steam video game
July 19, 2017

House Party’s Rape Myth Mentalities: False justifications by Steam and Eek! Games on their sexual exploitation videogame.

Imagine a world with no laws or standards against sexual exploitation. A world where you can sexually assault, rape, strip, blackmail, or masturbate upon any woman of your choosing. A world where predatory behaviors are encouraged and men are rewarded for acting like human traffickers. This world, with its abuse, sexism, violence, and social debasement, is the functional equivalent of the new Steam video game, House Party.

If you can count to 18, that world is yours for the playing.

After the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) publicly exposed House Party as the blatant sexual exploitation that it is to the public, Steam placed a question asking customers to specify their age before entering the game’s web page. On this pre-entry age page, there is no mention of explicit material, no warning that the content is inappropriate for children, and certainly no indication that the game is essentially a “how-to” manual for revenge porn, sexual coercion, and a collection of other illegal activities.

Instead, the page asks for your age and gives you unlimited chances to put in an age older than 18. Once you are logged in, you are in for good. There is no need to verify your age when returning to the page and no age verification before purchasing the game. Clearly, Steam’s pseudo-attempt to prevent children from accessing House Party is a thinly veiled PR stunt and in no way prevents them from buying the game.

Yet, despite its inadequacies, the age test is not even the real problem; rather, it’s the mentality behind it.

Are we telling our children that before you sexually coerce someone by intentionally intoxicating them to gain their impaired consent, you need to be 18? Are we telling them that it is acceptable to participate in revenge porn, blackmail, or public masturbation, as long as you are legally an adult?

Each of these activities is illegal in most states; however, House Party rewards players for doing so.

Read the following game review from an actual player. Imagine that he is describing what he did at a real house party (warning: contains explicit language):

Steam_HouseParty_review
Text reads: First I walked Stephanie out of her dress. That was fun. Then I blackmailed Madison into giving me a wonderful show. She hates me for it. She probably should. Then I made her blow me. Yup. Then I made Ashley walk around without any clothes. She hates more for it. I don’t blame her. Nice boobs though. Madison loves me now. Then I got Katerin or whatever her nerdy ***** name is to let me take pictures of her topless. I gave the photos to Frank. What an***** that guy is. Got some booze. I got her drunk and had sex with her. Twice. While her boyfriend listened in. I got Rachel to do ALL KINDS of *****. Then I nailed her. Flipped her over. Nailed her some more. Britney is a lesbian. I’m gonna hit that one way or another. Trust me. And that is why this whole review should be covered in [*’s]. YAY STEAM! 300/10 would **** on angry Rachel’s face again!
Does this sound like innocent fun to you? Blackmail, forced oral sex, coerced nudity, revenge porn, sex with an intoxicated woman (synonymous with rape), and more. This game does not merely have mature themes, but it is a working encyclopedia of sex crimes that rewards players for committing them. With college sexual assault rates likely surpassing 20% of women[1] and sexting among children reaching epidemic levels[2], our society cannot afford the normalizations of these toxic behaviors.

In response to the public backlash over House Party, the developer penned an unapologetic open letter defending the game and its themes. The arguments the developer presents in the letter are ridden with misunderstandings that beget rape myths and the logic behind sexual exploitation in any form. Although only the most absurd arguments will be refuted here, the letter as a whole is fallacious and morally reprehensible (feel free to read the rest of it here).

One of the developer’s arguments is one of moral agency. He says:

House Party is . . . about choices.  A lot of people are talking about what you *can* do in House Party, but they are not talking about the fact that you are given a choice every step of the way, or the consequences of those choices. . . . That being said, the bigger picture is this; Just because you can do something in House Party, or there is a story that goes in a particular direction doesn’t mean it’s the intent or message of the game, or that the game is trying to condone or encourage that sort of behavior. . . . I make no apologies for the content in the game because I leave the choice to carry through up to the player.

