Apple does not restrict the music or books that you can buy through its digital stores. But for games and apps must live up to a different standard.
Developer Lucas Pope revealed today that he will release his mundane political game Papers, Please for iPad for $6 on Dec. 12. The port of this PC release has players controlling a border agent guarding an entrance to the fictitious nation of Arstotzka. The crux of the gameplay is all about deciding who you will let in and who you will refuse. If that sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it’s supposed to. But Apple is not OK with uncomfortable games, and it forced Pope to change Papers, Please to get approval for release on iOS.
Papers, Please gives players a number of tools to help them decide if a person is a threat to Arstotzka or not, and one of those is a body scanner that shows the immigrants and travelers fully nude. The idea of this is not to sneak a peek at the person’s goodies but to make the player realize just how easily they can denigrate and humiliate people in the name of security.
But Apple doesn’t care.
The iPad version has no full nudity option for the search scanner photos. Apple rejected that build for containing "pornographic content."
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) December 11, 2014
As you can see in the above tweet from Pope, he had to change his game because Apple considered the nudity “pornographic content.”
This is actually a part of Apple’s stated policy that it will not stand for serious games that have something important to say.
“We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate,” reads Apple’s guidelines for app developers. “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”
Apple is clearly dismissive of the potential for games to affect change in people, and the company is explicitly saying that it knows what kind of expression its customers should get exposed to.
This is similar to the recent issues in Australia, where retailers Target and K-mart pulled violent, open-world action game Grand Theft Auto V off of their shelves after receiving petitions from concerned customers.The idea of a private company willingly censoring a game caused many fans to grow concerned about censorship. While countries like Germany, India, and United Arab Emirates enact laws and censor games on a governmental level, it is perhaps more difficult to get enraged about that since it comes across as the will of the people. Or, at the very least, it is up to the people to get their governments to stop censoring media.
When Target blocks a game, however, people tend to view it as a corporation saying that it knows better than its customers. But Target and K-mart have nothing on Apple.
In January 2013, Apple blocked Endgame: Syria, which explores the civil war in that country. Developer Tomas Rawlings was only able to release the game on iOS once he changed the name and removed all references to real political events. On Android, Rawlings released Endgame: Syria without any changes or compromises.
In March 2013, Apple pulled the game Sweatshop from the App Store. It explored the harsh conditions and impossible tasks that many people working in manufacturing in developing nations have to deal with every day. That was too political for Apple.
In May, Apple blocked an app called HappyPlayTime from the App Store. This game teaches and encourages women to find joy in masturbation. That subject was too touchy for Apple.
I recently spoke with a developer who was building a mobile game about cultivating a harvest of marijuana plants. The app is due out on Android without changes, but the studio was in the process of changing it from pot to junk food to get around Apple’s tough policies.
Apple owns one of the largest distribution platform for games in the world, and it is making billions from revenue-sharing with developers. But the company still wants to treat the medium like toys, and it has no problem censoring strong and smart games like Papers, Please while the company admits it would never do that to a book.
We asked Apple to comment on this story, and we’re awaiting its response.
Meanwhile, Pope explained that he was OK with making the changes to get the game out and earning some revenue on iOS. But he also may appeal Apple’s decision.
@adamctierney I think it has a chance on appeal; may try for later. I expect it'll take some time though & didn't want to hold up release.
— Lucas Pope (@dukope) December 11, 2014