t matter very much because really it is just a reflection of the general cultural idea about what games are. The only way that idea will change is if a lot of developers make a lot of serious/deep/honest/touching/intrepid games for a long time. I don’t know if that will ever happen. How many games can you think of to which you can seriously apply these adjectives? [...] So, game developers are just sort of reaping what they have sown. What else would you expect?”

He goes on to describe Endgame Syria, which he hasn’t played, as a “step in the right direction,” but, “to change these attitudes we need lots of steps, consistently, not just a token step now and again.”

Pedercini also feels that there are a handful of titles every year that try to reflect the outside world in their games, but says that he doesn’t know if there is a growing trend.

The Game the News project is an important one for exactly this reason. With each game in what is intended to be a year-long project, it is asking a question about the position of games in our culture today. Rawlings says he hopes that, “Gamethenews.net shows that gamers do care about the real world so developers should not shy away from referring to it.” Could this be the movement Blow says is necessary to change the minds of publishers and media?

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73 Comments »

  1. Snidesworth says:

    It’s a good thing that the PC doesn’t face these sort of restrictions. That said, what is Valve’s stance towards these sort of games being sold via Steam? I don’t recall seeing anything with a strong political message being sold on there, except perhaps The Political Machine.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Seeing as how Valve seem to refuse material based on the mere whims of the ones doing the refusing, I doubt they even need an official stance.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Indeed. I think there’s a little too much apple-bashing here. There’s nothing to stop this being played on a Mac, this is about one digital distribution outlet saying no, and giving a reason.

        Far more worrying to have space pirates and zombies fail to get released on steam, with no reply, let alone a reason.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      CK2 is political gun-powder if you have a time-travel machine.

      Also, Snuggle Truck, (a.k.a Smuggle Truck Disney-fied) features smuggling illegal immigrants across the mexican/USA border. Apple banned Smuggle Truck, but Snuggle Truck was allowed (and is now on Steam).

      • Triplanetary says:

        Well, I think the ridiculous Disneyfication of Smuggle Truck into Snuggle Truck was intended as a jab at Apple’s policies. Whether you regard it as a subversion or a sellout on the part of Sm/nuggle Truck’s devs is a matter of opinion, I suppose.

      • Captain Joyless says:

        CK2 is interesting. For one thing it’s “safe” because we’re talking about events 500-1000 years ago, but, more importantly, CK2 (and Paradox generally) is an excellent study in simply ignoring anything that might cause trouble.

        For example, in CK2, Jews do not exist. Historical Jews have had their religion changed to something other than Judaism (typically Orthodox Christian). Judaism is not a religion that exists in the CK2 universe. There are no pogroms, no King Edward I kicking the Jews out of England in 1290, no Jews in Spain, etc. In the upcoming expansion that goes from 867 to 1066, they’ve already said there will be no Jewish Khazars, even though Jewish Khazars were a significant force in the period.

        (Of course, Paradox claims “we don’t have the resources to do Judaism properly right now.” But that never stopped them from putting in placeholders that are otherwise historically accurate. For example, the same was true of pagans, Islam, and any non-feudal state at release: non-playable placeholders, but at least historically accurate. For Judaism we just get a completely rewritten history where nobody is Jewish and Judaism does not exist.)

        Really, it’s not much of a surprise given Paradox’s approach in Hearts of Iron – let’s play as Nazi Germany, and give you the ability to enact various domestic and foreign policies and replace various government ministers, but let’s just pretend there are are no Jews at all and that Judaism doesn’t exist.

        • Arglebargle says:

          Though some of the best mods to CK2 have Jewish culture and effects added in. There are individual mods to address it as well. My latest run as Occitan Spain has had waves of Jewish immigration. I pretty much don’t play vanilla CK2 any more anyway.

        • TheOx129 says:

          I think the reason Paradox avoided any sort of events/policies/decisions related to the Final Solution (or Japan’s atrocities in Asia, for that matter) was due to concerns regarding the sale of the game in Germany (and Japan). It’s also why, unless you mod the game, Nazi Germany’s flag is the flag of the German Empire, due to Germany’s strict laws regarding the depiction of Nazism.

          Regarding the Jews in CK2, I personally like the understated approach Wiz took for CK2+. There’s a Jewish religion, with 3 Jewish cultures (Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi) depending on region. You may get events to allow Jews to settle in your demesne, which gives you a relation penalty to your immediate vassals and lowers your piety as well (it also removes the Zealous trait if you have it). The mod abstracts a Jewish community by having a series of buildings in a city holding (e.g., small Jewish community, large Jewish community, etc.). If you allow Jews to settle in your realm, you occasionally get Jewish courtiers. You can also launch pogroms against the Jews in your demesne, which gives you a nice bit of gold at the cost of hurting the Jewish community buildings.

