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!)