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Adult visual novel removed from Steam, raising questions about Valve's inconsistent curation

Sarah LeBoeuf

Adult visual novel removed from Steam, raising questions about Valve's inconsistent curation

Taimanin Asagi was meant to be a four-episode Steam release, but those plans have been scrapped as Valve removed the game's store page in advance of the game's episodic release. The extreme adult visual novel contains explicit material, including non-consensual sex.

Sarah LeBoeuf,Fri, 06 Sep 2019 17:47:00

Steam is no stranger to controversy. Valve’s digital storefront has come under fire for its confusing, often contradictory curation policy, confusing gamers and developers about what it does and does not allow. Valve attempted to clarify this in June 2018 with a polarizing statement, saying it would “allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling.”

“It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don't think should exist. Unless you don't have any opinions, that's guaranteed to happen. But you're also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist,” the statement continued.

It sounded simple enough, but Valve’s execution of its own policy has been hit-or-miss since then. The latest game to get the Steam banhammer — despite not being illegal or trolling — is Taimanin Asagi, an erotic visual novel from developer LiLith and publisher Infini-Brain. The first installment didn't even make it to release, even though LiLith planned for three more. The files for all four episodes were removed on September 4.

As you might expect from an adult game, Taimanin Asagi featured a lot of explicit content, including nonconsensual sex. According to Daily Dot trans/sex columnist (and former GameDaily reporter) Ana Valens, “The eroge series follows a demon-fighting ninja, Igawa Asagi, who is sexually violated and tortured by humans and monsters throughout all four games.” 

The "extreme kinks" that Valens details in her story don't violate Steam’s “allow everything” policy: making or hosting this content isn’t illegal, and it’s not there to troll players. On top of that, there isn’t a blanket ban on erotic games, so why was this one singled out? As Valens said on Twitter, other games with similar themes, such as visual novel Saya no Uta, are still available to purchase and play. (Saya no Uta was modified for Steam, but an uncensored patch is available and linked in one of the first reviews on its Steam page.)

Making this issue even cloudier is Valve’s announcement — three months after its wide-open curation post — that Steam would start using filters and Adults Only ratings to hide this kind of content from people who don’t want to see it. If that’s the case and there’s no risk of this material being seen by sensitive eyes, then there shouldn't be any issues around erotic games, even ones as extreme as Taimanin Asagi

Whenever Steam removes a game, whether it’s this one or the controversial Rape Day (which was likely considered trolling), people are quick to call censorship. The issue is more complicated than that; Valve is a private company and entitled to curate its storefront however it sees fit. However, it also has a responsibility to its developers, who rely on Steam — the industry’s biggest digital distribution point — for revenue. For a developer like LiLith to plan a four-episode game release and have its work removed, despite not breaking any rules, could hinder its creative output, not to mention its ability to survive in an already tumultuous industry.

Going back to Valve’s June 2018 update, the publisher wrote, “As we mentioned earlier, laws vary around the world, so we're going to need to handle this on a case-by-case basis. As a result, we will almost certainly continue to struggle with this one for a while.” It’s been well over a year since then, and it appears the struggle is still ongoing; perhaps it’s time for Valve to take another look at that policy, or at least offer gamers and developers more insight into its decisions about what stays and what goes.

Updated 9/6/2019