An Open Letter to Valve – Please Remove Active Shooter from Steam

I am a gamer, twitch streamer, and indie games reviewer. Today’s indie games industry really excites me as I get to explore new words, various perspectives, artistic explorations, musical styles, and gameplay interactions. The combination of the advancement of game technologies, game design best practices, and the business itself allows game developers to create almost anything! However, I recently learned of a game that has gotten further into the public’s hands than it should have, and its content and developers not only sadden me, but instil fear right down to my very core. This game is called Active Shooter and is being developed by Revived Games, and published by ACID.

Before I get into the crux of the issue, I’ll set the stage with the little bit of digging into this that I’ve done. Revived Games has no active website that I could find, and Active Shooter seems to be their first title. ACID is an independent games publisher established in 2017 with a number of titles in the Steam store already. Their titles all seem to be in similar colourful taste and are titled as follows:

  1. White Power Pure Voltage
  2. Dab Dance Twerk
  3. AltCoin
  4. Tyde Pod Challenge
  5. Furry
  6. Zucc Simulator

And their latest title? Active Shooter set to be released June 6, 2018 according to the official Steam Powered store page.

A Poor Taste Video Game Passing as a Serious Game

“Active Shooter – the Simulation. Pick your role, gear up and fight or destroy! Be the good guy or the bad guy. The choice is yours! Only in “Active Shooter”, you will be able to pick the role of an Elite S.W.A.T member or the actual shooter. Lead your team, extract civilians and neutralize the shooter.”

I first looked at this game at face value trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s a serious game exploring a controversial topic. Right? Yet, in a blog post by the developer on May 23, 2018, they claim that, “…the game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any soft of a mass shooting.”

The developer later iterated, “I have planned on having SWAT only based game-play. Then I thought about adding more gameplay to it by adding additional roles: of the shooter and the civilian.” I looked at their words very carefully. First, they used the word ‘civilian’. Initially, I interpreted this comment coming from a military savvy person or enthusiast referring to non-law enforcement player characters. As I dug deeper into the content provided in the screenshots and trailer video (if you could even call it that), clearly shooter meant perpetrator and civilian is just a variety of defenceless women. As well, how does a game the does not promote any sort of, “violence, especially any sort of a mass shooting,” according to the developer allow for a player to portray the role of the perpetrator? What’s worse, all of the victims of the perpetrator are represented by 3D models of defenceless women.

From a game design perspective for one, the game content is immoral and misrepresented as a simulator. What about this game is a simulator for S.W.A.T.? I don’t claim to know much about law enforcement by any stretch, but wouldn’t a game that simulates S.W.A.T. situations, teams, and tactics, feature game mechanics about just that? From what I can tell, there is no content about this nor are there any game mechanics that explore this. The video trailer only showcases 30 seconds out of a full 1 minute and 30 seconds of gameplay footage with the player as one of the S.W.A.T. members. The game description itself even glamorizes being able to play the role of the perpetrator where you can be the ‘bad guy’. Then, I circled back to the other titles that publisher is representing on their steam store. Tyde Pod Challenge (clearly misspelled to avoid copyright infringement) and White Power Pure Voltage?

Is the developer and publisher really trying to pass this off as socially acceptable or even legitimately well-designed and thought out video game content?

To make matters worse, the setting of the game clearly takes place in a school. The developer decided not to use any number of other potential settings such as an office building, a residence, or goodness forbid a shopping mall complex. The developers spent a great deal of time creating both the interior and exterior of a school in this virtual environment. Not that I’m trying to give the developers anymore fuel for this bonfire the only thing missing in this game are the virtual children to fill it.

This game is as much a simulator as pigs fly and hell hath froze over. The developers’ own statement that it doesn’t promote violence of any kind is a complete farce. If the game does not promote violence, then why is there a ‘civilians killed’ and ‘cops killed’ counter front-and-centre in the shooter’s user interface? Putting aside the counter’s existence for just a moment, it’s the largest represented amount of information on the screen next to the gun that the player uses.

Everything about this game is not only poorly designed, but the developers are trying to pass this off as a legitimately designed video game. Clearly, they are back-peddling in their recent communication and they are feeding off of the controversy that they’re creating. Active shooter is not a game; it is appalling, and in the worst taste possible by narcissistic people claiming to be game developers and publishers. We as game industry folk do not accept them in this industry and I trust that I speak for all of us in our profession when I say, the Active Shooter team does not represent any aspect of the games industry whatsoever.

