Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 08, 2018
True freedom is always the freedom of others

Freedom is a very weird thing. We always want more freedom for ourselves. There aren't any official "anti freedom" political parties. But true freedom means that this freedom doesn't only apply to us, but also to everybody else. You can't have freedom of speech without giving freedom of speech to people whose speech you find offensive. You end up with total hypocrisy, in which media clamor for freedom of speech, while simultaneously censoring speech.

There used to be a time when games were too simple to contain much "speech" at all. Pac Man doesn't have a political message. But technology advanced, and today games can be as powerful, if not more so, in telling a story as a novel. And suddenly you end up with games telling stories that some other people don't like. It doesn't matter whether that is the game in which you can shoot JFK, the game about inclusion of handicapped people, or the game about sex. The thing is that games have gotten good enough to tell a message, and no message is universally welcome.

I write my opinions here on this blogging platform from Google, Blogger. I would be very much offended if Google started censoring my blog. I do sometimes write things that offend other people. And I provide them the opportunity to reply to me with comments. I don't censor comments unless they are just trolling or swearing. "You are an idiot" is not a valid comment, "you are wrong about ..., because ..." certainly is.

Steam just introduced pretty much the same policy. You can now publish any game you want on Steam, as long as it isn't illegal or just trolling. Steam isn't censoring developers any more. And Steam gives players the opportunity to reply to games they find offensive by writing reviews. There is also a system of curators, so if you have a specific opinion which results in you not wanting to see a certain type of game or hear a certain type of message, you can get all your recommendations from a curator who thinks like you.

And honestly I am a bit surprised how many people are against this new policy. I think that people saying "walking simulators about depression shouldn't be on Steam" are just trying to censor the freedom of speech of others. They use fake arguments like "quality assurance" to justify censorship. The only quality assurance Steam needs is the ability to return bad games and give them a bad review. I've heard people saying that Valve is a private company and doesn't have to allow free speech. But imagine Steam wouldn't allow shooter games any more because violence is bad; the same people would then protest about Steam censorship. Just because some organisation censors content in a way that suits you doesn't make censorship a good thing. Going for the free speech option is courageous by Valve, and in my opinion the right thing to do.

While this rejection of censorship is to be welcomed I think it is going to cause problems if Valve doesn't fix their abysmal age verification process. Those ludicrous drop down boxes make it easier to lie about your age than to scroll down to the correct value and why the heck don't they remember age in your Steam account? I know it isn't easy to verify age on the internet but I am sure the smart people at Valve could figure something out and almost anything would be better than the current non system. Not having a defensible age verification system exposes Valve to backlash and possible legal challenges every time someone publishes a game with naughty bits in.

It's not the anti-walking simulator folks who are raging about this...
You are confusing "freedom of speech" with "I should be allowed to sell all the shit I want with zero accountability". Freedom of Speech ensures that you are not stopped from saying something, it has nothing to do with either (a) removing accountability of what is being said or (b) providing a platform to make your voice heard. If I don't like what you are saying, I'm not censoring you by telling you to get out of my house, nor am I trespassing on your Freedom if I think you are a moron.

IMO the criticism is fair, just as it would be if suddenly Netflix started promoting Youtube content and porn on its main page. People are crying out because they have invested a lot of money on the platform already, and they see the quality of the service on a downward trend.

And in the end, poor customer service and refusal to do anything about it (i.e. any sort of quality control or curation) = people will go to the competitors. Will people then be accused of being 'bigots' and 'pro-censorship'? Are the Times 'pro-censorship' because they don't publish memes? Is in reality 4Chan the true Bastion of Freedom?
Your comparison is inapt. Google doesn't censor what you write on Blogger because the act of you writing and publishing is completely independent from them. They don't see it, approve it, categorize it, filter it, or in any way interact with you other than by providing you a button to press to make your post visible to the world. They have set things up this way because they want to be able to claim they have no connection nor provide any endorsement about what you write.

Steam on the other hand, even with this new policy, still has to interact with and approve each game. They also get 30% of the money you pay for every game. That is a very different relationship that strongly implies awareness and participation. They cannot claim a game they did not see a game that promotes racism. They actively check and approve them all. We're just haggling over the standards they should apply.

My problem with their newly announced policy is two-fold. The first is that, given their relationship with the games they sell, they cannot just wash their hands of content and pretend it has nothing to do with them. They certainly cannot, as they claim in the post, share our outrage at offensive games and wish they would do poorly while taking their 30% cut. That is straight up hypocrisy.

That is my minor gripe, and is interesting as a philosophical discussion, but not really a deal breaker. Hypocrisy is far too common for it to mean much here.

My main issue is that I believe that this new policy will do them harm to them as a company when somebody figures out and publishes a game that is truly offensive... not just a school shooter simulator, but one that gives you bonus points for shooting gay kids and minorities might be an easy one... that will raise public outrage and cause Steam to first have to explain their rather weak position (we don't approve, but yes, we still take our 30%) and then change their policy so that they are right back in the same position they are in today, only now a bunch of people think they are a racists or whatever because they tried to take an untenable neutral line on content.

TL;DR - They'll have to go back to curating for content sooner or later, so why waste public good will by waiting for something truly horrible to be published so they'll be forced to go back.
Not all Steam users agree on what content is unacceptable. What this tempest in a coffee cup is about is that a lot of people (and while the ones we hear shrieking the loudest, for obvious reasons, are progressive media types, they also include the conservative group who recently tried to get porny games banned) are enraged that their hopes of being the gatekeepers for Steam are being dashed.