          With regard to the Khazars, I think the issue would be their implementation in the game. There’s still quite a bit of debate regarding the extent of their conversion to Judaism, with most historians agreeing that a good chunk of the nobility and aristocracy likely converted, but disagreeing about the extent of the general population’s conversion. Even if you had it set up where the nobility would be Jewish and the provinces Tengri, you’d have to deal with revolts and such due to the religious differences. This illustrates the issues with abstraction regarding cultural/religious differences (especially regarding bonuses and penalties), since a monarch that is tolerant of minority religions/cultures would obviously have an easier time than a monarch who wants to force assimilation. Instead, Paradox abstracted it where you’d have smaller or larger penalties based on religious and cultural groups (e.g., Catholic, Iberian, etc.). Plus, with the new start date of 867, the so-called Pax Khazarica was nearing its end, with the Khazars entering a period of relatively rapid decline in the early 10th century due to a variety of influences (raids from Vikings, Kievan Rus, and Turkic tribes, diplomatic isolation, the Kabar rebellion, etc.). In other words, I can see why Paradox wouldn’t want to spend that much time on a power that would become irrelevant rather quickly, especially as there’s more interesting stuff going on elsewhere.

          • Captain Joyless says:

            I somewhat agree Mr. TheOx129. Although there could be localized version of HOI3, they didn’t bother doing that, but Nazis aren’t a problem in CK2, it’s much easier and safer for them to simply pretend the entire topic doesn’t exist. And in the meantime rewrite world history sans Jews.

            But as for implementing Khazars, I really don’t agree. For one thing there’s enough evidence for a mass Jewish conversion of the Khazars that it would be PLAUSIBLE to have the provinces as Jewish. I’m not saying it’s definitive truth, but there’s evidence to support it. Hell, we have pseudo-historical Norse lords as it stands right now – Erik the Heathen, for example. He’s mentioned in a single source with no details. And that’s good enough to put him in the game.

            But even if the provinces were Tengri and the lords Jewish, you’re only talking about a 4% revolt chance (well, +1% if the culture is also different). I don’t think that’s really a game-breaking big deal. Plus even if you don’t start the provinces as Jewish, the AI Jewish lords are going to employ their court chaplain/high priest/court rabbi to convert the province, and it’ll be Jewish in time.

            Ultimately, they’re all going to get stomped by the Abbasids or Cumans or ERE anyway, so it’s not that big a deal.

    • slerbal says:

      Their view is complicated – they were dead set against any games with any kind of political or real world message for quite some time, and frankly their support was half-hearted when they did so (I speak from personal experience).

    • subedii says:

      “The Cat and the Coup” isn’t for sale ( or F2P either, it was just a free release), but it is very nakedly political.

      RPS did a post on it:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/07/13/a-tale-of-tails-the-cat-and-the-coup

    • Teovald says:

      Gabe Newell recently exprimed his desire to transform Steam into an open platform.
      That’s the best news that I could hear about this service (even better than improving their terribad client).
      The whole closedness is also why despite the fact that ios thingies are interesting, they are absolutely not for me, and I can’t recommand them…
      Sadly, this stance is being replicated in macosx and windows8…

    • Rhuhuhuhu says:

      Sexual content is banned on a case by case basis. Some Dutch (who else?) developers wanted to Greenlight a game with mature themes, and were instantly kicked out.

      • El_Emmental says:

        Well, Steam is a US company, they can’t afford being labelled as a sex-ridden platform not fit for children/teenagers by conservatives and religious lobbying groups.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      But there has to be a line somewhere, don’t you think? Should kennedy assassination sim or child abuse rpg be freely available on mainstream distribution platforms?

      What about what happened recently where an app was sold that inadvertently (or not) piped pornography into unwitting users phones? Who takes responsibility for that?

      • Teovald says:

        But there has to be a line somewhere, don’t you think? Should kennedy assassination sim or child abuse rpg be freely available on mainstream distribution platforms?

        What about what happened recently where an app was sold that inadvertently (or not) piped pornography into unwitting users phones? Who takes responsibility for that?
        Wow, lots of very different things meshed together here.
        Adult filters are in my opinion all that is needed to control the content (with easy to apply/hard to deactivate locks for the parents). How should/can we control freedom of speech never had a definitive and satisfying response.. JFK’s assassination could very well be the context for a very good game about madness. I can see Blendogames achieving this. You could also have a “let’s kill the negro commie president” sim which is way less defensible.
        Child pornography is of course a big nono. However Paypal chose to suspend a library that sell among other things a novel dealing with first sexual experiences, which is a valid artistic subject, but that of course included sexuality between teenagers. I don’t think Paypal should be authorized to decide what you can or can not write.

