The Sex Games That Steam Censors

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

If you've paid any attention to the "Popular New Releases" tab on Steam, you might have noticed that lately, there's been a big influx of anime games on the distribution platform. Featuring 2D babes, these games often let you romance and seduce scantily-clad characters. Warning: this post contains graphic sexual images that are not safe for work.

Known as "eroge", the anime games that are now finding a home on Steam are a part of a genre known as Japanese pornographic video games. Many of these games have been released on PC prior to Steam -- and players have been able to enjoy them in their full glory. But on Steam, the version that developers are releasing don't include nudity. At least, not the sort of nudity that the original release features.

Take Nekopara Vol. 1, a game about cat girls, for example. While Steam does warn the player about the material in the game before they can visit the game's store page...

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

...and while the tags for the game also list the game as a "mature" title with "nudity" in it, and while the game even lets you adjust for the "chest bounciness" of the characters...

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

...the version that Steam players can purchase has still been altered and toned down from the original release. To give you a quick example, here's the Steam version of a shower scene:

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

Picture: ChoJell

And here's the original version of the same scene:

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

Picture: DonThinK

The scenes are largely the same -- the context is still lewd and suggestive, but you can't see the character's breasts anymore. Nekopara is not unique in this censorship, either. Games like Huniepop have also altered certain scenes for the Steam version: http://twitter.com/HuniePop/status/505574993351417856/photo/1

And so has Cho Dengeki Stryker. Here's the Steam version of a certain scene:

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

Picture: m1ad3n

And here's the uncensored version of the same scene:

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

Picture: The Otaku's Study

These are just a few examples of censorship that, while arguably minor, only seems apply to a certain type of game -- other games that feature nudity or sex, like The Witcher or Dragon Age, are not censored in this way. According to eroge developers, these types of tweaks are the only way they can get these games onto Steam in the first place.

The Sex Games That Steam Censors

"At the request of Steam, adult content [has been] disabled," Soviet Games, the developers behind a visual novel called Everlasting Summer, announced on Steam. "Steam does not allow games in which a big part of the focus behind the game is sex," reads the official FAQ for Nekopara on Steam. As a result, developers who upload anime games featuring or focusing on sex often call the tamer Steam version the "all ages" version of a game. For veteran eroge lovers, the practice probably sounds familiar: in Japan, it's not uncommon for a raunchy game originally released on PC to get a censored, "all ages" version for consoles, which have stricter limits for what developers can and cannot show. Western releases of erotic Japanese games can sometimes be censored, too.

For example, a raunchy PlayStation Vita game called Criminal Girls: Invite Only, which originally released in Japan, saw some alterations on its western release.

"These decisions are never made lightly, and whenever we do make them, it comes after working closely with the various rating boards as well as the developer," a representative from NIS America, the publishers behind the title, said last year. "Making the changes necessary to release some of our more niche titles in the West is not, and never has been, an attempt at making the game more appealing to a larger audience. We know that censoring a game would lose just as many fans as it may potentially bring in.

"Ultimately, our goal is to make games available to our fans in the West, and to keep those same games as close to their original as is possible. Regrettably, without changes, some games would not be able to be released here."

On Steam, players are finding workarounds for censored titles. Community pages on Steam for games like Nekopara and Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius have posts by people that instruct other players on how to get their Steam version of the game running with the content that's been stripped out of it. It's not difficult to find YouTube videos dedicated to the same thing, either, and less patient players can simply browse through pictures on Steam to see the money shots, too. Alternatively, it's always possible to buy the original versions of certain eroge games off of websites like Manga Gamer, or a game's official website. Helpfully, some developers actually have pages dedicated to getting the "Hentai patch" working on Steam copies of their game -- while Valve can limit what gets uploaded to the service, they cannot stop players from altering the game post-purchase. However, some of these patches require dropping some extra cash for the erotic content.

