Google Banned Our Game Satirizing #BlackLivesMatter for Hate Speech…Except All the Speech is from BLM Activists
Or, “How to Push a Political Agenda by Calling Everything ‘Hate Speech.’”
THE STORY SO FAR
- We made a game satirizing #blacklivesmatter using real quotes from activists and sympathizers
- Google Play banned it for “hate speech”
- We sold the PC version on itch.io — until they banned it too
- What this means for the freedom of the internet and video games
Big companies with social and political agendas are peer-pressuring every other platform into adopting their double-standards of protecting some users and punishing others, declaring your art, your opinions, your honesty “hateful.”
If you take a position that these companies don’t like — or anger a user who profits by self-victimizing — you’ll be labeled a “troll” so that you’re banned, silenced, and ignored. Because trolls don’t count, only “real” users do.
Ever wonder what people outside of your culture think of you?
A year ago, at a gamejam here in Australia, we talked a lot about police in the USA. The USA was beginning to develop a bit of a reputation for police brutality, yet it seemed every time we later learned the details of an incident, things were never as scandalous as the media, or the general public, had rashly presumed them to be.
And then there were the activists.
#BlackLivesMatter, as an idea, started out as something any sane person could get behind: that it’s a tragedy when black people are senselessly killed in America.
But the “peaceful protests” that came about were a lot less reasonable, so often accompanied by reprehensible acts like looting, blocking shopping malls stores during the holidays, or intimidating drivers into honking their horns to show “support” for an angry mob.
Increasingly clownish figures emerged to endorse it, staging some of the most irrelevant, disruptive, or violent events, all in the name of “awareness,” and soon this grassroots movement was molded into something more corporate — its goals and operations quietly co-opted by billionaire George Soros’ own Open Society Foundation — while retaining the original name.
From there, things only seemed to get sillier by the day, with a spring of demands calling for statues of purported “historical racists” to be ripped from campuses and public landmarks. College students were demanding exemptions from exams due to the “stress and fear” induced by merely reading about police brutality stories in the news. Everything was suddenly becoming racist, and creatively bizarre protests seemed like a new national pastime.
Inspired by a True Story
Our gamejam group acknowledged that while some of the accused brutality or racism within police departments was probably real, we couldn’t overlook just how delusional, hypocritical, and sometimes frightening the activists had become.
“Imagine if we just put some of the activists own words into a cute little pixel art game.” That alone would be hilarious, and we were sold.
So we started collecting quotes from BLM activists and including them in the game:
The gamejam came and went, and while we didn’t finish a full game, we had learned a lot. It wasn’t until almost a year later, when BLM activity had really heated up due to the upcoming USA election, that we discussed turning the idea into a full game.
One of our gamejam group had told us a story of a relative of hers, a police officer in the USA, whose police station was invaded one night by a naked man under the influence of some kind of drugs. He had rushed into the police station through a side door for employees as another officer was entering the building. That officer was pregnant, and had little choice but to stand idly by while our friend’s relative tried to subdue a naked crazy guy twice his own size until backup arrived.
The officer recounted something like this:
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know what the guy was going to do, he was out of his mind and not responding to any orders, and my only backup in the building was a woman who was 6 months pregnant, but with all this stuff going on in the news, I just hoped to god he wouldn’t try to take my gun, because I would have ended up shot. Because I knew that if he had been the one shot, regardless of the circumstances, the evidence, the security footage, whatever, that would have been the end of me.”
A police officer expected to knowingly put his life at a greater danger because of fear of public disapproval of doing his job by protocol? This was insane.
And so we decided our game would take place in a police station, being defended from maniacs calling themselves activists.
Google Bans #BlackLivesMatter: The Game
Last month (August 2016), we finished the game, made for Android devices, and submitted it to Google. It felt great! None of us had completed a game before, let alone built an app for mobile phones.
But about the next day or so we got a rejection letter from Google:
Apparently the game violated their policy on “hate speech.” The Hate Speech policy page, by the way, says only this:
“We don’t allow apps that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
It went without saying that none of these applies to our game:
- #BlackLivesMatter, an “official organization”, is not any of the above
- Activists definitely aren’t any of the above, nor are they all black — not even close, in case that was being implied
- Two of the three enemy types in the game are white, only one is black
- To be safe, I even chose a Teens-and-up maturity rating for this game. Here in Australia, it’s 18+.
Notice that the policy doesn’t even bother to mention “profession” at all. We’ll give Google the benefit of the doubt and assume that if a game about killing polygenderqueers isn’t allowed, then hopefully a game about killing police wouldn’t be either.
They offered to let us appeal the decision to ban the game, but something told me that the appeal wasn’t going to have much luck. And it didn’t. They just reiterated the same vague thing.
But it didn’t matter. Their service, their rules. So we looked to Itch.io so we could at least sell a PC version of the #BlackLivesMatter game there.
Banned by Itch
Someone messaged me soon after to say they couldn’t find the game on Itch.io anymore and asked if it was removed from there too.
“No way,” I thought. “They seemed really proud of their stance on allowing people to sell any kind of game.”
Sure enough, the game was still in my account marked as “published” — but the public page for it was gone, 404'd. I emailed Itch asking what happened:
Here we go again!
This time the violation is “clear” but we’re even more confused. Well, thanks for spelling it out for us! Funny to think that I had actually thanked Itch for their support in the first draft of this very essay!
I did ask for clarification in the most polite, least badgering way possible, but got no response.
Then someone told me there was nothing wrong: these platforms had every right to deny our game, waste my time I spent setting it up on their sites, and in Google’s case, keep my money that I paid for a Google Play application. No one would ever know our game existed, but since my “freedom of speech” wasn’t being violated, they told me, I had nothing else to be upset about.
