If we accept the idea that social and consumer pressure is the only proper way to push ugly or distasteful objects out of the marketplace—assuming we think such a thing should happen at all—there's no real problem with pushes for retailers to stop selling Confederate flags or Confederate flag memorabilia. There is no government censorship. There is no ban. There are business calculations. What do we lose from keeping the merchandise? What do we gain from dropping it?
Some folks may not like this equation (especially when a business decides that appealing to your particular interests isn't financially worth it). But it's definitely preferable to government mandates banning any business from carrying a particular product or providing a particular service.
Nevertheless, the broad nature and huge variety of consumer products can result in retailers making some really weird, apparently really stupid decisions, in the rush to deal with a controversy. And so, today, folks have discovered that mass retailers' efforts to remove confederate flag merchandise have somehow ended up banning a bunch of strategy games with Civil War settings. Touch Arcade, a site focusing on mobile games, noted today that the Apple store has yanked a bunch of war-related games apparently because they displayed the Confederate Flag for accuracy's sake, not because they support racism, slavery, and the Old South. Tasos Lazarides of Touch Arcade writes:
Apple's Tim Cook has recently spoke against displaying the Confederate flag, so I suppose this development was to be expected. However, censoring historical games (if that is indeed the reason why the games have been pulled) is always very tricky because those games don't glorify or promote a cause but, rather, represent historical events using the symbols and insignia of the period. However, I can also see the political and social pressure mounting at the moment, which makes pulling the games the "safest" action for Apple.
Reason reader Joe M alerted us that Civil War-themed strategy board games have also disappeared from Amazon. Two games, War Cry (by top game-maker Wizards of the Coast) and The Guns of Gettysburg (by Mercury Games), now no longer show up on searches at Amazon. I searched independently and was unable to bring up either game.
There is no rational argument that strategy war games have any sort of connection to or support the racism of the Confederacy in any way. The games just give players the chance to use their own strategic skills to play out these battles. If a player representing the Confederacy wins, that doesn't mean he or she supports slavery, and it's utterly ridiculous to even countenance the idea.
Because Apple and Amazon are such huge platforms for third party providers of goods and services, such rash bans could really harm companies. A mobile game developer of Ultimate General: Gettysburg announced they were going to stick to their historical accuracy, even if it means they can no longer appear in the Apple store:
We wanted our game to be the most accurate, historical, playable reference of the Battle of Gettysburg. All historical commanders, unit composition and weaponry, key geographical locations to the smallest streams or farms are recreated in our game's battlefield.
We receive a lot of letters of gratitude from American teachers who use our game in history curriculum to let kids experience one of the most important battles in American history from the Commander's perspective.
Spielberg's "Schindler's List" did not try to amend his movie to look more comfortable. The historical "Gettysburg" movie (1993) is still on iTunes. We believe that all historical art forms: books, movies, or games such as ours, help to learn and understand history, depicting events as they were. True stories are more important to us than money.
Therefore we are not going to amend the game's content and Ultimate General: Gettysburg will no longer be available on AppStore. We really hope that Apple's decision will achieve the desired results.
We can't change history, but we can change the future.
The stupid part of the whole thing is that Apple told them they just had to remove the flag, but they didn't have to make any other changes. Making a game out of the war was just fine. It's just the flag that's the problem.
In conclusion: Does anybody know if Taylor Swift is a fan of military strategy games?