None of these Screenshots depict a S.W.A.T. Simulator

Let’s review the screenshots from their trailer, shall we?

Active Shooter Clearly Depicts a School

The entire trailer is 00:01:30 long. One third of the trailer shows some law enforcement gameplay with an officer exploring the aftermath in a setting that clearly looks like a school.

Active Shooter | Gym Supply Room

All of the Victims are Unarmed Defenceless Women

The final two thirds of the video trailer shows content that I can’t even begin to describe how immoral it is.

Active Shooter | Killing Unarmed Women

The Interior and Exterior setting if a school in a Violent Video Game

This scene at 00:01:17 shows the player inside a classroom shooting out the windows.

Active Shooter | Classroom Setting

Not Even Soldiers in the Game are Effective

Several instances during the gameplay trailer show just how ineffective the S.W.A.T team players are. In one instance, the soldiers were shooting at the player perpetrator where not a single point of health dropped.

Active Shooter | Killing SWAT Soldiers

You can’t tell just by looking at the screenshots, but the trailer clearly glamorizes the ability to shoot defenceless women while doing so being nearly invulnerable. So, I ask again, what about this game is a S.W.A.T. focused simulation as stated in the description?

Early Access Publishing Rules and Requirements

How is such a vile ‘video game’ even published in such an accessible video game digital distribution platform like Steam?

So, I looked into the rules and requirements for Early Access games. Seeing as how this isn’t the first game to be released by ACID.

According to Steam’s official documentation, the Early Access Rules don’t actually have any guidelines or requirements around content. After reading through, I figured that it might be somewhere else in the documentation.

The next section that I checked out is the Store Presence >> Review Process. Here, the Steam store’s only requirements are that a publisher must have a working build that is depicted by the required information in the store.

From what I can tell, if a content review process does even exist, which it’s not very explicit that one does, a developer can easily bait and switch content after the review process. I suspect that if the game did in fact pass the review process, Revived Games could have released the perpetrator content after the review. But I’m just speculating at this point.

In summary, there is very little documentation on the content review process and requirements for a game on Steam Early Access. Other digital distribution platforms such as the Apple App store and even Google Play have strict guidelines on content and this content is monitored throughout the life of the product on the platform. Why does Valve not employ similar practices?

Valve, You Somehow Allowed Active Shooter on Steam

How did this game even get past the review process? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of early access games and although a lot of them clearly need a good content review scrub, how is a game like Active Shooter even remotely acceptable? How is a game this obviously hateful even allowed to have its game description published on the Steam distribution platform? This isn’t even the first title! Although ACID’s other titles aren’t necessarily descriptive of the actual gameplay, how is any of this content promoting good video game development? The answer simply can’t be, ‘Oh, it’s early access so let the community decide what they like.’ Are you this hands off to your own store process that literally nothing gets reviewed by a human? Or better yet, where are your content guidelines?

As the world’s leading video game distribution platform, Valve, you should employ a more active role in the products that you sell on your own video game distribution platform. That’s putting it lightly.

Valve, get your act together!

Active Shooter is Age Restricted Content

First off, Steam can be installed almost anywhere by anyone. There is no requirement to provide any identification documentation, credit card, or any other way to actually verify a user’s age. The Steam store uses a simple birth date picker function to age restrict users. Now, I’m alright with age restricted content, but how is this feature even a gate? An impressionable and savvy six-year-old could easily manipulate the date picker until they’ve selected an age appropriate date to access games like Active Shooter. This is a major problem.

In Summary

Valve, I repeat: Active Shooter needs to be removed from the Steam store immediately.

  1. Active Shooter is not a serious game nor a simulator, it is a vile, bad taste, and socially immoral piece of content being leveraged by controversy profiteers.
  2. Valve, your game publishing requirements are not only too lax, they are non-existent. This needs to be fixed promptly.
  3. Age restricting content is NOT an acceptable solution.

There’s no other way to put it. Valve, not only does Active Shooter need to be removed from the Steam store immediately, I feel strongly that if you want to remain a leader in video game distribution you need to overhaul your content policies.

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