Apple vs. The Onion: App's Rejection Shows Flaw in New Guidelines

The OnionLast week, I told you that Apple's new guidelines for app developers are a failure -- that they merely codify the confusion over what kinds of content Apple will or won't reject rather than clearing it up. Here's a real-life case study that illustrates why.

A few months ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion carried a "report" on its video channel, the Onion News Network, about a fictional video game called Close Range, "the hotly anticipated video game in which players repeatedly shoot people point-blank in the face." (Be advised: The video is hilarious but graphic.)

Hot New Video Game Consists Solely Of Shooting People Point-Blank In The Face

Taking the joke farther, the paper actually created a playable version of the game and submitted it to Apple for sale in the app store. Apple rejected the app, saying it was too violent, leading The Onion to try again recently with a somewhat toned-down version. That one is still awaiting review.

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But the language in the new guidelines makes it hard to see how the Close Range app can ever win approval. The rules expressly say "[a]pps portraying realistic images of people or animals being killed or maimed, shot, stabbed, tortured or injured will be rejected." The Onion's game consists of nothing but such images. Of course, the purpose of those images, in this case, is to send up ultra-violent video games like Grand Theft Auto and God of War. ("Just like great literature or film transports you to different worlds, Close Range transports you to a world where you fire bullets into an endless stream of faces," says a supposed game reviewer in The Onion video.)

However, the guidelines do make allowances for "professional political satirists and humorists," stating they "are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary." But does a video game qualify as "offensive commentary"? One of the delightful things about The Onion is how often its put-ons are mistaken by the dull-witted and literal-minded for real news. For every Apple customer who would buy Close Range for a sophisticated laugh, there's surely another who'd do it for the thrill of vaporizing an ostrich's head with a shotgun. Whose intent matters -- the creator or the end user?

No one from The Onion was willing to comment on this issue, which isn't surprising, seeing as the new guidelines also contain this rather thuggish thinly-veiled threat: "If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."
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