        As for the porn scandal, you must be referring to Vine. There are 2 issues here : Apple pitches its platform as porn-free in order to be able to have christian mom buying iThings to their kids. It is an impossible to hold position since porn sites are of course easily accessible from the browser. There are also some apps like Playboy that would be from upon by these moms but that are accepted in the Apple App Store. For Vine, the situation is even more complex since their users are creating the content. And of course teenagers are going to use this app for vexting. The problem is that somebody at Vine screwed up and explicite content arrived at the front page. Making automatic filters in order to detect what content can be promoted will surely be an enormous challenge for Vine..

        • RvLeshrac says:

          For the record, any media depicting or encouraging violence directed toward the President of the United States of America would be *PATENTLY* illegal.

          JFK Reloaded was not, however, and it is unlikely any game based on a historical event would be.

  2. lordcooper says:

    I like the fact that these games are being made, but find them very uncomfortable to play. It’s a dilemma.

    • Triplanetary says:

      The discomfort is part of the point. A game, unlike a book or movie, makes you complicit in atrocities, rather than just a passive observer in them. Games have been exploring this notion for a long time (even before the Call of Duty series started doing so in the most hamfisted manner imaginable!).

      • lordcooper says:

        I agree completely. I’m just not sure that’s how I want to spend my ‘entertainment’ time.

        • Tssha says:

          Well it’s not exactly ‘entertainment’ time at that point, is it? Much like you’d listen to a public radio broadcast or read a book with a current events or political focus, the idea is to learn about something you’re interested in and absorb a few new perspectives.

          It’s more ‘self-enrichment’ time than anything else. It’s just that we usually think of books or traditional broadcast media as being the best source of these enlightenment moments, and while that’s probably still true, as long as the internet exists and programming knowledge is available to everyone, there will be some looking to express themselves through games, and that includes touching on topical but sensitive topics. So, it will soon become a rather decentralized source of political messaging, and while you’ll occasionally see PETA tracts or anti-globalization rants or anti GMO diatribes, the truly insightful political games will float to the top via the usual vetting mechanisms, including (among others) Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      That goes for every medium, though. The movies I’ve seen that have most influenced my life and thoughts have generally been quite unsettling and uncomfortable. I suspect games wouldn’t be much different.

      • abuzor says:

        It’s a valid question, though. Games offer interactions, unoffensive trials that you’re happy to pass, without any fear of punishment over failing, since those trials occur in a vacuum.
        The dichotomy created when those collide with hard boiled “reality” issues is hard to overcome. When those games succeed as games, they tend to be accused of using the real issues they convey as mere “shockers” (see the critics about Far Cry 3), because you’re having fun while being presented with topics such as rape, etc.
        So in order to succeed at conveying the issues,they somehow “have” to be bad as pure games and therefore leave a mixed impression of their subject as well…

        I dunno, I can’t really put my finger on it, but I feel like there is something particular in games that prevent them from being a very efficient medium to convey political or social statements.

        I don’t necessarily read a book or watch a movie to be “entertained”, but sometimes just to learn about stuff or somehow empathise with people, through the experience of re-creation that movies and books allow. This doesn’t really work in games (for the moment, maybe? as Blow said, maybe the view about games will slowly evolve and allow us to see them as valid media for such messages… Personally, I feel it’s more the games themselves which have failed, up to now, to find the proper way to convey those issues).

        Of all the games dealing with political or emotional issues I’ve played up to now, very few worked, and never the ones which overtly made those issues as their subject (such as To the moon or Actual Sunlight). Lost Odyssey, Spec ops: the line worked somehow… and I’ve yet to try Cart Life.
        As for all those iphone apps, they seem to work on the same basis: disgusting the player by making him feel the shame of being somehow “complicit” to what is being criticized… I don’t see this model succeed in the foreseeable future.

  3. Consumatopia says:

    Blow’s point doesn’t excuse Apple at all. Apple isn’t just restricting games, they’re restricting all Apps. The idea that non-game computer applications can’t be used for serious and political purposes is absolutely absurd.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Of course, Apple also acts as media-gatekeeper for films/music through iTunes as well (i.e. beyond apps entirely)…. but obviously you can pull media onto their devices through other data-transfer methods.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Actually, thinking again, Blow is correct that this is the fault of developers. Not because they make shallow games, but because they endorse Apple’s censorship by putting their own games on Apple products.

    • mutopia says:

      IT IS the fault of Apple (first and foremost) AND certain developers for supporting their censorship. Either/or makes no sense here.

      Imagine Apple were a cyberspace government (not really a far fetched comparison given the context, however horrific a mental picture it is) then it is primarily their fault for instituting censorship, without which the collaboration of third-party developers would not even be happening.

