Last week, Jeff Grubb from VentureBeat emailed me a question for an article he was writing, prompted by Apple's rejection of Endgame: Syria. Sometimes questions like this are good excuses for me to figure out what I really think.
Jeff asked me about this part of the iOS App Store's Developer Terms of Service:
We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.
And here is what I said:
I think this is the wrong attitude about games, but look, ultimately it is game developers' fault, not Apple's. Apple is treating games as shallow commercial entertainment experiences because they have been taught by game developers that that is what games are.
If we had built a world where games routinely work with serious issues in ways that people care about, Apple would not be able to take this stance, because it would not make any sense.
Why do they say "If you want to criticize a religion, write a book"? It's because it's obvious that banning books is bad, because there have been a lot of books that people find important (and we have had many cultural cycles involving people attempting to ban books, and culture has worked out ultimately that this is not a good thing). Games do not have this history. Right now Apple thinks a game is Angry Birds or maybe Infinity Blade. So who can blame them?
Apple may be badgered enough to change their policy someday, or they may not. But that doesn't matter very much because really it is just a reflection of the general cultural idea about what games are. The only way that idea will change is if a lot of developers make a lot of serious/deep/honest/touching/intrepid games for a long time. I don't know if that will ever happen. How many games can you think of to which you can seriously apply these adjectives? Certainly to none of the top-selling games on the App Store, and certainly certainly to none of those big free-to-play games that are raking in all the cash.
So, game developers are just sort of reaping what they have sown. What else would you expect?
I have not played Endgame: Syria but maybe it is a step in this direction. But to change these attitudes we need a lot of steps, consistently, not just a token step now and again.