Online video game store Steam won't distribute a game called Rape Day following mounting outrage calling on parent company Valve to ban it.
The game, by Desk Plant, "is a visual novel where you control the choices of a sociopath during a zombie apocalypse," according to the developer's website. "You can verbally harass, kill people and rape women as you choose to progress the story."
News of the game's existence spread online this week, and a Change.org petition asking Steam to remove the game received almost 8,000 supporters. "We need to let reviewers know that a game centered on raping and killing women is unacceptable and cannot hit the market," it reads.
The game was scheduled for release on the Steam Direct distribution channel in April. Canadian gamer Cecilia Cosenza, who started the petition, first learned about the game through the Discord gaming community.
"I felt like that this was something that was not only revolting, but something that needs to be addressed for the sake of the health of the people," she said.
Steam has gotten flak over its hands-off approach to moderating the games it publishes. In September, the platform posted an explanation of a new system of tags and filters that either hide or put speed bumps between users and content they consider too gory or violent, too sexual or generally too mature.
Steam shared its decision on Rape Day in a blog post Wednesday, saying the move comes "after significant fact-finding and discussion."
"We respect developers' desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience," Steam said, "but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that."
In an email Wednesday night, Rape Day's developer acknowledged Steam might not be the best platform for the game.
"I think I might agree with Steam that my game is not the right fit for a distribution site that is marketed at the general masses and children," said the developer, who identified himself as Jake but didn't give a last name. "My next move is to sell the game on my own site. Maybe that would have been a better move for me from the start."
On the Rape Day site, the developer talks about growing up on horror books and loving zombies and choice-driven stories. On the site, the developer also answers common questions about the game, including one on whether books and games with violent themes should be illegal.
"If we ever come to the scientific conclusion that committing crimes in video games significantly increases the chances of committing crimes in real life, then at that point we as a society will have to decide if we want to ban committing some or all crimes in fiction."
That thinking did not assuage the concerns of those who signed the Change.org petition.
"This game is trivializing an already difficult aspect of life women face on a daily basis, the threat of being assaulted," one wrote. Wrote another: "Anything that makes rape seem like a game needs to be stopped."
Originally published March 6, 3:04 p.m. PT.
Update, 8:35 p.m. PT: Adds comment from the game's developer.