Freedom of Speech
“Quick, Someone Post that XKCD!”
I’m sure you’re all familiar with this novel notion:
“Freedom of speech just means the government can’t arrest you for what you’re saying, it doesn’t protect you from the consequences!”
We’ve heard this explained so many times the number is approaching infinity — not that anyone ever really needed an explanation in the first place!
Of course, “the consequences” here just means,
“literally anything that happens to you as a result of doing this, even if it’s worse than being fined or jailed by the government. And since this doesn’t fall into that category, you have no right to complain!”
Hopefully, none of the people who repeat this adage have ever complained about protesters being run over when exercising their rights to free speech. After all, they weren’t fined or jailed by the government, and being run over was just The Consequences™, so what’s the problem? Haven’t you seen this comic?
Basically, these titans of rationale want us to know that Google owns Google Play, and they have the final word on what appears on their platform. Even if it’s hypocritical. Even if it’s a double standard. Even if it’s racist to one race and grants privileges to others. Even if they allow “hate speech” of other things. Because only those things are bad.
Good for them! Their service, their rules, right? After all, if a Christian bakery were in charge of making their own rules about who they do business with, they’d be allowed to refuse service for a gay wedding the same way, without the government interfering, right?
But there are a zillion bakeries, and there’s only one approved place to buy Android apps.
So Google has a monopoly on Android apps with the Play store.
But you could always get apps somewhere else, right?
Well, kind of. ‘Sideloaded’ apps — that is, unverified, unapproved apps that you acquire elsewhere — are only slightly more likely to contain malware, but Android devices require a special “security” setting to be switched off in order to even run sideloaded apps, so any user who doesn’t trust this (and who would?) isn’t going to bother.
So basically, Google has created the most restrictive set of authority that they possibly could for Android as a platform. Even if they wanted to, there is no more control that they could possibly exert over the apps that people make for it*, because Android apps can be compiled from tons of sources — all various softwares that Google doesn’t own, and only there does their control finally end.
So for our game, we had to ditch the mobile phone version entirely, even though that’s what it was made to be. No one would ever be able to find it if it wasn’t on the Google Play store, and even if they did, they wouldn’t trust us enough to run a sideloaded app on their phone.
What Does This Mean For Us? For Freedom? For Art?
Nothing good, sadly.
Let’s be realistic: this is a game about pixel protesters surreally storming a pixel police station with a few simple speech bubbles of dialogue.
Google and Itch didn’t bother to clarify to me why the game was banned because it would have revealed, without question, that yes, some groups of people (in this case, #BLM activists) matter more than others. Black lives matter, indeed.
And the problem isn’t confined to Google Play or Itch.
This nannification has spread to the entire internet via corporate peer pressure. What would have been correctly identified as a highly political, left-fascist content policy has become the standard. (I hate to describe it that way, but the term is accurate.)
As such, it’s defended, viciously, by its proponents who insist that this isn’t political or biased, that it’s just “common decency” (in the eye of some moral entrepreneur beholder), so therefore it doesn’t matter if it’s not fair. Who cares about being fair when you can be ‘inclusive’, ‘diverse’, ‘progressive’? Besides, you’re-either-with-us-or-you’re-a-Nazi, and you’re not a Nazi, are you?
Don’t be fooled by the convenient tale of “pressure from investors” or “PR Nightmares”; concern about and demand for internet freedom is stronger than ever, as new alternatives like Voat and Gab pop up to replace established social media platforms. “Those are just hateful/racist/alt-right hugboxes!” their critics cry, so predictable as to be comical. Actually, they’re just the same thing as their counterparts, only without the political censorship.
We had a hell of a time even finding a webhost where we could host this game.
But wait! It’s only getting worse.
So confident is Google in their good-guy tyranny that they’re working on their “Conversation AI” artificial intelligence, which is an algorithm designed to detect “the language of abuse and harassment.”
Not only does it looks like it does a terrible job, giving the phrase “I shit you not” an offensive rating of 98/100, but what’s the difference anyway? The problem with this is inherent: you’re relying on a computer to make a purely personal interpretation that varies dramatically from one person to another. And then the computer decides who “attacked” who, proceeding to dole out punishment.
How thoughtless is this? How genuinely stupid?
(By the way, Google beams that the AI has a 92% accuracy rating at the moment!)
*Oh, and remember when I said there was nothing else that Google could do to control what you make and sell for Android devices? That’s only for the moment. Let’s not forget that one feminist who tried to pressure Oculus into injecting her political philosophy into the standard itself, the standard upon which all VR would be built, asking how they were going to address the gender gap being “ported” to VR (whatever that means):
What Should We Do?
Google wants people like us to shut up and go away. They gave us the scarlet letter — “troll” — so we don’t count now.
We hear a lot of distraction arguments these days about how “it’s not censorship if…”
Who cares? The end result is exactly the same:
Your art is going to be buried just because someone else was offended by it.
This is not a good enough reason for me.
For anyone out there reading this, please: Don’t let them stop you. Don’t be afraid of making the art, the comedy, the game you want to make. Go out and make more games like this. Spread this one (it’s free).
Make it clear that while corporate bullies like Google may try to monopolize what people have on their smartphones, they don’t own your device, they don’t own your habits, they don’t own your values, and they can’t control what you play, watch, read, listen to, enjoy, or believe!
This moment in time is critical, and the future depends on us!
Thank you so much for reading!
Raj, head developer at LimitedSoftware (@LimitedSoftware)
Play our #BlackLivesMatter game here free!
(Thanks to Dreamhost for setting a great example by letting us host the game when no other webhost would. Also thanks to Brain for his suggestions on making this essay more American-English friendly!)