On Valve and China

by bitbof - 2019-12-15

Valve Software was probably my favorite game studio. Their single and multiplayer games, as well as support for their modding community were thoroughly inspiring. I played their games all the time. I spent endless hours modding the Source engine, contributing to mods such as Source Forts by creating levels and textures. A screenshot that is currently on the official Half Life website (the third one) was made by me for a contest to win a copy of the Orange Box. Back in 2003 watching the E3 presentation for Half Life 2 was one of the most exciting things. I derived a lot of inspiration from Valve employee's appearance on podcasts, listening to their advice on creative matters. Then there was that one time where someone gifted me a mouse-pad with Gabe Newell's face on it to take a stab at my love for their games. I'm saying all this to make the point that Valve was important to me, and that I respected them.

Fast forward to today, and Valve is actively silencing games on their platform (Steam) that speak out in criticism of China. An odd thing, considering Valve has a policy that allows any game on their platform unless it's trolling or illegal (as evidenced by the slew of broken, hateful, and racist games that litter their storefront now). These games about Hong Kong pass this test, yet you can't buy them on Steam. It is extremely likely that Valve does this to not upset the Chinese government. All so they don't get banned and can keep making tons of money in China with Dota and their custom tailored version of Steam. This is not OK and not acceptable behavior. Valve is selling out the citizens of Hong Kong. Their futures are at stake, they suffer from police brutality, and all that Steam's owner can seemingly think about is how to further increase their profits. Valve is making themselves complicit in the wide range of human rights violations that are happening in China.

My copy of "Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar", now residing in the trash.

Half Life 2 was about defeating an oppressive leader, and now Valve is empowering one, silencing the voices that speak truth to power. Fueled by the support of their fans they've made billions of dollars, yet their actions are spineless. Valve wasn't inspiring because of how much money they made, but because of how they pushed games as an art form. Now they're hindering its growth. If you look at other art forms like movies, books, and music, you will find many of their most important works are highly political and speak out against governments (1984, The Diary of a Young Girl, The Great Dictator, Guernica, The Times They Are a-Changin', Watchmen, Another Brick in the Wall, Hail to the Thief). It makes me really sad and worried to see that Valve is fostering an environment for video-games where that isn't the case. I think they're betraying all of the people that invested into their games and platform, which apparently is a tool for the Chinese government now. The message that is being sent: Money is the bottom line.

It is shocking to see that from outside China you can't make a game that is critical of the CCP and sell it on a major platform. We've crossed a line here, that in my opinion will weaken our freedom, democracies, and hurt games in the long run. But also directly hurt those in Hong Kong who need international support. Given their increased focus on China as a market, I doubt Valve will change course on their own.

I am in a privileged enough position where I can say no to this company, so I will make use of it. I've lost a source of inspiration, but gained a new one in the many people that protest each day on the streets of Hong Kong.