Somehow This Video Game Belly Button Was Too Sexy For Google

The main character from Hook Up: The Game, next to the classic statue that inspired the pose: Pauline Boneparte, on view at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Photo: Sophie Artemigi

Only a few weeks later Connection: the game Released on Android, developer Sophie Artemigi was surprised to see the visual novel flagged for inappropriate sexual content.

According to the game’s own description, you play as Alex, a “sex-positive twenty-something” who matches his former high school bully on a dating app, so of course sexual themes are part of the package. But inappropriate? It was unexpected.

Google Play warns developers that content designed to be “sexually gratifying” is not allowed on the platform, but it can be unclear exactly how this is enforced. Take 7 sexy sins, for example, a game in which the player removes armor from animated demon girls, only to “take pictures…for personal use.” It has an age rating of 12+ and has been downloaded over 10,000 times without being removed from the platform.

However, Connection: the game is a narrative game about dating, relationships, and learning to deal with past trauma.

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

In response, he was told that Google “does not 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 evidence, with red rectangles drawn over the offending content.

An image from Hook-Up: The Game, a visual novel that explores encounters and trauma, available on Android.  The image indicates where Google thought the game was too suggestive, which includes both the breasts and the navel.

Image: Sophie Artemigi

You will notice that the character’s breasts have been highlighted, but also her navel, which is just totally weird. As a result, Artemigi responded via email with his counter-arguments.

First of all, Connect has nothing to do with sexual acts performed “in exchange for compensation”, she explained. In an email shown to KotakuArtemigi asked why Google confuses provocatively dressed women with sex workers?

As for the image itself, Artemigi argued that it was meant to reflect the type of images you might find on a dating app, which generally don’t allow for overly revealing images. It should be clarified that Alex is not naked in this screenshot, but even if she was, the Play Store own policy states that nudity “may be permitted if the primary purpose is educational, documentary, scientific or artistic, and is not gratuitous”.

The illustration, Artemigi pointed out, was a direct reference to the statue of Napoleon’s sister and Imperial Princess, Pauline Boneparte, which you can see for yourself in Rome’s Galleria Borghese. It is also pictured at the top of this article.

“This pose was specifically based on classical statues because there’s a reference to Alex feeling like his bully was this Greek god,” Artemigi said. “It’s about objectifying yourself and finding the beauty in yourself.”

But hey, sex is complicated and maybe navels too.

After receiving another short response stating that the screenshot depicts a “sexually gratifying nude pose of a woman presented in an unartistic manner”, Artemigi asked to escalate the issue to someone higher up in the political team hoping to talk to someone. who might appreciate the nuance of the situation.

The final response from his official contact at Google once again pointed out that Connect was in violation of the platform’s policy, but this time ended with the following sentence:

“As far as your preoccupation with climbing is concerned, I am the highest form of climbing. Next to me is God. Do you want to see God?


“It was almost nice though,” Artemigi said, “because it kind of confirmed the vibe I had. I felt very rejected, looked down upon. At least they were honest in that one e -mail, I’ll give them that.

When asked to comment, Google said Kotaku that the person who wrote this email has now been removed from the Developer Support team.

Connection: the game is still available for purchase on the Play Store, although this remains apparently in violation of company policy, meaning Artemigi has been unable to post updates as she usually would.

It’s unclear if this will have affected the game’s position on the platform as well, but it’s worth noting that despite hundreds of downloads and nearly 40 reviews, research “Connection: the game” on the Play Store does not show the game in my search results. Like, at all.

In fact, the only way to find it via search was to use the developer’s full name.

There were no such problems on iOSalthough different screenshots are used to market the game for this platform.

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

Image: Sophie Artemigi

Some might say it would be simpler to remove the screenshot altogether and see if Google is happy enough with it, but for Artemigi this whole saga has brought up some interesting questions about what kind of content platforms do. forms of play deem acceptable.

“It’s a very weird and sex-positive game,” Artemigi said. “He talks about sex in a tangential way. You’re not texting anyone, but it’s about sexual topics. But he has a rating of 16, which is very appropriate for that. The idea that you can play GTA San Andreaswhich has prostitutes and sex workers, but God forbid showing a navel in a game about a woman who loves sex and wants to be comfortable with her sexuality, is really frustrating.

And that’s not to mention the work involved in making the game either, only to end up exchanging emails with a support team that seems, at best, completely uninterested in guiding it through a stressful process.

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

Connect was done as part of my master’s degree at the National Film & Television School,” Artemigi said, “which bears the unfortunate acronym of NFTS.

After graduating from college, she then spent months making sure the game was playable on different phones, testing and preparing for release day.

“But at that time I had chemotherapy and I was isolated for five months. I also had an operation removing two of my internal organs a few weeks before. It was not a full production period. , it was me who worked whenever I could.

Arthemigi suffers from a very rare autoimmune condition called Evans Syndrome, which means his immune system attacks his own red blood cells and platelets. She is often hospitalized as a result, as was the case earlier this year.

“I managed to do all my studies, get a master’s degree and release a game, without missing a single year,” Artemigi said. “It’s very livable, but it’s not easy. It is definitely a handicap. It definitely impacts my daily life and how I make choices.

Sophie Artemigi, the developer of Hook Up: The Game, a visual novel for Android phones, which has encountered issues with what Google considers sexually explicit content.

Photo: Sophie Artemigi

Despite the frustration she feels, Artemigi is still thinking about the next game she wants to develop as well. This project will also challenge the politics of the platform, she believes, 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 get a whole page,” Artemigi said, “whereas for sex it’s more like a line that says don’t be pornographic and we’re not going to tell you what pornographic means. I’m always going to get in trouble with them, but sex in particular is something I’m going to be very careful of.

Chris is a journalist at people make games.