The sex game House Party, which has gained popularity among Youtubers and Streamers, was removed from Steam yesterday due to “pornographic content.”
The early access game bills itself as a raunchy sandbox in the style of the ’90s game Leisure Suit Larry. You play as a male party-goer who can “pick up chicks, get insulted, and make friends,” according to the trailer below.
While games with explicit nudity and sex are not banned from Steam (as seen by titles like The Witcher 3, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Conan Exiles), Valve does forbid the sale of “pornography” on its platform.
According to the developer, Valve — the company behind Steam — sent a statement over to Eek! Games citing “a number of complaints about your title, House Party, with claim that it contains pornographic content. After investigating this, it does appear that your title is pornography.”
Valve did not specify exactly how it distinguishes “pornographic” content from the other, more acceptable explicit content currently on Steam.
But in a blog post, the developer argued that his game was not pornography because, “it’s not intended to titillate, but rather is intended to be a humorous and quirky game. Most of the game-play revolves around solving puzzles and humorous dialogues.”
Some casted doubt on this, questioning the label of “humorous dialogue,” and accusing the game of crossing a line, particularly in its treatment of women.
Before the controversy began, Rock, Paper, Shotgun‘s John Walker called House Party, “a misogynistic pile of shit.”
He pointed to a specific mechanic where you can “whip your dick out”:
House Party is, if nothing else, a fascinating exploration of a certain type of male mind. It’s the type of male mind that sees women as goals to be conquered, rather than autonomous individuals, and believes that manipulated suitably, all women will want to see inside your underpants. Or, as is the case in House Party, you can show them inside your pants whether they like it or not
Kotaku‘s Nathan Grayson wrote about the game’s other controversial moments:
One involves parading a party-goer’s sister around naked as a means of humiliating her. Another is about convincing a woman to let you take topless pics of her to give to your friend. Also, you can remove one character’s top as you please (much to her surprise and outrage), and of course, there’s the whole dick thing, which—as you might expect—provokes a variety of responses.
We reached out to House Party developer Bobby Ricci to ask for more details about Valve’s request, as well as his response to these accusations.
Ricci alleged that while you can do these (inarguably vile) acts, you can also choose not to — and both choices come with their own repercussions. “I wanted a game where you can make choices and see the story play out from those different choices.”
For example, Ricci said, choosing to humiliate the character of Ashley (upon her sister’s request) makes her not like you and cuts off certain storylines. Meanwhile, making what Ricci called the “right” choice of helping Ashley out actually angers her sister instead.
“You can’t make everybody happy, and you have to make choices,” said Ricci.
Ricci also said that accusations of misogyny gloss over Katherine’s character, “who actually throughout the game objectifies the player and uses him for sex, in some cases at the expense of the player’s humiliation (again, all choices).”(It’s important to note, however, that Walker did address Katherine, and found her representation equally belittling.)
But throughout our email exchange, Ricci kept emphasizing over and over again that the game was “in its infancy. The stories will be refined and changed over time.” He didn’t expect the explosion of attention his game received thanks to coverage from major Youtubers like Pewdiepie and jacksepticeye.
A few features he says will be added to the final version — and which Ricci claimed he had been working on before the controversy — include the ability to play as a female, and inclusion of gay and lesbian storylines.
He also said that the final version will include situations that “involve sweet romantic relationship building,” as well as more of these immoral branching choices. “I think that’s what makes the game unique, and also explains why it has some of these extreme scenarios.”
Whether or not these amendments can address what critics are upset about remains to be seen.
While I have not played House Party myself, I do wonder about exactly how the game will weigh these moral choices. For example, if the repercussion for parading a naked woman around a party against her will are the same as choosing to help her (i.e. the consequence is either pissing Ashley off or pissing her sister off), I can’t imagine it will change many minds.
There’s also the mere fact that aggressive acts of sexual assault are being presented in a game supposedly, “meant to setup absurd and humorous scenarios to allow for nudity and/or sex.”