Sure, they'll be on the lookout for a chance to go on the attack. But for now, they are very unhappy. That makes me happy.
It is not the same policy though, because they did not define trolling. What if there is a not trolling ISIS simulator? Will they really accept it?

Also, I think an easier method is to also allow all games including trolling games, but to only advertise or show in search by default games that have been rated by ESRB or the countries equivalent. That way, all those questionable games are hidden by default so no one can see them normally, and you give the job of "censoring" to the government/trade group.
@Tobold: "quality assurance" isn't censorship as removing buggy, crashing, malware containing games isn't any more censorship than stopping you from selling a car without engine.

@Tithian: you are free to speak in North Korea. If you find yourself in a camp, that's "accountability". Any kind of punishment for speech is aimed to limit that kind of speech. "Not giving platform" makes the platform automatically partisan, as it gives platform only to one party. Not being able to publish something pro-Trump on Steam makes it equal to MSNBC.

@Wilhelm: Google mass-ban conservatives from youtube. So much for "no censorship". I've left Blogger exactly because I feared they remove my blog for political speech.

The postal services take fee for every letter sent. That doesn't mean they read and censor it. You can send racist letters and the postman will deliver, as he should.

I don't think they can corner Steam with the "shoot gay kids" game and force them to censor for two simple reasons:
- Steam can choose to add a "we don't approve" stamp to some games and no longer take 30% but also provide no support or refunds. If you take the game anyway, your fault.
- The business decision (because Gabe didn't make this choice out of morals, but business): losing the money of those who boycott Steam for merely selling a game made by a third party is much smaller loss than losing the money of the conservatives over censorship they actively did.

When you live in a country where non-politically correct things are quietly censored to conform to the mainstream opinion... well, as they say, you only value the idea of free speech when you have lost it. Just recently, I have seen innocent surveys asked to quietly remove a third gender option because that does not support the governmental family friendly policy and makes religious groups unhappy enough to write complaints about.

An artists’ picture was quickly removed days after somone made a complaint about it, after it had been hanging there for over a month or two:

This is what happens when the “don’t rock the boat” mindset wins out over freedom of expression. One person complains, and others quickly comply, in order to smooth things over to inoffensiveness. Offensive things are pushed into a closet (though it’s already a progressive step for those in charge to suggest perhaps an alternate means of display with warning signs for the easily offended, rather than just balling up and burning the offensive piece in question.)

In any case, Valve has a major out from the “everything goes” option by using illegal and trolling as its criteria. Whose illegality? Trolling in the eyes of which beholder? They’re not going to specify that - it’s a simple veto option to continue to curate their store how they like, and they still have a statement to shut up groups whose complaints they find too valueless to bother with.
@Gevlon - You have strayed so far from the point or apparent understanding of the issue as to be comical.

Yes, I understand you walked away from Blogger of your own accord due to disagreeing politically with the company, but let's not pretend they were ever going to remove anything you've ever written or were likely to write. You haven't been oppressed, stop acting the victim.

Meanwhile, even if your alleged "mass bans of conservatives" were in any way true (and I will say straight up that I don't believe you, I assume you are shading the truth at best and straight up lying at worst) the fact remains that Google does not validate or approve what you write in comments on YouTube or on Blogger before it is published. That is pretty much a requirement to be covered by CDA 230. That makes it distinctly different from the relationship that Steam has with the games that appear on their service.

Likewise, your mention of the post office is nonsensical in the extreme, unless you think the open up your mail and approve it before delivering it. Are you bringing up garbage analogies to try and distract from the real issue at hand? Do you think the government is reading your mail Gevlon?

Steam has to integrated a new game into the system and test it out to make sure that it deploys and runs under various circumstances. In addition, they approve the game description and the tags it falls under, which they have to do because companies have abused that in the past. In the end, they have to do enough with a game before it appears on their service that they know exactly what is being put online. They cannot, under those circumstances, claim they are removed from the decision or fail to understand what they are publishing.

Steam won't put a "we don't approve" stamp on games. It wouldn't make any difference anyway, because they are knowingly putting the game on their system all the same. It would simply be an additional layer of hypocrisy and prove even further that they were aware of what they were publishing. It would be like putting a sticker on a magazine that said "porn" and then claiming they didn't know it was porn.

And they'll never agree to any scheme that doesn't get them their 30%. They'll go back to not publishing controversial games before that happens. They're a business, not a political entity and the business focus will win out in the end.

Finally, I don't think you understand what the word "conservative" means if you think they care about the games Steam is keeping off of their service. Every time there is a school shooting self-identified conservatives blame video games. Do you think they are going to shed a tear for a school shooter game being denied a spot on Steam. That is literally what they are asking to happen. So, honestly, and in the context of what I see in the real world, if you identify as a conservative, you ought to be opposed to Steam not vetting games and keeping them off their service.

Or, you know, maybe "conservative" is a meaningless label that means whatever you want it to mean at the moment. I could go either way on that.
What if there is a not trolling ISIS simulator?

Why is a game in which Americans shoot Arabs acceptable to you, but a game in which Arabs shoot Americans is not acceptable to you? You either need to remove both or neither.
"Why is a game in which Americans shoot Arabs acceptable to you, but a game in which Arabs shoot Americans is not acceptable to you? You either need to remove both or neither."

I'm pretty sure you just proved my point, that trolling is whatever valve decides it to be and they will remove any genuine "isis simulator" as an attempt to troll.
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