The ban-hammer has no mercy.
To be morbidly curious is a natural human characteristic. So is the allure of the forbidden fruit. It follows then, that when we’re told we can’t play a game due to its content or dubious marketing tactics we’re infinitely more interested. Whether their subject matter was simply too controversial, or their developers played hard and fast with fake reviews, each game on this list has been banned for varying reasons in different countries. So, without further ado, let’s jump into a list of 7 indie games that got banned.
7. Outlast 2
Outlast is synonymous with helpless survival horror, but in 2017 the second instalment of the series made headlines for its reception in Australia. It seems to have been a match made in heaven, with Australia itself becoming synonymous with the act of banning games. Outlast 2 was rejected by the board of classification down under for the “implied sexual violence” protagonists Blake and Lynn suffer in the game. The decision was based on a video supplied by the developers of the gameplay and cut-scenes and had consumers all over the world crying unnecessary censorship.
It seems we needn’t have worried, however. As, soon after the ban was announced, it was revealed that the refusal to provide a classification for the game was based on a video sent in error by the developers. Whether or not devs had simply reworked the scenes in question in order to comply with Australian policy after being rejected is still up for debate. Red Barrels themselves released a statement arguing that they had not altered the title post-refusal but instead offered the classification board a video better reflective of the final game content.
6. Active Shooter
If you think a first-person game putting you in the role of a school shooter would be a good idea, you would be in the vast minority. While the question of censorship surrounding video games is a vibrant and healthy discussion, there are more than a few instances of games and the behaviour of their developers that come together to form vile experiences. Active Shooter fits into this category.
The game places you in the shoes of a SWAT team trying to take down a school shooter or, almost unthinkably, in the shoes of the shooter themselves. The resulting catastrophe plays on a history of tragedy to make a quick sell out of a poorly constructed shooter taking place in a despicable context. Active Shooter was quickly removed from Steam and remains unavailable today, though it does surface every now and then in a bid to make a few more dollars.
5. Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan
Whether your game is good, bad, or anywhere in between, review-fixing is a bad look. Publisher Insel Games had this title removed from Steam after reports surfaced that the company had been pressuring its own employees to leave positive reviews of its game, Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan.
There isn’t really anything wrong with the title, per se, but the practices that went hand-in-hand with its becoming available on Steam. As a result, it was removed from sale from the platform, though it’s still available to anyone who already purchased it – as well as on other storefronts. You just can’t go around reviewing your own products, guys.
4. Phone Story
Phone Story consists of just four small minigames, but each has a big point to prove. The first has you threatening child labourers at gunpoint in the Republic of Congo. The second, trying to catch suicidal factory workers in a grimly satirical take on Game & Watch Fire. The point it’s trying to raise your attention to? The dark consequences of smartphone consumerism.
Featuring thinly-veiled references to Apple in particular, the company banned the game from the AppStore in an even more thinly-veiled excuse that it “violated developer guidelines.” Nonetheless, it’s still widely available on the Google Play Store and downloadable from the game’s website. Phone Story still provides food for thought over seven years on, at a time when smartphones are even further entrenched in our society.
3. Fight Of Gods
Designing a fighting game is no mean feat. In a genre with a high skill ceiling and rabid competitive scene that values flawlessly balanced characters, tight mechanics and not a peep of latency, you’d better have something polished to offer. Or, like Fight of Gods devs Digital Crafter, you could just throw out a bizarre, slapdash deity fighting sim that offends multiple religions and gets not just itself but the entirety of Steam banned in several countries.
Fight of Gods is exactly as it sounds, a brawl between all the big guys: Zeus, Jesus, Buddha, you name it. It’s the latter which caused a furore, with Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia banning the game for its portrayal of Buddhism. Malaysia was so disgusted, they blocked the Steam platform itself until Fight of Gods was delisted for sale in their region – the block has since been lifted. While a good chunk of Southeast Asia is now unable to access the game, they’re not missing much – to say it’s rough around the edges would be putting it politely.
2. The Slaughtering Grounds
Small studio Digital Homicide isn’t memorable for its notoriously low-quality game The Slaughtering Grounds. It’s known for hitting Steam users with various lawsuits as well as attacking YouTuber Jim Sterling for making a video mocking their less-than-stellar game. The studio had the gall to sue 100 Steam users for “stalking, criminal damage, criminal impersonation, and harassment.”
Of course, their low-quality game didn’t help matters, either. Stolen assets, cheaply-made games, and behavior like this gave The Slaughtering Grounds a bad name to begin with, and Digital Homicide dug their own grave on this one.
1. You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter
The title says it all really. You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter transports you back to the early ’90s after hearing about the joys of the ‘adult’ internet at school. Intrigued, you decide to check out what all the fuss is about and sneak onto the family computer in search of porn. As you surf the darker side of the web you’ll have to stay vigilant to nearby noises or any kind of indication that your parents could return and bust you viewing the smutty content. It’s a true horror I’m sure many people have experienced, but, for Valve back in 2017, it was apparently one step too far.
At the time, claiming that the NSFW game was ‘pornographic’ and breached community standards, Valve removed the title from their store. The game continued to be freely available through sites like itch.io, but, much to the devs’ bemusement, was removed from Steam after two months on the platform. This went on to highlight Valve’s heavy-handed and often misplaced attempts at censorship that led to many developers’ confusion of what was and wasn’t acceptable. For instance, although the game contained some grainy, vaguely pornographic pictures, there were, at the time, clearly more deliberately sexual games available.
It did open up a conversation though that, it seems, Valve eventually took on board in its approach to censorship on Steam. One of the game’s creators also issued a lengthy response via Gamasutra discussing what happened to the game and the issues of censorship more broadly. It’s well worth a read for more context around the ongoing conversation of controversial and unconventional games.