A recent announcement by Valve on Steam’s community blog has created a great deal of controversy.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, but my inclination is that Valve is trying to do the right thing, in a situation where they cannot possibly please everyone, and prefer to be neutral and let the market sort this out, allowing gamers to play games they want to play, and developers develop games they want to develop.
I tend to agree with their stance and reasoning. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, and I haven’t looked into specifics of what problems have been going on within the Steam community that gave rise to this decision, so this is just a preliminary reaction. But I like free expression, I don’t like censorship in any form. I think people should use their discretion when it comes to what they say, and what they choose to experience as entertainment. I want games to be as powerful a medium as film or literature, and I believe in their potential to be more powerful than either.
Obviously, there’s a lot of nuance to this — we don’t always get to choose our experiences. Games can surprise and shock people. But I don’t believe that games should be simply light entertainment that never offends anyone. Part of what makes art powerful is its ability to shock, offend, or even traumatize. When an authority attempts to exercise control over ways in which it is permissible to shock, offend, and traumatize, you end up with art that is safe for the establishment and promotes the interests of the powerful, and serves to persist the status quo. Whether that’s good or not, depends on whether your values align to that of the authority.
I believe in authority that defends the rights of individuals to speak out in ways that contradict the establishment, challenge it, and can force it to re-evaluate, change course, and reform as needed, as times and prevailing attitudes change.
Obviously, people can be and are sometimes hurt in the course of this. This is something I think most of us try to avoid. Even so, it happens — occasionally deliberately, but often not. Perhaps some degree of mitigation of this is not bad. But it is dangerous, and needs to be considered very carefully. I’d rather allow the offensive, controversial content to exist, and surround it with robust discussion, than to prevent it from being published and distributed.