Somehow this video game belly button is too sexy for Google

The protagonist of Hook Up: The Game, next to the classical statue that inspired the pose: Pauline Boneparte, can be seen at Rome's Galleria Borghese.

image: Sophie Artemigi

Just a few weeks later Hook Up: Game released on Android, developer Sophie Artemigi was surprised to see the visual novel flagged for inappropriate pornography.

According to the game’s own description, you’ll play as Alex, “a sexually active twenties” who matches up with her old high school bully on a dating app, because So, of course, the sexual theme is part of the package. But not suitable? That was a surprise.

Google Play warns developers that content designed for “sexual gratification” is not allowed on the platform, but it can be difficult to know exactly how that is enforced. Take it 7 sexy sins, e.g. a game in which the player takes off the armor of anime female demons, just to “take some pictures…for personal use”. It has an age rating of 12+ and has been downloaded over 10,000 times without being pulled from the platform.

Opposite, Hook Up: Game is a narrative game about dating, relationships and learning to deal with past traumas.

Artemigi appealed the decision to find out exactly what crossed the line in this case.

In response she was told that Google “don’t allow apps that contain or promote sexual content or profanity”, or “appear to promote a sexual act in exchange for compensation”.

“For example”, the response continued, “your app screenshots currently contain an image that depicts sexually suggestive poses and sexual nudity”.

The following image was included as proof, with red rectangles drawn over the offending content.

An image from Hook-Up: The Game, a visual novel that explores dating and trauma, out on Android. The picture points out the places where Google thought the game was too suggestive, which includes both breasts and belly button.

Image: Sophie Artemigi

You’ll note that the character’s breasts have been highlighted, but so has her belly button, which is just totally bizarre. Accordingly, Artemigi emailed back with her counterarguments.

First of all, Hook Up has nothing to do with sexual acts being performed in “exchange for compensation”, she explained. In an email shown to Kotaku, Artemigi asked why Google was conflating provocatively dressed women with sex workers?

As for the image itself, Artemigi argued that it’s meant to be reflective of the kind of pictures you might find on a dating app, which typically do not allow for pictures that are too revealing. It’s worth clarifying that Alex is not nude in this screenshot, but even if she was, the Play Store’s private policy states that nudity “may be permitted if the primary purpose is educational, documentary, scientific or artistic and not gratuitous”.

The illustration, Artemigi points out, is a direct reference to the statue of Napoleon’s sister and royal princess, Pauline Boneparte, which you can see yourself in Rome’s Galleria Borghese. It is also illustrated at the beginning of this article.

“That pose is particularly based on classical statues because it has to do with Alex feeling like her bully is this Greek god,” says Artemigi. “It’s about being objective about yourself and finding the beauty within yourself.”

But hey, sex is complicated and so are, perhaps, navels.

After receiving another short reply stating that the screenshot depicts “a nude and sexually satisfying position of a woman presented in a non-artistic manner”, Artemigi requested to be presented. raise the issue with someone higher up on the policy team in hopes of speaking to someone who can appreciate the nuances of the situation.

The final response from her official Google contact once again indicates that Climb up violated platform policy, but this time ended with the following sentence:

“Regarding your concerns about escalation, I am the highest form of escalation. Next to me is God. Do you want to meet God? “


“It’s almost nice, because it validates my vibe,” says Artemigi. I felt very dismissed, talked down. At least they were honest in that one email, I’ll give them that. “

When asked for comment, Google said Kotaku that the person who wrote this email has now been removed from the developer support group.

Hook Up: Game To be still available for purchase on the Play Store, although it still seems to violate company policy, meaning Artemigi hasn’t been able to publish updates like she usually does.

It’s unclear if this will affect the game’s standing on the platform, but it’s worth noting that despite hundreds of downloads and almost 40 reviews, the search “Hook Up: Game“The Play Store does not show the game in my search results. Like, at all.

In fact, the only way I could find it through search was by using the developer’s full name.

There is no such problem on iOSalthough different screenshots are being used to market the game for that platform.

Some of the dialogue you might encounter in Hook Up: The Game, a visual novel about sex, trauma, and dating.

Picture: Sophie Artemigi

Some might argue that it would be easier to just delete the entire screenshot and see if Google is happy with that, but for Artemigi, this whole story highlights several questions. interesting about what kind of content game platforms are deemed acceptable.

“It was a very strange, sexually active game,” said Artemigi. “It talks about sex tangentially. You are not sharing with anyone, but it is related to sexual topics. But it has a rating of 16, which is very appropriate for that. The idea that you can play GTA San Andreaswhere there are prostitutes and sex workers, but god forbid you to show your navel in a game about a woman who enjoys sex and wants to be comfortable with her sex, really frustrating. “

And that’s not to mention the work involved in creating the game, only ending up exchanging emails with a support team that, apparently, had absolutely no interest in guiding her through the process. stress.

Along with a small team of other developers, Artemigi spent over a year on this project, before publishing it back in June.

Climb up was done as part of my Master’s at the National School of Film & Television,” said Artemigi, “which is an unfortunate acronym for NFTS. “

After completing her college degree, she spent months making sure the game was playable on different phones, testing it out, and preparing for the release date.

“But during that time, I had to have chemotherapy and had to be isolated for 5 months. I also had surgery to remove two of my internal organs a few weeks earlier. It’s not a full production phase, it’s me working whenever I can. “

Arthemigi has a very rare autoimmune condition called Evans syndrome, which means her immune system attacks her own red blood cells and platelets. As a result, she is frequently hospitalized, as was the case earlier this year.

“I managed to finish my whole education, get my master’s degree and release a game, not missing a single year,” says Artemigi. “It’s worth living, but it’s not easy. It is definitely a disability. It definitely affects my daily life and the way I make choices. “

Sophie Artemigi, developer of Hook Up: The Game, a visual novel for Android phones, had some trouble with what Google considers pornography.

image: Sophie Artemigi

Despite the frustration she’s feeling, Artemigi is still thinking about the next game she wants to develop. This project will also challenge platform policy, she thinks, but this time it focuses on violence, not sex.

“It’s ridiculous that if you look at the store’s policies on violence, you’ll see a whole page telling you what pornography means,” says Artemigi. I would still have trouble with them, but sex in particular is something that I would be very cautious of. “

Chris is a reporter at People make games.

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