It has been a busy weekend in the visual novel world. If you’ve been following along, the narrative goes something like this. Valve, pressured by extreme conservative factions, have begun to target visual novels because some of them are too sexy. The push back on this Waifu/Anime Titty Holocaust (we’ll get to that) was near immediate and caused Valve to reconsider their position. As of the release of this video, all the developers and publishers that were asked to remove content from certain games have contacted again, asking them to ignore it as Valve reconsidered their position. Seems like a victory for free speech against the tyrannical fist of traditional values…right?
Here’s the thing with me. My immediate reaction whenever anyone tries to rile up my emotions and get me to act is to hit the brakes as hard as I can. Nothing good can come from letting yourself be dragged around by your emotions and that is what happened this weekend to a lot of well-meaning people. And now that the dust is beginning to settle, most of the actual questions around this issue have been, for lack of better words; buried. We don’t know why Valve chose the games it chose in the first place and we do not know what this says about their future strategy for the platform. And if we do not know why it happened this time, there is nothing to warn us about it from happening again.
Maybe we’ll get those answers, but for now my focus is clearing out the dirty air that has been kicked up over the weekend. My hope is by doing so, we can focus on the issue at hand with clear logic instead of trying to emote our way to solutions: because the worldwide record of that working is in the negatives. To help facilitate this process, I want to focus on a few key questions that I think will help in the long-run:
- Is Valve targeting visual novels on Steam for removal?
- Who are the National Center on Sexual Exploitation?
- What’s the end game?
So, let’s start with Number 1: Is Valve targeting visual novels on Steam for removal? Well, the simple answer is No. As of today, there are seven visual novels that have received both the original and recent letter about edits to their game. Considering the sheer number of visual novels on the platform, we are to date talking about less than 5% of what’s on that platform. Even if you were to add the factor of sexuality or being ‘mature’, you’d still have to explain why the following titles still seem to be in good standing on Steam at the moment:
- Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme (Transcendent Games)
- The Time Tenshi series (Silver Cow Studios)
- Burokku Girls (Silver Cow Studios)
- Sickness (Zetsubou Games)
- Cupid (Fervent Games)
- Nurse Love Addiction (Degica)
- Tomboys Need Love Too! (Zetsubou Games)
- Ladykiller in a Bind (LCA)
- Love Ribbon (RazzArt)
- The Sakura series (Winged Cloud)
- Sweetest Monster (Ebi-Hime)
- Momoiro Closet (FrontWing)
Yes, I am aware Winged Cloud is claiming they’ve been hit with this as well. Unfortunately for them, all it seems to be doing is facilitating an edit on their next ‘great’ works instead of editing previous titles like everyone else. Because of that, I have reason to believe them now and neither do you. So, they stay on the list of games not affected by Valve’s recent moves until we get more concrete evidence to the contrary.
Now, these are the titles that just came to the top of my mind and for specific reasons. They run the gambit of simple fanservice, to several uncomfortable sexual paraphilias to host on a mainstream platform including non-consensual sex, BDSM and incest. Yet, somehow the hammer completely missed them and instead hit eleven other titles:
- Kindred Spirits on the Roof (MangaGamer)
- A Kiss for the Petals (MangaGamer)
- Mutiny! (Lupiesoft)
- Huniepop (Huniepot)
- Roommates (Winter Wolves)
- Galaxy Girls (Dharker Studios)
- Battle Girls (Dharker Studios)
- Re; Lord 1 (Sekai Project)
- VR Kanojo (ILLUSION)
- Deep Space Waifu (Hammerfist Studios)
- Coming Out on Top (ObscuraSoft)
Looking at these titles feel like the list I came up with that didn’t get hammered. It all seem completely random. Until, and if, we some clarity, we can only assume the exact reasons why they were targeted. It may well be that there is a little truth in many of the rumors so far and we cannot ignore that. However, back to the previous question. Is Valve targeting visual novels for removal? No. It seemingly picked a bunch of names out of a hat to enforce one of its rules.
Why? We’ll put a pin there for now. Moving on to Question 2: Who are the National Center on Sexual Exploitation?
I don’t try to hide my work outside of VNs Now. As I said on our Twitter page, my political affiliations and professional life has given me access to some of the most influential conservative politicians and traditional values organizations operating in the United States right now. When this organization begin to spring up as the weekend wore on, I reached out to some folks I knew and asked if they knew who the National Center on Sexual Exploitation was. They didn’t either. This is important because, as I said, they’re being framed as one of the Big Bads in all of this. Yet, literally no one who should know who they are knew who they were. So, let’s figure this out, shall we?
According to their website and what information I could find, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation was formed in the 1960s by Jewish and Christian religious leaders. By all accounts, they’re a bipartisan organization. Their focus is primarily in encouraging moral standards in media (their original name was Morality in Media, in fact) and combating sex trafficking and child exploitation. The interesting thing is that in searching their press releases there are no endorsements for politicians, no notes on state or national races, no grassroots campaigns for or against legislation, and seemingly little involvement on the political scene despite being based in Washington, D.C. In fact, they recently held a national summit that featured no one with a high political standing: mostly just professionals in their field and technocrats.
