An interesting and sickening piece of political video gaming news came out last week. I had meant to write about it at the time, but got bogged down with some personal and family obligations. Nevertheless, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

Activision / Blizzard has apparently banned a professional Hearthstone player, living in Hong Kong (a semi-sovereign city-state in China), from participating in professional e-sports. The reason that Activision / Blizzard banned Ng Wai Chung (who goes by the username Blitzchung) is because he made statements in support of a decades-long protest movement in Hong Kong that supports independent democracy. The authoritarian communist Chinese government has been battling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong for decades, and apparently video game publishers (among many other American corporations) are starting to act as shills for China's policies of repression and censorship.

Heck, Activision even went one step further, and rescinded the prize money that Blitzchung had already won! They also stated that they are canceling professional relationships with the Taiwanese reporters who were interviewing Blitzchung when he made the comment. Taiwan, by the way, also has a lengthy history of Chinese repression.

Blitzchung made his comments as a part of an official Twitch stream, and Activision claims that his statements violated tournament rules that prohibit any speech that would:

"... brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image."

Apparently, speaking out against Chinese government repression and tyranny counts as "damaging the image of Blizzard". But Blitzchung isn't an employee or agent of Activision / Blizzard, and his statements had nothing to do with Activision / Blizzard as a business. Blitzchung's comments weren't hate speech, they weren't inciting riots or violence, nor was the statement itself anything that is actually offensive (to anyone other than the Chinese government). Would Blizzard have reacted similarly had a tournament player said "Trump, 2020" or "LGBTQ rights" or anything that could be seen as similarly divisive? If they had, they'd be equally as wrong to do so.

Activision / Blizzard's reaction is disgusting and reprehensible. I'm sure they want to increase their market penetration in China, and having players of their games who live under that repressive Chinese government speaking out against the repressive Chinese government probably doesn't make Activision / Blizzard look good in the eyes of the Chinese government. But so what?! By not taking a stance in favor of free speech, Activision / Blizzard is enabling and condoning a tyranny that would squash the very free markets in which Activision / Blizzard operates and earns its vast amounts of wealth.

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Steam logo

The video game developer and distribution platform-owner Valve has announced that it will no longer moderate game submissions to Steam, and will instead "allow everything", so long as it is not blatantly illegal or "straight up trolling". This comes after literal years of complaints from players about the poor quality of games being submitted on the platform, and years of failed attempts by Valve to shut down or limit such releases. Apparently, they are just giving up.

Valve executive Erik Johnson made this announcement on an official blog post today, in which he defended the change in policy as a matter of protecting free speech rights.

"If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it."

   -- Erik Johnson, Valve executive, official blog

I'm a huge proponent of free speech, and a firm opponent of censorship, but I'm not sure if this move from Valve is the right one. For me, this is less an issue of free speech and censorship, and more an issue of quality control. Steam is already inundated with crappy, barely-working games that are phishing for people's money. People have been submitting, and charging consumers for, blatant asset-flips, Unity tutorials, copy-pasted rip-offs and clones, achievement farms, and all sorts of other low-quality, minimum-effort games and "fake games". In essence, Valve is enabling illigitimate developers to sell defective merchandise to the public, and Valve is directly profiting off of those sales. Does this represent a conflict of interest? Is Valve under a perverse incentive to facilitate the sale of as much crap as it possibly can?

That doesn't even include larger indie debacles like Life of Black Tiger, which actually saw a release on PSN as well! It also doesn't include the vast array of Early Access titles that may or may not at some point be released as "complete", fully-functional titles.

Yes, it is nice that indie developers (especially budding young ones) have a platform on which to publish their work. However, the flood of games on the platform is not necessarily good for the consumer. Even if all the games that were submitted to Steam were quality games submitted by honest developers in good faith, the shear volume of games would already make it difficult to weed through to find what you are looking for.

Steam releases per year
Almost half of all games ever released on Steam were released in a single year.
Source: Steam Spy.

Instead of doing their own moderation or quality-control, Valve apparently intends to release a suite of controls intended to allow end users to filter out content that they don't want to see...

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