Xbox Creator's Collection is a fairly new initiative that allows independent game creators to publish their games to the Xbox Store with "no concept approval required". It sounds like a great idea in principle, sure, but as the latest game to appear on the store shows, it's an absolute disaster waiting to happen.
A game titled Logan Paul in the Suicide Forest — or simply 'Suicide Forest' as it appears on the store — was uploaded to the service yesterday. And, as the title suggests, it's a game about Logan Paul. In the Suicide Forest.
I probably don't need to recap on the internet controversy earlier this month where YouTuber Logan Paul uploaded a video of himself in Japan's famous Aokigahara Forest — also known as the 'suicide forest' — as he stumbled across a dead body. Well, Brazilian game developer Felipe Orion has made a "video game" of just that.
I put "video game" in quotation marks because to call it a video game is doing something of a disservice to the entertainment medium. A very roughly made experience that puts you in the shoes of a digitised version of Logan Paul, you run through a forest until you come across a corpse. I've not seen the actual video, but the only audio in the game is what I'm assuming are sound bytes taken from Logan Paul's upload. Once you find the corpse, the game's over, and you're "treated" to a screen of Logan Paul doing a dance as his YouTube subscriber count go up.
The game's description on the Xbox Creator's Collection store page describes the game as follows:
"Playing as a vlogger, you are going to explore the Aokigahara forest searching for bodies in order to get millions of views for your channel."
Orion's Twitter account says he's a "Game Developer developing the most unforgettable games you will ever play". That's one way to put it. Suicide Forest is extremely distasteful and insensitive in just about every way. It's making light of a video that made light of a very serious subject, reducing suicide to nothing more than a jovial trip through a forest. And the "dance" that this video game representation of Logal Paul does after he's found a body? Well, there are no words. Here, watch it yourself:
Looking at Orion's Twitter feed, it's pretty clear that to him, this is nothing but a bit of fun. Whether he himself thinks Logan Paul's video was nothing but light entertainment, or whether he's made a game specifically to create a stir is not clear, but when called out on the game as being "sick" and "not okay", he replied with a smiley face and "I hope you had fun playing it".
Thanks for playing. I hope you had fun playing it :D
— Felipe Orion (@FelipeOrion_) January 31, 2018
I contacted Orion via Direct Message to see if he would shed any light on why he'd create such a game, and he explained to me that the game was a "social experiment". "If you ask any indie developer one of their biggest struggle [sic], probably a lot of them will answer 'make my game noticed by the public'," he wrote, validating the point that Suicide Forest has been created simply to get a reaction from the media.
"The game was made in 4 days and explored a very sensitive theme as a joke and the result was exactly what I was expecting.
There is a person that made another game about the suicide forest for the global game jam. This person choose to explore the theme in a very positive way and the game is beautiful, a piece of art. Are the people talking about this game? Nope, they choose to talk about the game that jokes the situation.
With this experiment I planned to learn how people works and how to use it to solve the 'noticing' problem that many developers face. Solving this problem, everything will be easier for those who are passionate for this industry and dream to make a living developing their games."
Orion's private response to me is disparate from his public responses on Twitter, so it's hard to work out which is most genuine, but he raises an interesting point. Regardless or whether Suicide Forest exists merely to make a statement about games press though, it's obvious that this game should not exist, and should not have been uploaded to the Xbox Store. The Creator's Program web page states that a benefit of the service is to "quickly and directly publish your game":
"Submit your game to the Creators Program through a simplified certification process. There is no concept approval required outside of standard Store policies, so as a developer, you can bring your games directly to customers."
Clearly the idea of "no concept approval" means that nobody at Xbox has had to check that the content of the game is suitable, but the game seems to be in breach of those standard store policies that Xbox lays out. The general content requirements state that "your app may contain only content that would merit a rating of PEGI 12, ESRB EVERYONE 10+, or lower". I'm not sure a game about finding a dead body would classify as PEGI 12. Furthermore, those requirements also state that content should not "glamorize extreme or gratuitous violence", "result in discomfort or any other harm to end users" or "contain potentially sensitive or offensive content". It's safe to say that something depicting suicide so brazenly falls short on all of those accounts.
I reached out to Microsoft for a statement, and a spokesperson for the company confirmed that the video does indeed violate their store policies and are in the process of removing it.
Update 5.45pm: Microsoft reached out with an updated statement as follows: “This content violated our Store policies and has been removed. Users can report inappropriate content on the game's product page or by sending a report directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
If you, or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are people who can talk to you and help.