The only person who has anything close to a recognizable profile in this entire organization is Dr. Robert George who sits on their Board of Directors. So, how does this organization with no apparent political teeth, no ties to any one side for reach or resources and no profile outside of professional in the various law enforcement and psychological fields influence one of the largest gaming corporations in the world to acquiesces to their demands? Don’t think too hard because the answer is easy: they don’t.
The NCOSE may well do good work inside of its fields, but they simply do not have the ability to do what a lot of the gaming media says they did the past few days. More than likely, they became aware of what was happening and took advantage of the publicity. Shockingly, it’s more common than one would think. They got a higher profile by claiming a victory and the media and fanboys involved rushed at them: solidifying their image as a moral force and giving everyone else a focal point for their outrage. In other words, ‘everyone wins’.
So, for all of you home gamers; go ahead and take the NCOSE off the board. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but as far as the events of the weekend go they are not that relevant. There may be some truth to the idea that a bunch of trolls just went after random visual novels and reported them. It would certainly account for the lack of any clear through-line on this one. However, several of the games that got the editing notification are old: some as old as six years. It seems like shooting into the wind and hoping to hit a bird would be more effective if you wanted to make noise. But who am I to know how some people think?
Back to the questions. We know that this isn’t some wide move against an entire game genre and we know that the people we were told are responsible for it aren’t. This brings us to Question 3: What’s the end game? At the moment, it seems to be a return to the status quo. Steam’s second notification gives them a way to sweep it all under the rug or remove the games down the road: regardless it does indeed kick the can down the road. Outside of that, the two biggest winners (for lack of a better word) is Lupiesoft and Huniepot. Both developers immediately capitalized on the situation and worked the media attention to their advantage, with Hunipot’s lead pushing the nauseating and insulting Waifu Holocaust hashtag to help their cause. But ultimately, that’s how this story will end for now.
“You’re wrong JP! This was about standing up for visual novels on Steam and now gamers know we’re just as valid of a gaming genre as anything else on Steam!”
I’d like to take a moment to answer an accusation that has been tossed at Valve throughout the weekend. ‘Why won’t Valve target games like The Witcher 3 instead of VNs?’ Well, it’s because sex isn’t the goal of The Witcher. It’s a side-goal, to be sure, but no one picked up the game with the intent of watching Geralt and Yennifer bang on a stuffed horse. For some (SOME) of the games that got edit letters and many visual novels that boast sexual content, getting to said content is the goal. And that goal is a wraith that refuses to be banished no matter how much positive ground the genre as a whole gains.
As much as I hate it and some of you may hate it, perception is usually reality. We do not get the luxury of always changing people’s minds once they feel they have good grip on things. And if you’re an average gamer on Steam, the timeline of visual novels on Steam sounds a little something like this:
“We had that weird feminist game by that Canadian developer in 2012, then some fun stuff came along but it was mostly anime breasts. That Sakura series was funny, but all it did was get more trash games onto Steam and it ruined everything. Steam was so much better before they put all of that mess on here. All these geeks seem to play is games with large tits or underage-looking girls. Why does this have to be on Steam? Oh, wait, that game about the cyberpunk bar was decent. And that one I saw on stream about the book club? Yeah that was good. Why can’t these games be more like that?”
This isn’t to say anything about intentions: I’m sure everyone who was involved had their heart in the right place. But, that’s the thing about being lead around by that particular organ. It doesn’t realize the road to Hell is paved with positive vibes and good intentions. And from the outside looking in, for most in the larger gaming media this was less about trying to figure out what the Hell was going on and more of an opportunity to bash Valve. And my concern is that to the rest of the world, what happened this weekend was that Valve mass removed a bunch of visual novels because visual novels have too much sex in them and the folks who are into that kind of thing got mad: which plays up the stereotype of VNs to the letter.
That, more than anything else is why I’m writing this. It’s far from the emotional rants of the weekend, but hopefully it’s a bit closer to the truth. Will we get the full story from Valve? Probably not. I do believe MangaGamer, in particular, is going to try. But, the reality is that the narrative at this point paints Valve as mercurial, but ultimately being misguided by either an internal or external force. So, if they can walk away without holding any responsibility for their decision making, why wouldn’t it? If you blame a watchdog group you’ve never heard of, or trolls, or the GOP or anyone else, it by proxy removes Steam from the equation.
The best I can do is sum up the story beyond the madness, so I will. Valve asked several developers to edit a handful of visual novels. A minority of that minority ran to both gaming and social media to protest, leading to the issue being kicked down the road. We don’t know why it happened or if it will happen again. All we know for sure is that when anime tits and sex in gaming are threatened, gaming media and developers will ban together to fight against it. After all, gamers should have access to whatever games they want. Including visual novels, for all of their sexy, sexy needs.
That is what happened this weekend. JP3: OUT.