Steam Needs to Step Up Its Game.
Steam is a popular gaming platform with over 90 million active users, and approximately 35 million users who are minors, selling many popular and indie games that range from action, strategy, adventure, and more.
Steam was also named to our 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. In the wake of this decision, the sexually exploitive games on Steam have skyrocketed, going from over 700 games tagged for the keyword nudity in 2017 to now 3,911 in 2020.
There are thousands of these games on Steam. Some are worse than others, but all share a common theme: sexual exploitation is ok, as long as it’s “fake”.
When video games include sexually graphic and degrading themes the user is not only a voyeur but an active participant in staging the scene. As our society suffers from the consequences of campus sexual assault, military sexual assault, and rising child-on-child sexual abuse, we see that normalizing the sexual use (and often abuse) of others in video games is irresponsible on the corporate and social level.
Even when account users register as a minor, it only takes one click to get past the age blocking walls to see and subsequently buy these games.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation urges Steam® and its parent company Valve® to do the following:
- Create parental controls that are lockable, so that children are unable to see and access content their family determines inappropriate.
- 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.
Hey @steam_games protect young gamers. Create an opt-in 18+ category, so they're not automatically exposed to sexually graphic games. #parentingtips #onlinesafety Click To Tweet .@steam_games please remove games with sexual content - they often depict childlike characters and exploitation. #parentingtips #onlinesafety #videogames Click To Tweet .@steam_games please stop facilitating sexual exploitation and remove games with sexually graphic content! They often promote rape myths, sexual coercion, and objectification! #videogames Click To Tweet
Gamified Sexual Violence
The House Party ‘hook up’ game on Steam literally trains its users in predatory tactics for sexual assault, and even sex trafficking, which plague real, living people offline in high schools, universities, military bases, and more.
The game includes disturbing features that allow users to increase their odds of ‘having sex’ with a woman in the game if they manipulate and coerce women into sex acts. Different game scenarios include blackmail using nude pictures, increasing women’s alcohol consumption, impersonating a friend through text, and jamming a woman’s cell phone reception to isolate her in a room away from other party goers. Users ‘win’ the game by having sex with women at the party. The sexual encounters are blatant animated pornography, featuring genitalia, ejaculation, and more.
While this game is the most graphic and disturbing game of sexual coercion that we’ve found on Steam, there are many more games which feature the same themes.
Hundreds of Games Featuring Sexual Content Accessible to Children
Steam offers entire categories of “nudity” and “sexual content” video games. These categories include over 780 video games with explicit content, featuring only mild warnings that such material “may not be appropriate for all ages, or for work.”
These games – for example, House Party, Men of Yoshiwara: Ohgiya, Super Star, Porno Studio Tycoon and more – promote the dangerous misconception that sexually exploiting others is harmless and fun. Furthermore, they are in direct violation of Steam’s own policies against “pornography” or “patently offensive” content and should be removed from the Steam store.
In addition to this, the age verification system for these games is dismally lacking. These games feature only mild warnings that such material “may not be appropriate for all ages, or for work.” They often only requiring users to click “View Page” after reading a short warning, or at most to enter their birth date with no other form of verification to protect children under 18 years old.
Children can easily surpass the mild content warning by simply clicking “View Page” or at most, inserting a false date of birth.
Exposure to and participation in games filled with sexually exploitive themes or pornographic animations can be especially damaging to children. Research has demonstrated that children are more susceptible than adults to addictions and to developmental effects on the brain, making them especially vulnerable to pornography addiction.
Opening the Door to Hosting Virtual Reality Pornography
Steam sells sexually charged virtual reality games which are used with HTC Vive or Oculus Rift equipment.
While Steam so far does not host hardcore pornographic virtual reality video games, it hosts an increasing number of highly sexually charged virtual reality games, which feature nudity and crude depictions of sexual scenarios. Given ever-increasing technological advances which will make hardcore pornographic VR content easier to produce in upcoming years, Steam is opening a door to future increasingly graphic sexual VR games.
Recognition of Recent Improvements by Steam
We are aware that Steam recently added censor-patches onto the House Party game. But developers of the game have stated that “the entire story of the game is 100 percent intact… and there have been no changes made to the content of the game.”
The only edit to the game is that the sex acts have been partially blocked with black bars. This is not a solution. The entire theme of the House Party game is to normalize and instruct its users as a virtual how-to manual of sex crimes and misogyny and this theme is not negated with the simple addition of a black bar.
Learn About Parental Controls on Steam
By default, when a person sets up a Steam account they have full access to see advertisements for every kind of game, including those with sexual content, which puts the burden on families to avoid sexually exploitive material on Steam.
In addition to asking Steam to improve that current policy, you can learn about the existing parental controls to keep your child safe.
Email Steam Executives
Share your STORY
Personal stories help elected and business leaders to see the grave harm associated with this material and can be very helpful in getting them to change their policies. All will be shared anonymously. Please email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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