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Apple rejects The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth because of 'violence towards children'

'C'mon, wtf ...' replies publisher

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

An iOS version of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was rejected by Apple on grounds it depicts violence toward children, the game's publisher said Saturday evening.

Tyrone Rodriguez, the founder of Nicalis and a producer and developer for the game, tweeted this image of Apple's rejection notice, which notes that "Your app contains content or features that depict violence towards, or abuse of, children, which is not allowed on the App."

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a 2014 remake of 2011's The Binding of Isaac by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. It launched on numerous platforms in 2014, but McMillen said only at that time that "we are looking into an iOS version if it's not garbage." No other plans for an iOS version had been announced until yesterday's message.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is inspired by the Old Testament story of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom God had asked to sacrifice on Mount Moriah. He is stopped at the last moment by an angel. Interpretations of it among the Abrahamic faiths vary but it is, broadly speaking, a test-of-faith story that in the United States has been taught in Sunday school for decades.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth's console and platform editions are rated M by the ESRB. Promotional images for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth have frequently shown cartoon representations of children, including the protagonist, naked and weeping, curled up on the floor in a dungeon, or otherwise mistreated.

The game itself is a procedurally generated dungeon crawler that does feature violence, but only in the sense of basic gameplay where combat is an option. Some of the dungeon's inhabitants are deformed, but again, they're rendered in a stylized, cartoonish way.

Still, Nintendo at first rejected the game for the 3DS and Wii U. At the time, McMillen said it was for "questionable religious content." Some persistence by Nicalis, with some advocacy from Nintendo's former director of indie development, Dan Adelman, ultimately resulted in an approval, Rodriguez told Polygon. It launched on 3DS and Wii U last year.

Fans of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth rushed to its defense in Rodriguez's tweet thread, calling out other examples of benign video games with children characters and violence. Apple has rejected some games on dubious grounds before, and has also faced criticism for some of the apps that do get listed, including games pirated by overseas shops and apps that are outright offensive.

Polygon has reached out Rodriguez to ask for an elaboration of Nicalis' plans for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, and whether Nicalis will appeal, resubmit, or alter the game, or will walk away from iOS altogether.

Polygon Backstory is an in-depth conversation celebrating the games we love and play. This week's guest is Andrew Groen, whose new book Empires of Eve: A History of the Great Wars of Eve Online is the first attempt to document the history of a virtual world.