You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter is a fine free horror game for the digital age, a tale of looking at pornography for the first time and fearing your parents will catch you.
Logging onto AOL, we click through porn sites showing murky ASCII art porn while jumping at every creaking door and passing car. It is good horror, Olivia White and our Brendan have previously told you and I'll third that. It is also, supposedly according to Valve's standards, pornographic. Valve have pulled the game from their store and oh, that's so daft. One of the game's creators has written a good response to this, using the opportunity to call for us all to break the cycle stifling unconventional games.
If you've not played You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter, hey, it's still up free on Itch and Game Jolt. It's a short horror story casting us as someone who, having heard about Internet porn from schoolyard chums, dares to investigate. After our family leaves the house, we crank AOL, search for a term like "porn" or "people doing it", and get clicking through sites to discover what all this even is while panicking over every creaky door or passing car. Its images are softcore (as far as I've seen?) heavily distorted by being processed into ASCII art, enough that I can't even tell what some are supposed to show. Its brief burst of sexual sound inspires reactions of "OH GOD NO UNPLUG THE COMPUTER NOW" rather than titillation. It's a game of curiosity and fear, not fuel for a jack sesh.
In spite of all this, You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter has been removed from Steam. It had been on the store for two months, arriving long after launching elsewhere. Co-creator James Cox says they only noticed it was gone after someone on Twitter asked about it. After nudging Steam Support, he says, "we got an email from Valve informing us they had decided that they view our game as porn." That's his paraphrasing, at least.
Whatever Valve's precise wording, it's so disappointing that they deem it inappropriate. As Cox says, "It's a game about porn, but never as porn." Steam still stocks games which are more sexually explicit and games which are clearly built to arouse, but they dance around this. Confronting these experiences head-on, Cox says, was You Must Be's downfall.
"With no self-defense of irony, abstracted fiction distancing the game from its subject, or sense of mainstream gamified fun, You Must be 18 or Older to Enter was simply vulnerable."
Cox ties this into a wider pattern in the industry, where games which attempt to do different things are rejected and mocked and their creators harassed. He connects this to arguments made by Nathalie Lawhead, who became mired in the usual hateful idiocy with her wonderful Everything Is Going To Be OK. Lawhead had written about people at a games show echoing the dismissive and mocking tone towards anything different that's common in games culture and among influential streamers and YouTubers, and unsurprisingly but disappointingly has been harassed people with insistent preconceptions of what a game should be. I didn't mention that mess on RPS before because, I don't know, at a certain point you worry about only making it worse.
This is all part of a cycle, Cox says, which harms both the artistic, cultural, and financial growth of games at a time when many developers are struggling. He says:
"To survive, we need to embrace making new experiences. Ones that players haven't encountered before. Here lies that problematic cycle: gamers like what they know, and distribution platforms curate to that audience, reinforcing the expected games gamers know, reinforcing what is available for streamers, reinforcing what players will buy, reinforcing the games developers make.
"This means gamers have limited language for addressing games, and that language is curated by the games they play and have access to. If a game like You Must be 18 or Older to Enter is considered porn by a platform, then players lose a non-violent alternative horror. If anyone trying to expand the palate of experiences is being treated poorly on account of untempered yet taught player behavior, that developer is liable to leave the community."
No one expects that everyone will enjoy 'unconventional' games but it sure would be nice if folks would stop trying to stamp them out and chase off their makers.
Anyway. Do read the whole thing. Cox sees hope for the future in eager players and alternative storefronts, as I do too, but he's clear: we've still got a lot to do. We really do.