Twitch’s Unevenly Applied Policy About In-Game Nudity Makes No Sense
Twitch, one of gaming’s most popular streaming platforms, has a strict policy when it comes to streaming games with sexual content: any game with nudity as a “core focus or feature” will get the streamer in hot water. Indie developer Robert Yang, whose games often include sexual themes, nudity, and social commentary about the gay community, has earned the dubious honor of becoming one of Twitch’s most-banned developers.
This hasn’t happened with Mass Effect‘s “blue alien boobs,” in Yang’s words, nor games that feature violence juxtaposed with objectified female bodies, such as Mortal Kombat 9 and the Dead or Alive games.
This problem goes beyond Twitch, given that similar policies come up when developers try to sell their games. For example, Steam does not allow developers to sell “adult content.” Whether you’re an indie porn developer or an indie developer who just wants to tell a story that happens to feature sexual themes prominently, Steam doesn’t want your game. Some developers try to create “censored” versions of their games in order to get around Steam’s rules, but even then, it doesn’t always pass muster. Other developers don’t want to compromise, especially if the sexual components of their game play a key role in its goals and themes. For example, Christine Love’s upcoming game Ladykiller In A Bind has been described as both a dating sim about kinky sex and a compelling narrative about social manipulation, and she has stated that doesn’t intend to censor the game even if Steam doesn’t accept it.
For successful and popular developers with large fan-bases, selling on a less popular platform may turn out fine; the lack of ability for fans to stream a game on Twitch may also not even be much of a concern for developers who’ve already achieved success. For obscure indie developers, though, the inability to sell a game on a major platform, as well as the lack of an option to have it streamed (and thus, marketed by word-of-mouth) can seriously impact players’ ability to find the game in the first place.
Even leaving the financial aspects aside, though, this method of distributing content also has unfortunate underlying implications in gaming culture. In the case of Yang’s games in particular, censorship by established platforms indicates that the content is somehow inappropriate for consumption and—it’s implied—shameful. This is a dangerous precedent to set about a game featuring a consensual queer romance in particular, and it’s also a dangerous precedent to set about sexual content in general.
It’s hardly breaking news that many people, especially here in good ol’ Puritanical America, perceive graphic violence in fiction as fine whereas depictions of sexual content—even consensual, non-objectifying, sex-positive stories—are considered unacceptable, shameful, and a topic that should not be discussed or viewed publicly. Ironically, the sexual content that is “allowed” to appear in games according to the resultant policies tends to be objectifying and sometimes even non-consensual (I’ve written about the objectifying camera angles in fighting games many times). Nudity shouldn’t be considered inherently sexual, and what’s more, not all sexual content is created equal, nor should any of it be treated as inherently bad.
As I’ve said, these over-arcing policies not only affect indie developers’ work and sales, they also reinforce larger cultural attitudes about sex, and normalize certain types of sexual content above others within gaming communities. I hope that other alternative platforms will appear that allow more types of content without the accompanying stigma; Itch.io springs to mind as an alternative to Steam, but when it comes to live-streaming, I’m just not sure of the options. I defer to you, readers, for suggestions in that area!
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