This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.
PayPal and the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) have announced a partnership to combat extremism and hate; but could this affect gaming?
The ADL explains that the research initiative will be focused at at-risk communities to “address the urgent need to understand how extremist and hate movements throughout the U.S. are attempting to leverage financial platforms to fund criminal activity.” The gathered information will then be shared “broadly” across financial industries, policymakers, and law enforcement.
It is also stated that “in addition to extremist and anti-government organizations, the initiative will focus on actors and networks spreading and profiting from all forms of hate and bigotry against any community.” Could that include gaming?
I’m far from suggesting anyone would use games development to fund or launder money for any criminal enterprise. Fears expressed over the initiative seem centered around the ADL being trigger happy with handling the problem, and its not without justification.
The ADL have been criticized for claiming Steam was “harboring” extremist user posts and content, and their overreaching and unrealistic demands to solve the supposed issue. Further, the ADL have been criticized for deeming anti-ANTIFA symbols and the phrase “It’s OK to be White” as hateful.
They also claimed the OK hand gesture was also used by white supremacists; despite many articles already debunking it as starting as a 4Chan prank. Nonetheless, the ADL claims it became genuinely used by white supremacists.
PayPal aren’t free of sin either, having frozen funds for a Kickstarted adult yuri visual novel. Developer Toffer Team raised over $35,000 USD for LIP! Lewd Idol Project. While the first volume released, the developer announced that PayPal had permanently locked their account– with the remaining Kickstarter funds for the game. PayPal accused Toffer Team that their project of being related to “sexual services.”
In our interview with the Project Director for the game, they explained this came with no prior warning. “After doing some research and reading a lot of similar cases online while getting feedback from people that have been in the same position in the past,” Toffer explained, “I’m really worried about the possibility of not receiving access to our funds anymore.”
“It seems that most of the times where this happens, being the user a NSFW content creator or not, after six months PayPal ends up taking all your balance with ‘fees’ of some sort, anyone can look it up online, there’s endless cases and people reporting it.” While holding the funds for six months, Toffer claims “most of the times the account ends up in zero after they charge you with multiple $2500 ‘fees’.”
Others have compared the initiative to the Chinese government’s social credit system. That initiative grants perks for “good citizens” (access to better schools for your children), and restrictions on “bad citizens” (publicly named and shamed, or banned from using public transport). Some even fear the US tech giants are unintentionally or otherwise creating a similar system.
Is it possible that the ADL and PayPal could shut down accounts for those who offended someone with their product, service, or even a social media post or retweet? Many are already predicting they would be sued for tortious interference (damaging a business relationship with a third party).
The fears of cancel culture with financial backing is why there has been push back against real IDs to be tied to social media accounts (as they are under Chinese law). Would smaller game developer studios who have to rely on PayPal feel the squeeze of PayPal’s terms to not make anything offensive?
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Six Days in Fallujah to be deplatformed; after a petition demanded it to be cancelled or banned. The petition accused the game of “[promoting] the mass murder of Iraqis by American invaders” and “will also inevitably breed a new generation of mass shooters in America and brainwash gamers into thinking RACISM IS OK.”
DeveloperNeostream stated they will be censor the design of one of the enemies in Little Devil Inside, after they were accused of being racist stereotypes. The dark-skinned humanoids appeared to wear white wooden masks with horns, jagged teeth, and red lips. They also had dreadlocks, and used a blow-pipe.
Commandos 2 – HD Remaster censored and removed the Nazi and Japanese Imperial symbols from the game. Publisher Kalypso Media later stated “We do not want to encourage racism, discrimination or exclusion with our games.”
Hate does not just attack race, but also sexuality and gender. The English fan translation of Goemon 3 being pulled (and its creator harassed) over using the word “tranny” for the Japanese the term “newhalf” (“ニューハーフ”)- also used as slang for a transgender woman. Persona 5 Royal had scenes with two stereotypically gay acting NPCs altered from the original release, despite the scenes being comic relief.
Sexism, or rather fan-service, has been in the eyes of critics and moral puritans for as long as pixilated boobs could be manifested, with concentrated efforts beginning around 2009. Along with proposed laws and finger-pointing, we’ve seen countless censorship of boobs, butts, bunny-girls, and even ship-girls.
Sony Interactive Entertainment’s censorship of anime-style fan service “to meet global standards” lead to Kenichiro Takaki (the creator of Senran Kagura series) leaving Marvelous. Despite Valve stating they it would “allow everything” on Steam other than “trolling” or illegal content, adult games have been removed over accusations of their content [1, 2], and even Super Seducer 3 despite having no nudity.
Most developers from indie to AAA have seen the affects of outrage on their works, or preemptively censored them to prevent it. Few have spoken out against attempts to be cancelled; even for mere opinion or association to someone controversial [1, 2, 3, 4]. Like it or not, games development seems to consider “who will this offend?” Especially on games with a larger budget where big numbers are needed.
As such, PayPal having a more critical eye over who uses their service is most likely to affect indies; those who use PayPal for international payments, or to receive the efforts of crowd-funding.
Would you risk developing a game that has a joke or reference to something someone could deem offensive if it meant you could lose all your funds or profit? Would you even consider a game tackling controversial themes?
Games have even been censored for the Chinese government’s sensibilities outside of China. Hololive V-Tuber Kiryu Coco had to retire, after months of harassment following the mere acknowledgement of Taiwan as its own nation separate from China. Perhaps those living under social credit were seeking to boost their score.
Guilty Gear -Strive- removed mention of Taiwan, Tibet, Uyghur; GOG cancelled their launch of Chinese-blacklisted horror game Devotion “after receiving many messages from gamers” mere hours after the announcement, Genshin Impact censored any mention of Hong Kong or Taiwan in the in-game chat, the entire Blizzard Entertainment Blitzchung Free Hong Kong saga– the list goes on.
The ADL’s aim at “anti-government organizations” is also of note. Would they order PayPal shut down accounts to those mocking government officials? Those making any form of media that could be interpreted as a critique or dissection of Biden’s policies and actions? Would they have done so if Trump was sitting in the White House?
Games development is a risky venture; and many still choose to use the full freedom of expression and the medium to make something no one else has before. Nonetheless, this attack on the wallets of those who are “hateful” could have such a wide scope, the risk of using PayPal will not be worth it.
If you’re not gonna use PayPal- use an alternative, right? Sounds reasonable on paper. Until the ADL could justify that those who would have used PayPal for hate will switch to other platforms. So their winning strategy should be spread further. Maybe all the way to the bank- literally.
To succeed in business, you need to do something your competition is not. Doing something different can be seen as weird, strange, and even offensive. The latter is getting easier to justify by the day; not just because a person says “that upsets me,” but because others agree to change because of it.
Instead of sales and online mockery dictating what is truly offensive and should fail, those seeking to be a hero and denouncing anyone that can’t defend themselves will shape the indies. AAA will continue to play it safe, and only those seeking no profit will risk making something that goes against the grain on a shoe-string budget. When it comes to the ADL tackling hate, I’d hate to be right.