Chilly reception for marijuana tycoon game shows games industry’s backwards stance on drugs

Intense and graphic violence is something we’ve come to simply
expect from games, but sexual and other adult themes are still
largely taboo — including, as publisher
Devolver Digital
is learning, drugs. Even if the game in
question is a relatively serious tycoon-type look at the current
(and legal!) business of selling weed.

Devolver is no stranger to controversy; it has published and
helped develop dozens of games and many of them have featured the
kind of graphic violence that sets off those who still see the
medium as a corruptive, fundamentally debased one. And to be fair,
the likes of Hotline Miami aren’t going to change any minds.

But for the company’s first original commissioned IP, it had
the idea of assembling a game in the popular “tycoon” genre,
but focused on the emerging and popular sector of growing
marijuana.

Obviously this is somewhat controversial, but the plant is legal
in many states and countries already and on its way in plenty of
others. This isn’t the time or place for a full evaluation of the
scheduling system and the war on drugs, but it suffices to say that
it is a complex and interesting business ecosystem that’s
teetering on the edge of widespread acceptance. That makes it a bit
edgy, but also fresh and relevant — perfect, Devolver thought, to
build a game around. So they
made Weedcraft, Inc
.

Unfortunately, the company’s co-founder Mike Wilson told me
the other day, they underestimated how square the gaming industry
is.

“This is definitely the hardest game I’ve had to market, and
that’s saying something,” Wilson told me. “It has been a
fucking nightmare. The fact that we’re still so afraid of a topic
like weed instead of the murder simulators you can market any time,
anywhere, it’s shocking.”

Console game stores were reluctant to even carry it, and warned
Devolver that it would never be featured, which is a death sentence
for a game’s discoverability. They couldn’t get ads approved on
Facebook or Instagram, and the person who submitted them even had
his account suspended. And just this week, streamers trying out the
game on YouTube had their videos demonetized.

The only stores that didn’t buck were Steam, which is largely
content-agnostic, and GOG, a popular DRM-free storefront.

Why, though? This isn’t a game about smoking blunts or cutting
dime bags with oregano to sell to middle school kids.


Well, it is a little pro-legalization.

“This isn’t a pro-legalization game. This is a tycoon game.
You don’t do drugs in the game!” said Wilson. “You can play
as a totally legal, scrupulous businessperson. We did all this
research with like, dispensaries, geneticists, lawyers, we were
worried about cultural sensitivity with the subject matter, things
like how much more black people get jailed for it. We wanted it to
be representative of all the social issues involved. It’s kind of
like doing a game about booze in the prohibition era — like, what
an interesting industry to study, right?”

It’s not that the companies involved here — Microsoft, Sony,
YouTube and so on — are applying some invisible rules. The rules
are there; when I contacted YouTube for comment, they pointed me to
the list of guidelines for
“advertiser-friendly content.”
And plain as day there’s
the one about drugs: “Video content that promotes or features the
sale, use, or abuse of illegal drugs, regulated drugs or
substances, or other dangerous products is not suitable for
advertising.”

It’s just a bit weird to me still that we have this backwards,
puritan approach to this stuff. Think of how much vile garbage is
on YouTube and how the most popular games in the world glorify guns
and death. But a recreational drug legal in many places and
generally well thought of, not to mention a massive and growing
business — that’s beyond the pale.

I understand YouTube doesn’t want people doing bong-clearing
competitions, and console makers want to appear family-friendly so
they don’t lose that teen and tween market. But surely we can be
adults about this.

Gaming is maturing to be an interactive storytelling medium that
encompasses serious issues, but the industry is holding itself back
by its squeamishness about adult themes. And that feeds into the
puritanical objections from misguided commentators, who go nuts
over romancing an alien in Mass Effect or the ridiculous “Hot
Coffee” thing in GTA, but don’t acknowledge the sophisticated
storytelling of Return of the Obra Dinn, or subversive commentary
of Papers, Please, or the impressive period recreation of an
Assassin’s Creed.

Drugs are a complex and controversial topic. I get that some
people want to stay hands-off. But when that hands-off stance
doesn’t apply to graphic violence, sexism, and other sore spots,
it comes off as prudish and hypocritical.

Source: FS – All Tech News 2
Chilly reception for marijuana tycoon game shows games industry’s backwards stance on drugs