Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Censorship

Today’s news of the day is about Apple banning the game Phone Story from their App Store, for depiction of violence and excessively objectionable or crude content. Or that’s what they say, the more likely story is that they didn’t like that it showed the real world evils of smartphone production.  Forced labor in mines and workers jumping from windows apparently were not what Apple liked to see shown to their customers. Whatever the reason, I don’t much like censorship and especially not if it comes from a privately owned company.

Other countries aren’t free of computer game censorship. There have been various cases in Germany for example – such as Left 4 Dead 2 – in which game companies were forbidden to sell their games unless they censored some of the inherent brutality. I don’t have much love for that either and think that strict age restrictions should be enough to control the content of games. I might stop at the point at which games are against the constitution though.

Either way, this censorship is at least done by an elected government and not some private company. Sure, it is only fair if a merchant can decide which wares to offer in her store and seen in that light, Apple is absolutely in the clear with banning this game. They don’t like it (for whatever stupid selfish reason) so they don’t sell it.

The issue being, of course, that the only legal way to acquire software for your iPhone is through Apple’s app store. [Update: I have been informed that jailbreaking your iPhone to install non-approved software is not illegal. I believe the amount of people who do so is low enough to keep my point valid, though.] Worse, this is by design and not simply because others fail to provide the service. This clearly shows the need for open formats and competition in digital distribution systems. If the game had been written for Android it wouldn’t have mattered as much if Google had banned it from its app store. Had it been written for PC, nothing in the world could really have stopped the makers from distribution their game.

Closed systems like the ones Apple produces or most gaming consoles simply breed this kind of behavior. Penny Arcade’s Tycho recently made a snarky comment about the verification systems set up for console games and I do agree that they probably lead to better software. They also lead to the power to censor content you don’t like willy-nilly, which can’t possibly be a good thing. Just like Gamestop should never have been able to remove the OnLive coupons from those Deus Ex boxes, Apple should not be able to silence politically inconvenient game designers.

To me, the consequence is obvious (don’t buy Apple, duh) but that clearly isn’t a workable global solution. People buy Apple products (and consoles) either way, but that shouldn’t turn them into brainwashed zombies that only consume what is convenient to the controlling companies. We really should have free speech for digital distribution. (Or, hey, open standards!)

 

  • Just to clarify: jailbreaking your iPhone to install other software is explicitly legal, with a DMCA exemption. Thus, software installed via Cydia is legally installed software, so Apple’s app store is not the only legal source for software.

  • I stand corrected. Will add a note to the original post. Thank you.

  • I love games. I think games are an extremely important part of our lives. I’m also an English teacher, so you can be sure what my feelings on censorship are; let’s just say I was quite good at explaining to parents why I was teaching the books I was teaching when they felt threatened or offended by the content.

    That said, I still feel very uneasy about extreme violence and gore in games. I agree with Raph Koster’s point that running over a hooker who just gave a blowjob no more teaches vehicular manslaughter and solicitation any more than pac-man teaches us to eat dots and fear ghosts.

    Then again, we know media is an effective teaching tool; that’s why a big push in education has been to incorporate more and more of it (I should know, having been a teacher who was lauded for doing it 10 years ago, before it was as popular).

    I’m very torn. I’m very much against censorship. I am also for common sense and decency. I don’t know that we have to choose between one and the other, but some games certainly push those boundries to near-breaking point. I know there are many games I would never allow my children to play (had I any – children, not games). I don’t think that’s a problem, either, yet having both thoughts in my head seems contradictory.

    Very interesting post; thanks for bringing this to the community’s attention.
    Stubborn´s last blog post ..What WoW Gives Us

  • Didn’t apple also raise a huge fuss about some “boob apps”, even a cringe-worthy 8bit game with naked pixel guys or something? 😀
    the things is, while I agree with you fully, we’re well away from uncensored media as it is, today. newspapers, TV, radio etc. are all far from letting the consumer be his own judge of what to believe or do. so, call me resigned (also I really dislike apple anyway) but I don’t particularly care what these new mediums are offering. it’s a phony industry and the best we can do is to be highly selective of what we purchase and listen to in the first place.
    Syl´s last blog post ..On Matchmaking in MMOs (and Bartle)

  • Sure, most (all) media are self-censoring in some way or another. But it’s not the postal service, my ISP, or even the state who get to decide what I’m shown- If I don’t like what one Newspaper hides from me, I’ll go buy another or read blogs or what have you. At least the potential for getting uncensored information is there.
    If you have Apple devices, not so much. Apple decides what you get to see and what they don’t like you to see and you don’t have much of a choice about the matter due to the horrendous switching cost (and marketplace dominance.)
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Censorship

  • At the same time, it *is* Apple’s service to censor as they see fit. I’d not want to have the government strongarm them into letting anything fly, that sets bad precedent.
    Tesh´s last blog post ..Zomblobs! Losing Control

  • Well, there’s a certain whiff of monopoly here, as well as a smattering of an Apple-trust. They control the hardware, the operating system, and the software running on the systems. This feels worse than Microsoft’s position ever was (which, admittedly, was a bigger legal issue on this side of the Atlantic.)
    Now Apple’s market share isn’t remotely as ridiculous as the one Microsoft had/has so there likely won’t be any government intervention necessary. Still, anyone buying an iOS System submits to company censorship, willing or not.