If you've not yet had a chance to play The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, hopefully it's because you're not holding out for an iOS version of the game. Though Nicalis submitted the game to the App Store, it was rejected late last week because it "Contains content or features that depict violence towards, or abuse of, children."
Talk about the "Well, duh" statement of the century.
Initially released in 2014, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a remake of 2011's procedurally-generated top-down action RPG, The Binding of Isaac. Rebirth features improved graphics over the original, as well as added content. It's on a number of platforms, including PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and New Nintendo 3DS (those latter two were a struggle, though -- more on that in a bit).
Despite Rebirth's cute graphical style, you don't have to spend much time with the game to uncover its unsettling content. It is a game about a boy who suffers awful abuse at the hands of his religion-crazed mother, and the titular Isaac is a parallel to the Isaac of the Old Testament, whose father, Abraham, was prepared to sacrifice his firstborn son at God's command. Disturbing stuff to be sure, but hey, the Old Testament did it first.
Either way, it's not hard to see why Apple took one glance at The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and said "Nope."
And that's exactly the problem. The Binding of Isaac is an iconic game. Aside from simply being fun to play (if not brutal thanks to its permadeath mechanics), The Binding of Isaac can be regarded as a title from a time when indie games were starting to draw more dollars and attention thanks to the rise of digital publishing platforms and YouTube Let's Plays. In other words, it has history that Apple has chosen to ignore.
It's not at all invalid for Apple to have concerns about hosting a game that's effectively based around child abuse. But the form-letter rejection pushed on Nicalis founder Tyrone Rodriguez indicates Apple likely gave little thought to the rejection, but simply saw cartoony graphics depicting a kid getting hurt, and hit the "No" button.
Rodriguez also correctly points out Rebirth is hardly the only game on the App Store wherein kids get hurt or even killed. After all, The Walking Dead is parked there. So why does Telltale's tale get a free pass? At the risk of sounding cynical, I'd lay money on the fact Rebirth looks like a Flash game (that's how the series got its start, after all) leading Apple to reject it as some trollish joke game about hurting kids. Which ties back into my "Apple doesn't appreciate game history" complaint.
It needs to be said Nintendo initially rejected a Nintendo 3DS port of The Binding of Isaac -- for its religious content rather than its violence against children, interestingly -- and that rejection likewise made Nintendo appear out-of-touch with the indie game market. But staff within Nintendo got the company to change its mind, eventually leading to the recent Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS ports of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Nintendo made a mistake, but it listened to its staff in the end
We can hope Apple will likewise be brought around by internal staff with a deep appreciation for games, but given the sheer enormity of Apple, it's not likely. If Apple does change its mind about Rebirth, it'll be because of the current backlash the rejection has caused, not because it's open to learning a lesson about the game it turned down.
This incident, combined with the sheer amount of copyright-destroying crud that is approved for sale on the App Store, is a sad reminder of how little Apple cares about games. It's a problem, because iOS is overwhelmingly the platform of choice for mobile gaming.
As long as Apple treats its game market like an afterthought, mobile gaming will never reach its fullest potential. And given how many kids are currently being introduced to video games via their parents' devices, that's a bit worrying.
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