      Personally I can’t even imagine why any developer would work with any Apple platform at all. I mean I can understand why some developers stand on the principle of multi-platform development, but that really only works when you don’t stop to consider the real-world, the one where Apple is an amoral, exploitative and downright dangerous corporation. It’ll be interesting to see if, as Apple fires their entire manufacturing workforce and replaces their electronic sweatshops with assembly robots, and the danger Apple poses will shift more and more to the consumers themselves than is even currently the case, if people will wake up to the fact that they’re paying a company to be evil, and rewarding them for being evil.

  4. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Great article, Walker. I just hope the comment section won’t be drowned by too many comments asking you not to push your leftist agenda on them, making the mandatory joke about your stance on sexism (regardless of the topic at hand), etc.

    • lordcooper says:

      Comments hoping people don’t do these things are the new comments doing these things.

    • John Walker says:

      I should point out that this is by William Drew.

      • tungstenHead says:

        Just to make sure people don’t think Mr. Raiyan is a complete idiot, the original byline was John Walker. It had me a bit confused when I read the introduction paragraph. But I see it’s all fixed up now!

        Thanks for the food for thought, Mr. Drew.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Clearly an anagram for Liam Wwilder, your secret dyslexic alter ego

    • Brun says:

      Interesting comment given that this article was not written by John Walker.

      EDIT: Damn, beaten to it by the man himself!

    • MarcP says:

      Complaining about people expressing their opinions in an article lamenting developers don’t get to express their opinions would be chuckleworthy, but somehow this feels like your comment is meant to be taken at face value.

      Freedom of speech for everyone! As long as everyone agrees with my agenda.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        People should always be allowed freedom of speech (A right which is, for the record, completely absent in every single nation of the EU).

        People should, however, also learn to shut the fuck up when their comments have nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion at hand.

  5. Craig Stern says:

    Apple’s naked policy of censorship is inexcusable; Blow’s rebuttal cannot justify it. “We haven’t seen mature, politically controversial games in the past, and so we are therefore going to categorically censor every one that we find” is not a coherent position.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I’m wouldn’t call it naked… as its enforcement in some aspects is clearly slathered in mud.

      Apps banned for “competing” with Apple’s own apps. Apps banned for “adult material” while Playboy gets to stay, etc. Knock-offs/stolen products allowed to stay, while the original developers struggle to get their own on, or to get the knock-off removed.

      The biggest issue is there’s only so many gate-keepers on the walls of their garden, so automation makes a mockery of the whole process… and in the end any sort of correction is almost entirely by whim.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Indeed. It’s so easy to blame the other party (from either side, I suppose), but surely Apple can think for itself and is it not easy to find information about thought-provoking (indie) games? Just like the first black person to enter a previously all-white school in the USA, one has to be the first. Seeking precedence when there is none on your platform of choice is missing the point.

    • Skabooga says:

      I’ve played a number of games which I’ve found greatly meaningful, so I don’t find Blow’s excuse of Apple to be valid. Besides, ignorance is a poor excuse.

    • Keirley says:

      I get the feeling that, as time goes by, Jonathan Blow is becoming less and less aware of the actual state of videogames as a medium.

      “The only way that idea will change is if a lot of developers make a lot of serious/deep/honest/touching/intrepid games for a long time. I don’t know if that will ever happen. How many games can you think of to which you can seriously apply these adjectives?”

      Literally hundreds.

      When he released Braid he was arguing that the medium was immature, and that it lacked a significant number of meaningful games. Five years later the world’s moved on and he’s still making the same arguments. The problem isn’t with games – it’s that he’s got his eyes locked firmly on the mainstream (and the mainstream indie) scene, and he refuses to look elsewhere.

  6. amateurviking says:

    I think it\s important that these games get made, with the caveat that they’re going to be a potentially subjective take on an emerging situation and therefore potentially biased (either intentionally or otherwise).

    Also complaining that it’s not available in the apple store is kind of like complaining that your local Cathedral’s bookstore doesn’t stock the God Delusion. It’s not like they’re being denied the opportunity to distribute their game through other channels. It’s apple’s store, they can kind of do what they like with it.

    • Triplanetary says:

      with the caveat that they’re going to be a potentially subjective take on an emerging situation and therefore potentially biased (either intentionally or otherwise).

      As opposed to the unbiased accounts of… what source, exactly?

    • rapchee says:

      the devs complain because if it gets in the app store it’ll get to a lot more people. also, i know a iUser, who wasn’t confortable with installing apps that are not in the app store, idk if people generally think like that, but probably there’s a percentage that does this

    • Craig Stern says:

      Also complaining that it’s not available in the apple store is kind of like complaining that your local Cathedral’s bookstore doesn’t stock the God Delusion

      No it’s not; not unless you think that thought-provoking apps that grapple with contemporary issues are somehow inherently anti-Apple. (That said, I’ll concede the Molleindustria one.)