House Party certainly is about choices—the choice of a predator to exploit another human being. The matter of choice is left only to the player and gives no heed to the choices of the victims in the game. In the aforementioned game review, almost every line has reference to some form of sexual coercion that the player committed. Sexual exploitation is not an exploratory game that one person plays with another; it is bondage. It is that same lack of choice that leads to sex crimes every day. We should not advocate for the right of a rapist or exploiter to choose his victims and methods. Those choices are criminalized precisely because they are unacceptable in our society.

The developer, from Eek! Games, also claims that the game is not misogynistic or harmful. The letter reads:

Somehow, I don’t feel like there will be as much outrage over situations where a woman (or a another [sic] man) objectifies a man in future builds. Nobody’s even made any mention of Katherine’s story, where she uses the main character for sex, and she is the one doing the objectifying, probably because it doesn’t fit their narrative or their opinion of the game. It’s convenient to omit the scenarios in the game that don’t support your opinion. These are just silly stories that in most cases are written to facilitate the plot moving toward some sort of nudity or sex and are intended to entertain and nothing more. They’re fiction. In no context are they meant to be taken seriously.

We are not entertained, and we are not laughing.

What the developer clearly does not understand is that despite his attempt to deny it, this game is misogynistic and even if it were not, all forms of sexual exploitation are wrong. Regarding misogyny, the game’s premise is a man attending a party where he can exploit and assault any woman there. Please tell us how that portrays gender equality. Even if the game featured men and women equally exploiting and objectifying one another, that is still sexual exploitation and we firmly condemn it. Alongside the innumerable women exploited for sex daily, there are masses of men and boys also objectified, exploited, and assaulted sexually by those who believe it is their “choice” to do so. We stand by men and women who are sexually exploited and make no distinction between victims. If the developer decides to release later games with women exploiting men, then expect more campaigns from NCOSE fighting those games just as vehemently.

House Party  trivializes the most tragic crimes committed against so many. NCOSE calls upon Steam and Eek! Games to remove the game and discontinue plans for future games of this nature. They are dangerous, offensive, and traumatizing to sexually assaulted persons everywhere. No mentality justifying sexual exploitation is acceptable or safe.

Take action by emailing video game executives from Steam’s parent company, Valve Corporation here:

  • Eric Kirchmer, Operations Executive – eric@valvesoftware.com
  • Chris Grinstead, IT Manager – chris@valvesoftware.com
  • DJ Powers, Marketing Business Development – powers@valvesoftware.com

Note: executives at this company are trying to block our emails so if you get bounce backs, don’t be discouraged! Let us know by emailing public@ncose.com, and we can get more email addresses.

Thank you for taking these actions – this company can’t tune us out!


[1] Cantor, David, Bonnie Fisher, Susan Helen Chibnall, Reanne Townsend, Hyunshik Lee, Gail Thomas, Carol Bruce, and Westat, Inc. Report on the AAU campus climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Washington, DC: Association of American Universities, 2015.

[2] Temple, Jeff R., Jonathan A. Paul, Patricia van den Berg, Vi Donna Le, Amy McElhany, and Brian W. Temple. “Teen sexting and its association with sexual behaviors.” Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine 166, no. 9 (2012): 828-833.

Ben Forsgren

Ben Forsgren

Intern

Ben Forsgren is a Political and Strategy intern at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Ben is a senior at Brigham Young University where he is earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with minors in Philosophy and International Strategy and Diplomacy. Prior to coming to NCOSE, Ben helped lead BYU’s Anti-Human Trafficking Club as an Executive Officer and was a founding member of Utah’s Trafficking in Person’s Higher Education Subcommittee. Ben’s involvement in Utah’s anti-human trafficking efforts lead him to be nominated for a Truman Scholarship for which he qualified as a finalist. In his spare time, Ben enjoys playing chess, volunteering with his church, eating out, and spending time with family.

Further Reading