An Uncensored Sex Game's Difficult Journey To Steam [NSFW]

Ladykiller In A Bind -- which Heather found to be a bold exploration of sexual experiences and perspectives -- is finally coming to Steam on January 10. It will be fully uncensored, despite the way Valve usually handles these things. For creator Christine Love, reaching this point wasn't easy.

(Warning: this game is definitely NSFW.)

Ladykiller In A Bind is a game that tackles subjects like BDSM, queer sexuality, deceit, power dynamics, kinks and consent. It's the rare sex game that's actually about sex, rather than characters awkwardly dancing around each other for 10 hours and then fucking for five minutes as pay-off. Initially, Love figured it'd get shut out of Steam by Valve's (inconsistent) policies surrounding sexual content in games. Even if she made it past that hurdle, she feared she'd have to censor large portions of the game. In October, she launched the game on Humble, and for about a month, that was that.

Love didn't want to go through an automated channel like Steam Greenlight for fear of trouble post-launch. She also didn't like the idea of the go-to sex game tactic on Steam: Releasing a censored version of a game and then floating out an only sorta-official patch to remove all the mosaics and ugly Christmas sweaters at a later date.

"I honestly don't even know if Steam is aware that devs sometimes do this," Love said to me in an email. "It feels pretty bad? I never considered this as an option, because I don't like the idea of any players getting an inferior experience just because they don't have the technical knowledge of how to find that. It doesn't feel particularly fair."

During the month after Ladykiller's launch on Humble, a steadily growing chorus of voices began asking why Ladykiller wasn't on Steam. This culminated in a grassroots email campaign started by Henry Faber, head of Toronto-based application and business development company Bento Box. It gained traction due to the fact that Genital Jousting, a comedy game about dicks doing dick things to other dicks, dicked its way onto Steam without too much trouble (though notably not in Australia, but that was more due to lack of trying). If Genital Jousting was welcome, why not something that actually explores sex and sexuality beyond a superficial level?

Love told me it's tough to say if that campaign was the thing that got Valve to drop the veil covering all those scary lady parts, but it helped get things moving. "I do know a lot of people contacted Valve after Genital Jousting came out, and it definitely helped," Love told me. "But to me, its release felt like a really good sign? It's not necessarily my sort of game, but the fact that they were willing to put it on the front page makes it feel pretty clear that they're not afraid of sexuality in games, at least."

The biggest difference-maker, said Love, was talking to an actual flesh-and-blood human being at Valve. It took a while before she was able to, and when I reached out to Love about the situation in November, she was very frustrated by that. In the end, though, things worked out.

"It really was just a matter of getting in touch with an actual person at Valve and explaining the game," said Love. "They were instantly understanding that the sexual content was important to the game and didn't have any sort of problem with it, and agreed with me that it wouldn't be very appropriate to censor anything. There was no pushback or anything, they totally got it. Whether or not it helped that it was already out on Humble and very successful, I couldn't say."

Ladykiller In A Bind is releasing on Steam next week, which means a significantly larger audience will have a chance to check it out. Does this mean Valve is starting to change its tune on non-pandery sex games? Hopefully. Over the years, the policies of platforms like Steam and iOS have limited people's range of artistic expression, especially where smaller developers are concerned.

Paradoxically, Valve's opposition to games where sex is the focus has alienated many games that actually seek to engage with and explore human connection, rather than simple titillation. Meanwhile, the platform now houses a veritable orgy of "sexy" games that either censor out or don't include naughty bits, because even sex hidden behind steamy clouds sells. So Steam still ended up with a bunch of sex -- some of which verges on ugly and exploitative -- but little substance.

The first uncensored sex game that came to Steam was actually pretty tame, but Ladykiller is not. More importantly, though, Ladykiller is a game from a small developer that represents queer perspectives on sex and sexuality. The game is evidence that sex games can be far more than pure titillation, and it's hardly alone. They can explore and enlighten, even make us laugh. There's tremendous untapped potential beneath the taboo.

"I think the biggest problem is that the video game industry in general isn't used to taking games' sexuality seriously, so it's never collectively had to actually ask these questions before," said Love. "It seems like video games as a whole seem to really care about 'policies' and 'precedents', and I really hope it does help other developers that this proves that censorship isn't necessary. I'm personally really excited to see what other sexy queer games end up following, and I'd definitely encourage developers to try taking those chances and pushing those lines."


Comments

    Saying Genital Jousting was banned from a lack of trying isn't quite accurate. True, they didn't submit the game, but the publisher knew it wasn't likely to pass. They have prior experience with the classification system.
    Trying was NOT likely to see the game legally released here.

      You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, brah.

        It's also stupid to keep trying something that you already know is not going to work.

          Unless you want to make the claim that Genital Jousting was a game about rape (and come on, it's not about rape), there was nothing in that game that would concern the Australian classification board.

          The Australian situation is a real problem, and the community is rightly concerned about it. But Devolver are canny enough to use that to their marketing advantage and bring it into situation where it doesn't even apply..

          Look for Devolver to not-release most of their games in Australia moving forward. Good hype, good for international sales, so fuck Aussie gamers.

            ??? You really think they're trying to say 'fuck aussie gamers'?

            We have money. Why would they do that to potential sales?

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