      Also: a single bookstore is just ever-so-slightly different in scope from an entire emerging marketplace that constitutes an enormous (and growing) share of all games sold anywhere in the world, and the lion’s share of all mobile games sold.

  7. Hoaxfish says:

    Don’t forget the early misstep by Windows 8′s marketplace… effectively banning numerous GOTY candidates like Skyrim due to policy wording about violence, drugs, “mature rating”, etc.

    The idea that the company can foresee everything and can write a legally tight and understandable definition of what people should be doing on their products is ridiculous. Once the policies are in place, the enforcement will always assume it was right the first time, rather than face backpedalling and re-defining (which cost time and money)

    Apple, and Valve, and probably MS’s marketplace also occasionally flag their “USA morals” in terms of what they ban (especially along the sex/violence balance), while obviously their distribution is international.

  8. Rovenkar says:

    “If I did make a game where the player could play the Assad regime, then you’d need to be able to select the way the politics and military campaigns would be conducted as the game we’ve made does. That would involve choosing not to, for example, bomb cities”

    So we have a Western guy making a game where player takes the side of the West-sponsored terrorist groups gathered from all other the Middle East that in reality attack the legitimate government and armed forces of an independent country and commit acts of atrocity against civilians. To support and hype this game, he repeats the greatest hits of Western propaganda about Syrian government being responsible for civilian deaths using Western game media, thus spreading said propaganda to the people who may be previously not exposed to it. And I’m not even taking about the game itself that helps promote the terrorists and their ’cause’.

    We’re also OK with games depicting US or UK or NATO forces bombing cities. We’re OK with games about Afghanistan where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, many of them children, we’re with games showing US drones indiscriminately shooting anything that looks like a terrorist to the operator far far away. We’re OK with games about Iraq, with people dying every day due to NATO actions and NATO-invasion-inspired terrorist attacks. But God forbid us to show the actions of the only government that decided to fight this menace properly. We’d better take the terrorists’ side instead.

    It’s not free speech or free press, it’s war, the one fought with words instead of conventional weapons. And it seems to me that Syrian government fares much worse in this field than it does in actual battles.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Oooh! Anyone got popcorn?

      • abuzor says:

        Typical example of an [anti western imperialism] position -which I agree with- taken to the extreme, upon which it turns to blindness.

        As a sidenote, I recently realized that Robert Fisk, a reporter I respected deeply, is affected by the same syndrome (specially clear when looking at his coverage of civilian casualties in Syria. He’s practically “embedded” with the regime).

    • mutopia says:

      We live in a world of farce, but when you stop to consider the historical context, that the US and France’s coups and an misguided attempts to install a West-backed “democracy” in the mid-20th century were directly responsible for creating the chaos in which Hafez al-Assad rose to power, the whole issue becomes even more complicated. Read the whole story here:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/the_baby_and_the_baath_water

      What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad’s archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

      That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite – and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that “the Syrian people are naturally democratic” and that all that was neccessary was to get rid of the elites – and a new world of “peace and progress” would inevitably emerge.

      What resulted was a disaster, and the consequences of that disaster then led, through a weird series of bloody twists and turns, to the rise to power of the Assad family and the widescale repression in Syria today

      Being critical of Western interventionism and an Adam Curtis junkie, I sympathize with your cynicism, however ultimately if you put that brain to good use and try to clear the mud, you will realise:

      1. An overwhelming majority of Syrians want an end to dictatorship, segregation, oppression, torture, political imprisonment (of more than 160,000 people!). Before Assad started trying to turn it into a sectarian conflict, even a lot of Alawites hoped for revolution, change and democracy. With the help of British and American PR firms Assad even manages to buy airtime for “their” experts to appear on international news media stupid enough to have them (CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, RT etc. pretty much all of them), which is one of the reasons people have come to believe it’s a sectarian conflict (the other being the Assad regime’s false-flag bombings). But it’s not a sectarian conflict, it didn’t start that way, and it’s certainly not going to be resolved that way.

      2. Syria’s old colonial ruler, France, and the US have, in moments of truly epic stupidity, created the perfect conditions for the dictatorial regime of the Assads to come to power, and consequently didn’t do a damn thing about it for more than 50 years.

      3. There is no going back, and the sooner we realise that the better. Not without the Assad regime stepping down. Not without abandoning the revolution, making all those sacrifices in vain and condemning hundreds of thousands of young people to a life in prison getting tortured in ways you wouldn’t want to imagine. If the Assad regime is allowed to stay in power, they will entrench and consolidate their power further, over the bodies and screams of the Syrian people. The Syrian people have the right to not have their future squandered by a psychotic plutocracy.