For some players, the fact that games like these are censored doesn't matter: it's a long-standing cliche in the visual novel community that some people play raunchy anime games, not for the sex scenes or indulgent nudity, but rather for the story, writing, or mechanics (much in the same way that some people genuinely read Playboy 'for the articles'). But if the sex can be stripped out or toned down so easily, why is it there in the first place?

While discussing the issue with a representative of Sekai Project, the publishers behind Nekopara, I was told that they hoped that we don't "have the impression that all visual and kinetic novels are chocked full of nothing but mature, 18+ content -- a majority [of visual novels] are quite engaging, have captivating stories to tell, breathtaking artwork, and fantastic voice over work too!"


"We know that censoring a game would lose just as many fans as it may potentially bring in."


Still, in spite of the fact that the games are more than just nudity, having these games censored at all irritates some players, just based on principle.

"I felt like.. cheated.. don't know. I suppose that I bought a product and, as a consumer, I expected the full experience," one gamer wrote on a Steam page.

"Heavily Censored, don't bother," another gamer advised others on Steam.

"Why must visual novels be censored?," a different player asked on Steam.

And at least one developer isn't happy about the way Steam handles erotic games.

"Please remind the people at iOS or Steam that if the public can handle gruesomely violent video games, they can probably handle illustrated pictures of people having sex, thanks!" the developers for Coming Out on Top, a gay visual novel that can't release on Steam due to its erotic content, wrote on a FAQ about the game.

Thing is, if developers want to get a game in front of the largest possible PC audience, they have to bend to Steam's will -- even if it means toning down vital aspects of a game.

"Over the last year or so we have found that there is a rapidly growing audience for kinetic and visual novels," the Sekai Project rep said . Getting on Steam has been a benefit. "Thanks to Steam we have been able to introduce kinetic and visual novels to a large audience who may have otherwise never had the opportunity to discover these types of games/experiences."

"There [is a] English-literate audience who want[s] these adult JP games, but [the] publisher/translator can't access [the] console market, so they have to rely on PC and create their own distribution channels," Fiohnel Fiver, an artist on Katawa Shoujo, told Kotaku via email. "However it's tough to distribute products globally...piracy is rampant. The taste for visual novels without adult scenes...[is] actually more profitable as they're allowed to be digitally-distributed internationally via Steam," he explained.

Eroge games aren't the only games affected by Steam's stance on sex. In 2012, a sex game called Seduce Me was pulled from Steam Greenlight."Steam has never been a leading destination for erotic material," Valve's chief spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Kotaku at the time. We contacted Valve for this story, and will update it should we hear back.


"If the public can handle gruesomely violent video games, they can probably handle illustrated pictures of people having sex."


"Many people still view games as 'for children' in spite of the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old," a press release from the developers of Seduce Me stated, in response to the game being pulled from Greenlight. "The gaming establishment is fine with violence and gore but is uncomfortable with sexual themes."

Steam also isn't alone when it comes to its treatment of certain sexual content. Notoriously, Apple is rather strict with what developers and comics publishers can upload to iOS. Likewise, it can very difficult to find printing houses in America that are willing to make pornographic comics. Last year, Comics Alliance reported that creators of sexually explicit comics have run afoul of printers who ditch a pornographic printing job at critical times, or of situations where printers take advantage of people who have limited choices when it comes to printing their erotic material.

The practice of making different versions of a product is not unique to video games, either. Many albums on the iTunes store often release an "explicit" version and a "clean" version of the same album, with the latter stripping out any supposedly offensive words featured on tracks. Movies released on video will sometimes sell an "uncut" version that includes all the raunchy parts that couldn't be included in the theatrical release, too.

And more importantly, it's not as if Steam isn't within its right to dictate what gets put on its service. But as the leading PC game distribution service, Steam's choices carry much weight. Even if you're not a fan of the way these specific eroge games handle sex or gender, the way Steam treats them sets a precedent for all other games that heavily feature sex, too. Obviously, sex is a sensitive subject but just as games that are approved on Steam give players the option to tone down extreme violence, finding ways to mitigate the sexual content of a game at a player's discretion shouldn't be a problem.

