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Something about sex: It's only obscene if you ain't got that green

3:00 PM on 03.21.2010 // Sean Carey

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It's a sad fact of life, but cold hard cash is the ultimate caveat. The truth is, almost any rule can be circumvented if Benjamin Franklin is a member of the negotiating team.

A little paper pressed discretely into the palm gets you past the velvet rope at the club while the masses stand and gripe. A high-dollar attorney turns jail time into community service. Even in the Middle Ages, indulgences meant carte blanche on all the deadly sins you could get on the scoreboard; a vigorous jingle of your coin purse was like shaking the Etch-a-Sketch of your soul back into a blissful tabula rasa.

When it comes to moral standards in digital entertainment, the game is no different. There's one set of rules for the heavy hitters; meanwhile, everyone else is told to "do as I say, not as I let those other guys do."

Apple recently revealed their Janus-like visage to iPhone game developers and other app creators when over 5000 apps were pulled from the iTunes store due to "objectionable content". When asked by affected app developers what criteria was used to determine the suitability of app content, they were provided with the following guidelines:

No images of women in bikinis.
No images of men in bikinis.
No skin.
No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs.
No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex.
Nothing that can be sexually arousing.
No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content.

According to a spokesperson, Apple was receiving complaints from women who "found the content getting "too degrading and objectionable" along with parents who had issues with what their children were able to access via the iTunes store.

Now we know why it wasn't released on the iPhone.

Now, we all have different opinions about what is and isn't objectionable. Wherever you lie on that spectrum, however, it can't be disputed that Apple has the right to structure and restrict content as they see fit. If they choose to refuse certain app or game content in order to pursue or retain a family/PC sensitive demographic, I can at least understand the move, even if I don't agree with it.

The problem is this: while thousands of independent app and game developers were negatively affected in many ways, the media giants who also run with the skin-peddling pack have received no rebuke or mandate to alter their content whatsoever.

Playboy's app? Un-pulled and uncensored; I suppose the fact that they are female bunnies and not actual human women means that the app is free from "degrading and objectionable" content. No different than watching Animal Planet, really.

Victoria's Secret's app? Still happily providing release to teenagers everywhere who know that iPhone screen protectors aren't just to keep dust out.

GQ, FHM, and Sports Illustrated? Apparently, their bikini and lingerie shots with women staring demurely back over their own asses at me aren't actually sexual because the objectification has a recognizable brand name slapped on it.

Truly, they are paragons of virtue.

So Apple gets to have their cake and eat it too. They get to look wholesome for making an example of the pervy little guys as they play Puritan for street cred with the moral majority. At the same time, the "smut" producers with clout get out of Apple's bed, zip up their pants, and leave a fat envelope on the nightstand as they tiptoe out the back.

The individuals at Apple enforcing this decision are no different than crooked cops who make a public show of busting the guy slinging dime bags on the quad for college money so that they can keep accepting bribes from the heroin syndicate without losing their jobs.

By this point, you may be asking yourself why you should even care. This content purge apparently doesn't affect you much as a gamer, even if you play primarily on an iPhone. You weren't going to buy the wobbly boob app anyway, right? ... RIGHT?

To a certain extent, I agree with that mentality. A guy who was apparently weaned too soon being denied his ability to use accelerometer technology to reclaim his lost youth via unstable mammaries is hardly deserving of a march on Washington. I personally think the majority of the content getting cut from the iTunes store in this move, gaming or otherwise, is almost entirely lacking in merit.

That being said, the issue here is not the few iPhone games being impacted in the moment, but rather the precedent that is being set. The model that Apple uses to generate revenue with the iTunes store is being studied by all the major players in the game industry as it moves inexorably towards a future driven by digital distribution.

Fair and just application of moral standards!

As gaming giants continually look to maximize profits by broadening their appeal, the danger of in-game content being more directly impacted by these sorts of two-faced initiatives over time is tangible. The message that this type of event sends independent developers is clear. Bioware may have the muscle to stand up for their sideboob against the platform proctors, but you do not.

The types of boundary pushing and unapologetic exploration of mature themes that are most prevalent in the independent realm are subtly undermined by the implicit threat that a small timer's meal ticket may be revoked at any moment. For those that value the evolutionary impetus that the true risk-takers provide for the gaming industry, the potential impacts of these hypocrisies and double-standards are clear.

For the rest of you, there may be no cause for immediate alarm, but remember -- the road to hell is paved with good exceptions.

This promoted blog was written for our March Monthly Musing assignment, "Write something about sex." You too could get promoted if you write something about sex in videogames over on the Community Blogs.

Sean Carey,
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