      4. The fact that the West supports the opposition is more of an admission of guilt than anything else (anything useful). Which is also one of the reasons why until recently it’s mostly been completely half-arsed and ineffectual. On top of that the West is hiding behind some manner of self-delusion of not wanting arms to fall into the hands of terrorists, which somehow assumes there’s some sort of magical worldwide gun ban in place which currently makes it hard for terrorists to get weapons, which couldn’t be farther from the truth (in fact weapons manufacturers benefit hugely from weapons finding their way to terrorist groups). The West’s inaction is protracting the bloodshed and cementing the regime’s position. So this is why even a pacifist such as myself has to recognize the forceful removal of the regime is the only way forward (because they won’t go willingly). If they cared about having a national dialogue they would not be raining down TNT barrels, artillery, missiles and bullets on civilian neighbourhoods and assassinating journalists.

      5. I’m all for peaceful revolution, but our denial of the current situation in Syria isn’t helping anyone. The people tried peaceful protests, and in turn got slaughtered, tortured, displaced, imprisoned and terrorised. How many generations of Syrians have to be lost before we can admit to ourselves that not all revolutions are Velvet revolutions (and indeed, Velvet revolutions which brings about real and lasting change) unfortunately though that may be.

      6. I don’t like it any more than you do.

      PS. More Curtis:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/PARADIABOLICAL

      • El_Emmental says:

        Great post.

        “4. The fact that the West supports the opposition is more of an admission of guilt than anything else (anything useful).”
        I think it’s not the most important factor, they haven’t much to lose if Assad fall (he’s currently being the protégé of Russia and to some extent China) and much to win with a fresh, unstable regime (= the less stabilized and strong a regime is, the easier it is to control, corrupt and remove if necessary).

        However, Russia/China aren’t giving up on Assad yet and the western powers are now quite reluctant to help a Middle-East revolution.

        It was a nice ride during the early months of the Arab Spring, they got (badly needed) positive PR among the arab populations and shook the Iran pedestal (forcing them to renegociate some elements, while it helped specific political actors in Iran over others)…

        But now they’re realizing that, by refusing to implement their own puppet government (like during the Cold War, or previously during the colonization), a strong democracy didn’t appeared out of thin air to replace the dictatorship regime like the gullible kids thought.

        In fact, religious extremists stepped in and took over the reins (the very few people fighting for democracy are progressively killed and arrested, while the religious organizations are spreading their social welfare and control networks over the entire population), because the size and type of organizations they are (small, modular organizations, capable of very rapid redeployment, region-wide scaling and forming short term alliances with anyone) allow them to fully take part in these conflicts.

        That’s why they won’t help the rebels even if Russia accept to drop its support for Assad, and why Russia won’t do that in the first place, the US (and Europe) aren’t willing to replace the curent regime, so Assad downfall will result in a decade-long civil wars between the various ethnicities until some unofficial “independent” regions show up and UN forces are sent to guard the borders, Yugoslavia style.

        They prefer to keep the conflict running, hoping the Assad regime and the rebels will end up in a stalemate… Good luck on that.

  9. Triplanetary says:

    They also described in the article that you will have to hunt as many refugees as you can and shoot them to beat the high score and win the game

    This is typical of the press’s image of video games. They seem to think every video game is just Pong but with more blood. They are likelier than a human of average intelligence to use the phrase “murder simulator.”

    A few years ago I found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending the Left Behind video game after some sensationalistic press reports described it as having the goal of murdering as many “infidels” as possible. What’s funny is that the Left Behind game had many egregious flaws, morally, aesthetically, and gameplay…ish…ly, but sanctioning the murder of non-Christians was not one of them.

    • Johnny Lizard says:

      Except for the murder of non-Christians by God, of course.

      • Triplanetary says:

        Well yeah, but have you played God of War III? ^_^

        Not that I’m trying to obscure the fact that the Left Behind fiction is amazingly terrible. But I largely left it out of my initial comment because I’m willing to defend even LB against the ravages of media stupidity with regard to video games. Let it fail on its own (many, many) flaws, not some ill-informed assumption that every game is Doom where somebody has to fill in for the demons.

    • Lagwolf says:

      It is always such a frustration when you have to defend rubbish because of your principles. But, alas, if you truly believe in free expression and speech it is par for the course.

  10. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Fantastic read. Really! Thanks.

    I believe Pedercini hit the nail right on its head, but forgot there’s more than one nail. It’s really all a matter of time and the flow of new generations that will increasingly look at games as yet another valid medium. I agree there. That said, we still live in a world where movies and books are banned, even from western societies. So this process isn’t only about game developers. Our societies need to eventually change too.

