Steam

Frequent Steam users may be familiar with “Tags”, a recent feature addition where users can tag games with descriptive terms that help filter game selection in ways that go beyond the rudimentary filters offered by Valve.

Although Valve claims that users can tag products with “any word”, Valve actually vigorously and enthusiastically censors the tags available to users. The only filtering that Valve is prepared to confess to is in relation to “swear words” that will “not appear among popular tags” (the clear implication being that even these terms are permissible for the user to tag for his or her own convenience but they will not be seen by other people).

However, non-swearing censorship is rampant. Here is an example of Kingdom Tales before censorship, and after. Similarly, take a look at any Ubisoft game like Assassin’s Creed Unity that uses UPlay access restriction. It may occur to you that the use of a controversial game-enjoyment device like UPlay might be of interest to some users, so it is surprising to not see this as a tag applied to this game. Whether or not you personally care about UPlay doesn’t change the fact that this is a useful description to some people, and clearly meets the criteria laid out by tags, as Valve themselves state in their FAQ:

Q. Can I tag a product with any word?

A. Yes, the system is intended to support a broad range of concepts, genres, and attributes.

Until recently, an attempt to add a tag like UPlay would result in a cryptic error. Now the system will allow you to tag the game with the relevant description, but no-one else will ever see it.

Naturally, this is Valve’s system, and if they want tags to be a crippled feature that only exists to benefit big publishers, that is their right. However, it still leaves the question of what can users do who want additional community information to appear on the store page?

Well, the important first step is to install a Chrome/Firefox extension called “Enhanced Steam”. This delightful, free, add-on provides, among other things:

> Points out 3rd party DRM on games;

> Shows you Metacritic User Scores;

> Displays pricing history for each game.

It’s not a fully-realised, uncensored community tagging system, but for the types of description that Valve is most eager to prevent the community from warning about, it helps enormously and should be installed by every Steam user.

 

GamerGate

The last few weeks have been a depressing time for anyone who believes in a) gaming and b) not being terrible to women. For anyone who has had the luxury of not hearing about GamerGate so far, John Siracusa tells it like it is on ATP episode 81 (listen to the whole thing, but the relevant bit starts at around 1:11:40)*.

I’ve been wondering for a while what an antisocial gamer can do and listening to Isometric episode 18 last night gave a clue. Getting the industry to change and demand decent treatment for women is a necessary first step, and the only way outsiders can influence these people is through their pocket books. Accordingly, and as someone who spends a fair amount of money on games (my steam library currently has 473 titles), I hereby pledge that I will only spend money on games made by people who have convinced me that they are firmly on the side of making women feel welcome and safe in tech. And I hope that other gamers will join me in making this pledge.

 

* You might wonder why I chose to link to podcast of guys talking about women being harassed in tech, and it’s deliberate: at this point I’m pretty confident that anyone who still needs to understand GamerGate and what it is really about is incapable of hearing it from anyone but a man. Which is exactly the problem.