“Red Dead Redemption 2”, the latest title from controversial video game publishers Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, is an open world experience set in the black heart of the 1899 American west. Its lead character, Arthur Morgan, is a member of an outlaw gang of thieves forced to survive by fighting federal law enforcement, bounty hunters, rival gangs and the insane characters littered throughout its western landscape. The story, tailored by the game’s honor system, leaves the morality of Morgan’s character up to player choice. No deed, however good or bad, is mandatory.
Nobody, besides fake-outrage non-journalists, saw the game as problematic until just a week ago when VICE published an article manufacturing controversy about how gamers can murder an in-game suffragette feminist which can be found shouting for the right to vote (the game takes place 20 years before the 19th amendment was passed, after all). Shirrako, a highly popular YouTube content creator, was initially banned from the platform following the article’s release. It seems administrators took issue with his videos where he either hogtied her, beat her, tied her to train tracks or even fed her to an alligator. One of the clips, which can be seen below, has over 1.2 million views since their decision to reinstate the channel.
The comments section, of course, is littered with the horrible fodder standard for the YouTube platform.
“The NPC is made to be rather annoying, when you try to shop for clothing in the game, your dialogue with the shopkeeper keeps being interrupted by her shouting, so I simply wanted to shop in peace.” Shirrako explained, saying the clip was merely an edgy joke, not political in nature. When asked about sexist comments by his viewers, the YouTuber said he did not “like censoring people’s opinions, regardless if I like them or not.”
These values of free speech must have been interpreted as inciting violence as the platform shutdown his account almost overnight.
“YouTube closed [my] channel because I killed a female NPC in #RDR2… They said It promoted violence,” Shirrako announced on Twitter. “You spend the entire games murdering men and no one cares, punch a woman and you get banned, are you out of your mind? They only notified me of one video being taken down,” he continued, “then [an] email saying Bye-bye basically. Apparently it ‘promotes violence’. Blowing a man’s head off with a shotgun is fine though (you can do that in the game).”
The above clip, which took place during a livestream, echoes his in-game footage where he slaughters members of a KKK meeting (778,000 views), lassoed other KKK members to the train tracks (18,000 views), beats up an anti-semitic Mayor (7,595 views), among other videos where his dishonourable Morgan harms fictional NPCs in glorious fashion. These videos were deemed fine, but YouTube decided the feminist video was just too graphic for their Community Guidelines.
The next day, YouTube issued an email to VICE where their administrators were clear in saying “graphic content that appears to be posted in a shocking, sensational, or disrespectful manner” is unacceptable and they “do not allow content that’s intended to incite violence or encourage” among other things, “dangerous activities.” This was later reversed when Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s head of gaming, declared this to be a “misinterpretation” of the policies.
“The reviewer will be educated on this outcome and on how to avoid repeating this mistake,” Wyatt tweeted. “Sometimes we make mistakes, which is why we have multiple escalation paths for reviewers to raise tough decisions and we give creators the right to appeal.”
“YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit among other things, gratuitous violence, nudity, dangerous and illegal activities, and hate speech,” a YouTube spokeswoman also stated, trying to save face after the ban. “Creative formats such as video games can be challenging to assess but when content crosses the line and is flagged to our attention, we take action as necessary.”
This claim is incredibly rich given the mismatched priorities of YouTube. As the largest alternative media platform on the internet, their band of AI algorithms and their 10,000+ content moderators, curiously labeled their “Trusted Flaggers,” have often taken to declaring old videos as being retroactively a violation of these ever-changing guidelines, which are only subject to an appeal process conducted by the platform (so good luck clearing your name if the site disagrees with you).
In May, YouTube apologized after an “accidental” scandal of mass flagging, otherwise dubbed the #YouTubePurge, saw accounts belonging to political commentators (including Sargon of Akkad, InfoWars, Andy Warski, Tim Pool, etc.) hit with strikes following changes to YouTube policies. Meanwhile, the infamous dead body video from Logan Paul received support from the YouTube algorithm system, the sexually graphic content of ElsaGate was on the rise and other extremist accounts remain relatively unharmed. The #YouTubePurge mistakes were also reversed, granted, but demonstrated how a lack of due process for content policing can often lead to a ‘shoot first, ask later’ form of injustice for all. The issue persists even in the context of video games.
It is unclear how, exactly, YouTube decided to terminate and reinstate this channel, and that’s the problem. Where’s the transparency when it comes big tech monopolies hosting the vast majority of our entertainment? Shirrako luckily had the backing of PewDiePie and Keemstar, two YouTube content creators who rose the issue to the administrators over other social media accounts, but where’s the hope for smaller channels who don’t have this kind of large voice if they are failed by the appeals process? Would we know about this issue if the video didn’t reach millions of views? Going forward, YouTube users should demand a consistent process, otherwise even video game shitposts are subject to censorship.