    The false ideal of Freedom of Speech. I call it false, because the mere notion of a gatekeeper goes against it. We live in a world where Freedom of Speech is still erroneously thought to be embraced. In a society where freedom of speech is truly implemented, Apple couldn’t find support in the Law that allows it to decide on a game based on any political, moral or ethical considerations. And yet, that’s precisely what happens in the USA and throughout Europe.

    • Triplanetary says:

      It’s not solely the job of the law to give us freedom of speech or any other freedom. Apple can censor what goes on their servers because it’s their servers. People can avoid this by not buying Apple products. (Apple is far from the only entity that does this; I’m not bashing them exclusively.) If having a fancy-ass smartphone is more important to people than having uncensored access to culture and information, they’ve willfully given up their freedom of speech, and no law is going to rectify that level of cultural surrender.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        That is what happens now. I’m not debating current practices. They are well within the bounds of current law.

        The problem is however exactly that. The law doesn’t properly protect freedom of expression (or speech) because businesses are still allowed to exert censorship with political, moral or ethical motivations over creative work when running public services throughout their private channels.

        These channels are considered private property. And the fact they are opened to the public in general still doesn’t constitute legal grounds for the enforcement of freedom of speech practices. Gatekeeping is thus a lawful activity which is however completely against the notion of freedom of expression.

        As our societies evolve, I expect this practice to become more and more shunned, until one day there will be legal mechanisms to ensure it stops. But the current reality means this isn’t only a job for game developers and other content creators, as Pedercini was saying. There really needs to be also an evolutionary step in our societies. As I was saying, books and films are still being banned in western countries. This is clearly a problem of various forms of creative expression, not just games. And its indicative of a society that hasn’t been able yet to properly promote freedom of expression.

    • Brun says:

      The false ideal of Freedom of Speech.

      The idea of Free Speech, or at least the Western/American notion thereof, applies specifically and exclusively to government. That is, the government is not allowed to censor or oppress speech or those doing the speaking. An incomplete understanding of the concept of Free Speech has led many people to believe it applies to everything and everyone, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just look at the RPS comment section as an example – the disclaimer at the top of the comment box states it pretty clearly. RPS owns this site and thus has ultimate control over what shows up on it.

      • Consumatopia says:

        This is false–the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution only applies to the government, yes. But freedom of speech and censorship are defined generally. Any gatekeeper that blocks information on any channel based on the content of that information is practicing censorship.

        The moral implications of that censorship depends on the nature of the channel:

        The government censoring private speech? Huge consequences, very bad, illegal in the U.S.

        A blog censoring comments? Little to no consequences (you can start another blog elsewhere), totally legal and only the most fundamental of purists object (and not necessarily coherently).

        The world’s largest tech company blocking access to the most common mobile communication devices? Legal, but deeply troubling for anyone who supports freedom of expression. Suppose ALL phones and tablets were made by Apple–perhaps their patent war became more wildly successful than currently anticipated, or wireless providers were only willing to cooperate with Apple. This would be a terrible blow against free speech, even if the U.S. Constitution had nothing to say about it. And it would not become much less of a problem if Apple controlled merely 90% rather than 100% of devices. Admittedly, they are nowhere near either threshold today. But free speech is damaged by private regulation just as much as public–at least when the private regulator in question has a large market share.

      • Mario Figueiredo says:

        Freedom of speech is a Human right under the Declaration of Human Rights. So it doesn’t apply only to a government. Any agent (including an individual) has the right for freedom of speech, the duty to promote it, and the obligation to respect it.

        Naturally our societies are still evolving in the application of this right. I won’t deny it. But it’s important perhaps to understand its scope and implications. For all purposes, gatekeeping when done for political, moral or ethical reasons (and assuming the creative work is well outside the Harm Principle) is an activity that goes against this right. Regardless of who is applying it.

        Since Consumatopia mentioned it, the wording at the top of this comment box is against freedom of speech. It exist because we still live in a society where private agents are allowed to have this behavior. It’s an acceptable and disseminated practice in the internet, but it does goes against this human right and, ironically enough, against the very principles of the internet. “We do not have freedom of speech” is clearly a message against a consecrated Human Right. It’s spelt like this because as a society we still have to grow our understanding of the implications of such an abhorrent saying.

        Naturally, I’m not saying RPS makes this a practice. The Harm Principle that limits Freedom of Speech allows RPS or anyone else to remove commentators content from their website (I have an issue against banning though, but let’s not get into that). But if RPS were one day to remove a comment because it professed a view that wasn’t their own or they found it offended their political or moral sensitivities, they would be in fact limiting freedom of speech on their website to a level that one day will hopefully be completely shunned by our societies.

    • Strangerator says:

      “The false ideal of Freedom of Speech. I call it false, because the mere notion of a gatekeeper goes against it. We live in a world where Freedom of Speech is still erroneously thought to be embraced. In a society where freedom of speech is truly implemented, Apple couldn’t find support in the Law that allows it to decide on a game based on any political, moral or ethical considerations. And yet, that’s precisely what happens in the USA and throughout Europe.”

