Steam is a popular gaming platform with over 90 million active users, selling many popular and indie games that range from action, strategy, adventure, and more.
Millions of these users are minors.
Steam was also named to our 2019 Dirty Dozen List. Why? The platform also has hundreds of games that promote gratuitous sexual content, violence, and harassment. Right along with the “action”, “strategy”, and “racing” games in the popular tags page, “nudity” and “sexual content” come up in the top 25.
The lack of sufficient filtering or parental controls makes Steam a major contributor to sexual exploitation in one of society’s most popular sectors—gaming.
To make matters worse, Steam specifically rolled back on many restrictions and protections it previously had on the site, creating a policy in 2018 after community backlash over the removal and censoring of many games that featured extreme sex acts such as rape and graphic nudity. Instead they implemented an “anything goes” policy with few exceptions, and soon the games came flooding back onto the platform.
There are thousands of these games on Steam. Some are worse than others, but all share a common theme: sexual exploitation is okay as long as it is “fake.” But when players are simulating the harassment and raping of women, is it really okay?
Research shows that the media we consume and yes, play, can affect our brains. One study shows that playing violent video games can desensitize players to real-life violence, and increase the risk for potential aggression. Another study found that playing video games affects our brains in the same way many common addictions do. And research on the impact pornography has on brains is proving to be even more extensive; it hijacks the reward center, destroys relationships, and has real physical effects on the body.
So if this is true, and video game violence and pornography can cause harm, it can be safe to conclude that sexually violent video games have negative impacts, especially on minors. Given this information, Steam’s parental controls and content filters are woefully inaccurate. The ease and speed at which anyone, including minors, can find these sexually exploitative games should be an utmost priority for both Steam and Valve, the parent company that owns Steam.
Since the 2018 rollback policy, Steam has made some improvements to their “family view” mode, but almost none for content filtering and the type of games they choose to allow on their platform. Family View is Steam’s own version of parental controls, which now allows account holders to set a PIN to block certain games and features on Steam. To learn more about how to set up Family View, click here.
Steam on Family View:
While a PIN-protected Family View is important, Steam’s continued “anything goes” policy means games such as “House Party,” where players coerce women into having sex and have the option to ejaculate freely on partygoers, and “Mirror,” which features “multiple instances of BDSM, sexual assault and physical torture” according to one reviewer, to remain on the site and available to anyone without Family View. Even when account users register as a minor, it only takes one click to get past the age-restricted “walls” to see and subsequently buy these games.
Another disturbing trend we see on Steam is the ability to easily bypass what little filtering the site does provide. On almost every single adult game, hundreds of reviewers leave helpful tips on how to find extra downloadable content and “nudity patches,” giving many players access to even more gratuitous sexual content. At the very least, Steam could stop allowing these types of comments to exist and be passed around directly on their site.
Although it is good to see some improvement in Steam’s parental controls, Steam and its parent corporation Valve have a social responsibility to foster a safe gaming environment, free from sexual exploitation. Continuing to promote and profit off games that depict sexual harassment, violence, and rape is unacceptable in our post #MeToo world. We encourage Steam to continue to monitor and improve upon its parental controls as well as make the following improvements as outlined in our Dirty Dozen project page:
- Create an 18+ category on its website in which all games with any amount of nudity or sexual content are stored. All accounts should have this 18+ category disabled by default, and require an extensive opt-in to view it, so that young gamers are no longer automatically exposed to this content.
- Reverse the “allow anything” policy, and reject selling games that normalize or glamorize sexual violence and exploitation in the future, no matter the age of the user.
Read more about the Steam problem here and find out actions you can take to help today! It’s time for sexual exploitation to have its “game over” in the video game industry.