While the censorship issue isn't unique to Steam, unlike most distribution platforms, Steam is very audience-driven. That's why people can vote for things on Steam Greenlight: it seems that in Valve's ideal world, there isn't much that gets in the way of letting people play the games they want to play, regardless of a game's content. So far, this has worked well for Valve, because it's an approach to distribution that keeps the service stocked with the kinds of games that make players happy -- unless players want erotic games, that is. When it comes to sex games, players might have to make some concessions to enjoy the games they want on Steam.

Picture: Tara Jacoby


Comments

    I like all the tags in this article.

    It's obivously the cultural differences between regions, although some devs have been posting ways to bypass censorship on their games' community pages.

    OK now... Very serious question that has been bothering me for a long time. Are nude pictures like this of characters that are clearly portrayed as looking under 18 classified as child porn? From what I remember learning in school, all it took for something to be CP was for a naked deception of a child engaging in sexual conduct. Does the law not care about anime girls, is it just a grey area or where exactly is the line drawn?

    Are these characters perhaps trying to be passed off as 18yo+. If not I fear someone may one day get some extra paedophilia charges just for owning this on steam or the bucket loads of hentai these people have.

      That's an interesting point actually. Maybe their ages aren't specified so it's a grey area?

      I remember Bravely Default was changed over here to make the characters older for fear of sexualising minors.

      Often the characters quietly have their ages increased between Japanese and English versions, or the setting is rather obviously transposed from "high school" to "college" (without changing any graphics). There aren't a lot of 1st-year high schoolers who are under 18 (even allowing for the fact that Japanese 1st year HIgh school is roughly our 10th grade.) Most of the companies who publish these games explicitly state that all characters are over 18, or in some cases carefully avoid stating ages.

      Per the legality of it, the answer is "probably not, at least according to Australian precedent."

      There was a case a few years ago where a guy was prosecuted for possession of a pornographic parody of the Simpsons:

      http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/internet-parody-of-simpsons-is-child-porn-judge/2008/12/08/1228584743320.html

      I recall there was something similar regarding a collection of doujinshi (amateur manga) but I couldn't find the story.

        Oh god yes, it is scary stuff. Especially seeing as you pretty much couldn't visit a hentai/doujinshi site to look for legal adult content without every second thing questionable or containing obvious under 18s. Kind of makes it seem like the best choice is to stay away altogether which is kind of rough if you prefer hentai. I guess though that the bad and dangerous stuff to have anything to do with though is lolicon material. Which is undisputedly not going to contain adults.

        Regarding that Simpsons stuff though, what is pretty scary is that I am almost sure I have seen ads for cartoon porn containing all of them... Which seeing that or having it cached on your computer is probably almost legally just as bad.

        Its a risky territory, hentai is.

        Actually, I don't think the High School to College thing is an aging up, so much as a terminology difference. I know I didn't know until I moved to AU with kids that in some places, private HIgh Schools are called Colleges, while what the US calls College are Universities. I think JP is the same, college is HS level schooling, while advances schooling is University.

      Cartoon depictions of child porn is also illegal here. I remember seeing a news story from a few years back of someone being prosecuted over possession of pornographic drawings of under age Simpsons characters. The law doesn't require the images to be of a real person being abused/mollested.

      You're on shaky ground with images like this where they may officially be 18+ but look a lot younger.

        Yep. That's why I was careful of where I played Monster Monpiece, seeing as it hadn't been classified here. I didn't want to have to convince some judge that the monster girls weren't depicted in sexual poses (because some of them clearly were) or that they didn't look under 16 years of age (because most of them really do). I guess I could try the argument that monster girls can't be classified as 'children' because they aren't 'people' :-)

      Short answer - it's a fucking minefield.

      Longer answer - If you've got any sort of hentai on your computer where the female characters have small breasts and the police examine your computer for any reason, they will likely just charge you and let the courts sort it out. Depending on which state you live in, child porn is generally a depiction of a person who appears to be under the age of 16-18 years of age, and the material is intended or apparently intended to, arouse or gratify etc. Side note - it can include text without any images.