      Since nobody else has mentioned it, I figure it’s time for a lesson on what’s known as compelled speech.

      It’s really a thing: http://itlaw.wikia.com/wiki/Compelled_speech

      Not only do you have a right to speak what you will, you ALSO have a right not to be forced to speak or espouse ideas you do not agree with. That’s what we’re talking about here, forcing Apple to support speech it chooses not to support. RPS can choose to delete comments it finds objectionable, because it owns the site and has an interest in not appearing to espouse opinions which it finds morally or otherwise reprehensible.

      Say for example you run any major media outlet in the U.S. I can’t force you to report stories like this one:

      http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/02/08/civil-war-california-man-planned-to-frame-anti-government-right-wing-groups-in-bank-bomb-plot/

      I could argue till I was blue in the face that the media is not doing its job by failing to report an attempted false flag attack, whose stated goal was to frame “right wingers”, and cause government crackdown and civil war. I’d argue that every media outlet who failed to report this story is jeopardizing the security of the entire nation, because we need everyone to be aware that this type of attack could happen, that the Taliban is attempting to set off a civil war. I’d argue that knowledge of this type of story would put people in the mindset to not have a knee-jerk reaction, and to ask questions about the possibility that a future successful terror attack might be a frame job to put the country at war with itself. But I’d be wrong to argue they have to report this, because you can’t compel speech.

      The constitutional solution is for me to seek out sources who I feel represent the broadest spectrum of news, instead of trying to change what (in my view) the corrupt existing structures are doing. I can stop watching ABC, CNN, etc and inform others of stories that are being censored. I can’t, however, push through legislation which would compel major media to carry such stories.

      For a really interesting example, check out this article about forcing tobacco companies to put things on their packaging.

      http://www.cspnet.com/print/cspmagazine/articles/free-speech-vs-compelled-speech

      Free speech is not without limits. Everyone knows you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Apparently there are limits when it comes to compelled speech as well, because sometimes not speaking is just as dangerous. We’ll have to see what comes of the smoking label thing. Personally I think the old “Surgeon General’s Warning” was already invasive enough.

    • psepho says:

      The huge difficulty is of course discoverability. Anyone can write any game or book or whatever and share it. However, there is no freedom of speech if your chance of being heard — let alone paid — is dependent on being curated by a third party, whether that’s Apple, Steam or even a site like RPS in order to reach an audience.

      Internet helps and has helped a lot in that there is much greater chance of finding smaller communities of like-minded people. It disturbs me a lot to see businesses trying — and succeeding — to put up walls around it.

  11. guygodbois00 says:

    In pursuit of better life you commit suicide? Whoa! As younger readers and Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly. Also, terrible subjects for a game in both accounts (Syrian rebels and dead Chinese workers). And about the Apple – I just say no. So there you have it, three nos.

  12. Hatsworth says:

    Why on earth would anyone want to play as the Syrian “rebels”? They’ve been caught committing atrocities on numerous occasions: torturing prisoners, massacring women and children, throwing government supporters from rooftops.

    Sounds like a lovely bunch.

    • Vlad The Impaler says:

      Yes and the Syrian Government are such lovely people. You know, the Shabiba miltia which beats up anyone who is protesting, the torture cells in their prisons, not to mention the numerous teenagers they have willfully and knowingly shot. The Allies weren’t great in World War 2, but they were better than the Axis.

      • cjlr says:

        Can I admit to smirking a little to see a poster named after Vlad the Impaler, talking about who’s worse than whom? Er, but other than that, I agree totally…

    • X_kot says:

      The problem with civil wars is that both sides do terrible stuff yet they propose that they are the sole voice of reason. Probably the safest line one could take would be to acknowledge the human-rights violations commited by the Assad goverment while also censuring the rebels for their continuance. But that statement lacks any teeth and begs the question, “What is to be done?”

    • acoff001 says:

      If you play the game, that’s actually kind of the point; the longer the war drags on the more both sides are “forced” to commit atrocities in order to “win”. The only way to get a truly “good” outcome seems to be a negotiated peace settlement, and even that results in bittersweet repercussions.

      • El_Emmental says:

        ^ This, this and this.

        If you guys could at least LAUNCH the game once before commenting on it, there would be less baseless rants.

        The game clearly shows the civil war is inevitably resulting in more and more civilian casualties, and you often have to exploit that (to the point of making sure civilians casualties are happening at the right moment, for your political goals) to “win”.

  13. Shazbut says:

    Great article!

  14. psepho says:

    This is one of the best things I have read in months.

    I feel slightly sick about being an iOS user.

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