CW: This story deals with some aggressively homophobic content and depictions of sexual violence.
There’s a Twitch streamer named Alex who regularly streams himself trawling through the “new releases” tab on Steam, filled with the dozens of games added every day. There’s a lot of interesting (read: bad) games, the occasional gem, and lots of stuff in-between. But one prompted Alex to stop in his streaming tracks: a side-scrolling pixel game called Gay World, which purported to have players assuming the role of an officer in the “Gaypolice, who must arrest all straight people” or be a straight person in the “Gaylag,” and be forced to push a glass bottle near their anus. It’s not graphic—you can watch a clip here—but it’s still gross.
“As a bisexual man who has done charity streams in the past benefiting LGBTQ+ organizations,” said Alex to me recently, “I was…well, upset would be putting it lightly.”
Gay World is, according to the surprisingly detailed Steam description, set in 2269, when the “fictional country of Straightland was seized by gays and lesbians.” Anyone deemed straight was “sent to special prisons called GAYLAG, they were re-educated, squats on a bottle and made LGBT warriors from them.” (The confusing grammar is prominent throughout.) The game promises “simple and fun gameplay” as you decide which part of the “war” you’re on.
There’s no reason Gay World should have appeared on Steam, and the onus shouldn’t be on the unpaid community to do their job. Like Valve’s approach to community management, they can and should be doing better, but time and time again, a company rolling in money shows its policies are crafted to keep it minimally involved to unnecessary consequences.
Valve did not respond to my request for comment.
Even if you can somehow look past the content, Gay World is atrociously made, nearly unplayable, and barely runs. In Gay World, you can unlock every achievement in under a minute, which seems to be the immediate appeal. The publisher associated with Gay World is Ghost_RUS Games, while the developer is Nikita “Ghost_RUS.” Ghost_RUS Games has published more than 20 games on Steam, and each follows the same pattern as Gay World: simple, cheap, bad.
So, how does a game like Gay World end up on Steam? It’s pretty easy.
For years, the only games that showed up on Steam were handpicked by Valve, or through a trusted publisher. As Steam rose to prominence, that proved untenable, and Steam rolled out its controversial Greenlight program in 2012, which leveraged the Steam community to determine what should be allowed on the storefront. Games were submitted and voted on, and while there were no specific metrics, if the game was popular, it often made it through.
Greenlight wasn’t perfect, but it ensured there was some kind of check on the games that were coming through. Valve ditched Greenlight for a new service, Steam Direct, in 2017. In essence, Valve was adopting an App Store model: if you pay a fee ($100) and the game isn’t a virus, you can release it on Steam. Like Apple or Google, Steam ostensibly has guidelines for what it doesn’t allow to be sold on Steam, including hate speech or “content that is patently offensive,” but the actual submission process sounds fairly quick and automated:
“Before your store page or game build can go live, there is a brief review process where we run your game, look at your store page, and check that it is configured correctly and running as expected and not doing anything harmful. This takes between 1-5 days.”
Valve does check every game on Steam, but only to see if it runs. That said, it also means someone at Valve looked at Gay World, ran the application on their PC, and said “that’s fine.” These are not games whose bad content is hidden beneath 15 hours of gameplay, where it’s understandable for Valve to respond after it’s been reported.
At first glance, any reasonable person would question Gay World.
This means we live in a world where someone is actively making money on Steam from Gay World, while You Must Be 18 or Older to Enter, a free horror game about teenager a teenager discovering pornography, was removed after being on the storefront for months. Though Valve didn’t comment on its removal, they told the developer it considered the game “porn.” (It does feature pornographic images, but they’re abstracted as ASCII art, and the game isn’t about trying to turn the player on.) Even if that description felt reasonable, it underscores the frustrating, reactionary, and little understood way Valve conducts itself and, by proxy, the most powerful storefront in PC gaming, estimated to take in nearly a billion dollars annually.
Gay World isn’t the only egregious entry from Ghost_RUS, either. Boy Next Door, with a logo aping the imagery of the Pride flag, is from the same developer and concerns an “escape from the gay boys and bodybuilders and get it to the gay club at any cost.” It has “mostly positive” reviews—somehow, 26 people have decided to review the $1 game—that largely involve a mixture of trolling, failed comedy, and attempting to goad reactions.
“PROS,” wrote one user. “Beautiful, realistic graphics. Beautiful, realistic sounds. Beautiful, realistic storyline. CONS: Gay people.”
Several tongue-in-cheek reviews for Gay World, a game that costs only a dollar, were marked as being a “product received for free,” which means they were provided a key by the developer. I tracked down one reviewer, trying to learn more about how they were picked and if they’ve talked with the developer, but they didn’t get back to me.
“i got so hard but that’s not gay in the end it doesn’t even matter,” read their review.
The forced memes and topicality don’t end there. The upcoming games from Ghost_RUS include President Trump The Way In Uganda, in which Trump “learned about an ancient country in which the streets are lying bitcoins and drugs;” Anime girl or Bottle? which promises “a logic game” where you either click on anime girls…or bottles; and Loot Box Simulator 2018, a game based on “real events,” where all you do is open crudely drawn boxes and receive arbitrary prizes. (The last one could be worse?)
My attempts to contact Ghost_RUS Games went unanswered. The company’s Twitter account, which promotes the Ghost_RUS releases on Steam, claims the studio is based on Saint Petersburg, Russia. It appears to have little online presence, outside of taking advantage of hashtags like #indiegame to trick people into retweeting their promotions.
Their most popular release, according to Steam Spy, is a Wolfenstein 3D knockoff that doesn’t try to pretend it’s anything but exactly that: German Fortress 3D. It’s sold more than 10,000 copies, with folks having played an average of seven minutes before they moving on.
A breakdown of German Fortress 3D by YouTube creator IAmPattyJack, dubbing it the “worst game ever,” suggests Ghost_RUS is one of many developers who were once kept out of Steam through Greenlight’s light—but still extant— community management. The purposely hands-off nature of Steam Direct, however, provided an opening for opportunistic developers.
IAmPattyJack noted Ghost_RUS had tried to get many of its games, including German Fortress 3D, through the Greenlight process, but all were deemed “incompatible,” which more or less doomed a game’s ability to be sold on Steam in its current state. Three of the five games Valve had deemed “incompatible”— German Fortress 3D, Business-hooizness, Adventures Of Kok—managed to arrive on Steam with no problems through Steam Direct.
Gay World, while certainly an outlier, is a symptom of a larger disease. Steam’s “new releases” tab is full of trash, and while you can be generally sympathetic to Valve wanting to allow all sorts of creators an easy path to publishing on their enormous platform, it doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility to make sure it’s a platform that doesn't promote hateful speech. Gay World didn’t just slip through the cracks—it’s evidence Valve created the cracks themselves.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.