Despite growing approval for cannabis legalization among the public as well as lawmakers in America, the video game industry remains leery of cannabis culture. That cautious stance can be summed up in the treatment of 'Weedcraft, Inc.' - a new tycoon game, developed by Vile Monarch, that puts players at the head of a burgeoning marijuana business.
The reviews for 'Weedcraft' have been tepid at best. But don't blame the game, blame the reviewers, says Mike Wilson of Devolver Digital, which published the game. Wilson argues that the lukewarm reception of 'Weedcraft' says more about the industry as a whole rather than the game in particular.
"This is definitely the hardest game I've had to market, and that's saying something," Wilson told Tech Crunch. "It has been a fucking nightmare. The fact that we're still so afraid of a topic like weed instead of the murder simulators you can market any time, anywhere, it's shocking."
Since it's release, 'Weedcraft, Inc.' has been shunned by the gaming industry and marketing platforms. It was blocked from debuting on all of the major home consoles, including Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's Playstation 4 and Nintendo's Switch. Facebook refused to allow Devolver to run ads for the game on their platforms. And gamers who attempted to stream 'Weedcraft' on YouTube have seen their videos get hit with demonetization.
Wilson believes that gaming execs and marketers are prejudiced against 'Weedcraft' because they think it glorifies drug use, but he says that's simply not true.
"This isn't a pro-legalization game. This is a tycoon game. You don't do drugs in the game," said Wilson. "You can play as a totally legal, scrupulous businessperson."
But those arguments are falling on deaf ears. The only stores that did actually pick up the game were Steam and GOG, which are known for their open stance on video game content.
Wilson is especially disappointed by the industry's treatment of 'Weedcraft' because a lot of work went into making sure the game accurately depicts not only the business of cannabis but the social justice issues surrounding it.
"We did all this research with like, dispensaries, geneticists, lawyers, we were worried about cultural sensitivity with the subject matter, things like how much more black people get jailed for it. We wanted it to be representative of all the social issues involved."
Maybe 'Weedcraft' will somehow overcome these obstacles and become a turning point for the depiction of drugs in video games. But right now, it looks like the video game industry isn't ready for a nuanced depiction of cannabis. And that's likely to infuriate cannabis advocates. After all, we're talking about an industry that doesn't seem to have any qualms with profiting from violent games, yet a positive depiction of a life-saving plant is somehow too controversial.