Apple is still treating games like they don’t matter.
The iPhone manufacturer has allegedly started removing games that feature the flag of the Confederate States of America (as first reported by TouchArcade). Games like Civil War: 1863 and Ultimate General: Gettysburg are no longer available for download on the iOS App Store. Apple is likely making this move as part of a response to the national outcry over the continued reverence for the symbol in parts of the United States. Retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Sears all agreed to stop selling the emblem, which represented the side of the U.S. Civil War that fought to protect the practice of slavery.
Apple has pulled the tablet version of the game from Appstore because of the Confederate Flag.
— Ultimate_General (@GeneralUltimate) June 25, 2015
But Apple has gone a step further than the aforementioned retailers. It isn’t just pulling consumer products like mugs that feature the stars and bars. It is banning creative expression from its App Store, which is one of the largest digital-distribution channels on the planet.
This means that if you want to make a game about the Civil War, you cannot accurately portray the symbols of that conflict.
The double standard
Apple has a history of blocking and banning games for expressing certain ideas. But that is something it has explicitly said it won’t do for other forms of media.
Here is how Apple explained it in its guideline to developers:
“We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. 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.”
In that past, Apple has decided to use this rule to remove games about sexuality and war from its App Store. But, as the company points out, it would never do this to any other form of media.
Here is a list of creative works that you can still buy through Apple’s iTunes despite its newly formed sensitivity to the Confederate flag:
- Ken Burns: The Civil War: Shows the flag dozens of times.
- “Accidental Racist” by country singer Brad Paisley: Which doesn’t understand why the Confederate flag is offensive to black people.
- The Dukes of Hazzard: The show prominently features the flag on the heroes beloved General Lee car.
- Southern by the Grace of God by Lynyrd Skynyrd: The 1988 album shows a fan waving the “Rebel” flag from the audience of a Lynyrd Skynyrd show.
We’ve asked Apple for comment, and we’ll update this story with any new information. But, in the absence of an official statement, the company’s history speaks loudly enough.
In January 2013, Apple made headlines for prohibiting the launch of Endgame: Syria on the App Store. This was a puzzle and strategy release that wanted to explore the ongoing civil war of that country from multiple perspectives. It was part of developer Tomas Rawlings initiative to “Game of the News.” But because it used real places and a real war, Apple wouldn’t permit it onto its shop.
A few months later in March 2013, Apple pulled Sweatshop, a game that explores the harsh and impossibly demanding conditions of manufacturing plants in the developing world. This came amidst concern about Apple’s use of Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn, which was under the microscope for an abnormal number of employee suicides.
In May 2014, Apple used its policies to block a sexual-exploration app called HappyPlayTime. The developer of this game designed it to use interactivity to encourage women to become more comfortable with the idea of masturbation.
Also last year, a developer decided to not even release its marijuana-growing simulator Pot Farm on iOS. It distributes that game on Android, but it changed all the art to launch it as Munchie Farm on the iTunes App Store to avoid losing money on wasted iPhone and iPad development.
And now many historical war games, a genre that is responsible for some of the most mature releases in the history of the medium, can no longer rely on iOS for revenue. Sure, the Ultimate General developper can go into its game and spend the time and money to remove all references to the Confederate flag — and it probably will. But it shouldn’t have to. We can have the “are games art?” debate, but that doesn’t matter. It is expression — and Apple isn’t doing this to any other creative industry that makes money through iTunes.