      Great website - http://libertus.net/censor/laws/celaws.html

      Depends on the country. In some countries yes.

      Yes, many jurisdictions do consider artistic depictions of underage sex to be child pornography, and the ambiguous age of animated characters seems to cause people great consternation. This is quite ridiculous, considering that the reason child pornography is illegal is so that people too young to legally consent to sex are protected from sexual exploitation. Apparently, fictitious people have real rights and need protection to allow for their development into healthy adult animated characters.

    "But if the sex can be stripped out or toned down so easily, why is it there in the first place?"

    Well, anyone who's ever had sex could probably answer that one.
    If you're going to make a game which is supposedly about relationships, then sex is damned important.

    Few things can change a relationship quite as much as the first time you have sex, but it's more than just 'we did the deed, and it was wonderful/now things are different'. Any non-virgin knows full-well that the act itself can (and should) carry an entirely other level of communication and intimacy if you're not just nearly-blackout-drunk and thrusting til you're done. There's a lot of physical and emotional exploration in the act, and good writing will convey that.

    Cutting a sex scene in a romance story is pretty much equivalent to hand-waving or cutting the confession. Or the break-up. Fade to black... "And then we had sex." Fade to black... "And then she confessed and now we're dating." Fade to black... "And so we broke up."
    How the hell is a summary helpful or satisfying? If you're playing reading a romance 'game', then you're probably there for the reactions, the communication, the emotions.

    It's very clearly and obviously contrary to the intent of the game if you can go into minutiae on nervously sharing a meal, but skip the most intense and intimate experiences because it's sticky and messy and people might get the wrong idea and think that sex is normal or healthy or meaningful. Heck, the kids playing these adult games (because only kids play games) might even realize that their PARENTS did this disgusting, shameful thing once as a mistake never to be repeated (excepting siblings). And then, y'know, obviously society will collapse. ...More.

      Thank you very much!

      I always hear that commonly troped out "devils advocate" line of "well if it can be censored why put it in?"

      It's always about the context and impact of what the designer/developer/writer wants to show. Sure you can take out the "iffy" bits and the story/game will be "functionally" the same but the impact/tone of such scenes makes all the difference to the story and emotional investment!

    So it's OK to have games where the focus is murder, killing, death & general mayhem - but not sex?

    Please, please stop calling them "anime games". They are (as everyone else referred to them) visual and kinetic novels which are most often illustrated with anime style visuals. Calling them "anime" games is just going to confuse the wrong people who hear about games based on anime (like the Bleach, Naruto, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure games) and think "Oh, those anime games are all full of porn.". Then we just get even more stuff banned from stores because of the misinformed public.

    The sex scenes in games like The Witcher, Dragon Age or GTA to name a few are not on the same level of the sex scenes in some of the +18 VN games. Take NekoPara's +18 version for example, the sex scenes in that game are full blown hardcore porn scenes with visual genital penetration. If I'm not mistaken the sex scenes in The Witcher and Dragon Age do not go that far, and are figuratively HBO/Cinemax type softcore.

    IMO, that's one of the major difference for having censored versions of the +18 versions of VN games.

    Loren isn't even an erotic game. It's an RPG that has some mild dating sim elements, which are not even necessary to complete the game. If you see all a characters events, you're awarded with a still image, most of which don't even contain nudity. And even the ones that due are very tasteful. The censorship in these cases is just stupid.

    I got one such scene. The female player character is an Amazon, wearing midriff-exposing top and a loincloth. Things start getting heated between her and the other character, and the text says clothes are coming off, but in the image that comes up, she's wearing a freakin' sundress. She ends up in more clothes than what she was originally wearing!

    And what about the stupid censorship in Fire Emblem: Awakening, where they hide the bikini-clad backside of a female character? It's not even like she's wearing a thong or something, so what on earth is the point?!

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