The Tax Heaven 3000 Steam page was taken down just one day after it went live.
Tax Heaven 3000 (opens in new tab) is one of the more unusual genre mashups I’ve run into. It’s a visual novel dating game, and it will also do your taxes—if you’re a US citizen, anyway. Weird, right? Also weird is its extremely brief history on Steam: It appeared on the storefront earlier this week, but just a day later it was taken offline.
The game stars Iris, “a cheerful, assertive girl” who’s filing her taxes singly this year. You can take her on dates across five different locations, and learn about her past, her likes and dislikes, and who she likes, which I have to assume is a reference to you, the player. She’ll also help you prepare your taxes, for real:
“Tax Heaven 3000 is designed to prepare 2022 US federal income tax returns for single filers without dependents,” the still-extant Itch.io page says. “Tax Heaven 3000 does not support all tax situations, and may not check for all possible deductions and credits that could apply to your individual tax situation. Tax Heaven 3000 is intended for filers with simple W-2 income, does not support amended or late tax returns, and does not support state returns.
“Tax Heaven 3000 is designed to assist in tax preparation only: it is the responsibility of the user to provide accurate information and to ultimately file their return once complete.”
Filing taxes is, at its core, an exercise in sharing personal data, and that makes Tax Heaven 3000 look potentially very very unusual in terms of what it asks players to hand over: It’s one thing to take your taxes to H&R Block, but something else altogether to hand them over to an anime girl in a videogame. Daniel Greenberg, the co-founder of developer MSCHF, acknowledged that worry but told Kotaku (opens in new tab) that the game does not connect to the internet—presumably why you have to handle the actual filing yourself.
Even so, you can see where this might understandably raise some alarm bells.
(Image credit: MSCHF)
MSCHF is an art collective that “subverts mass/popular culture and corporate operations as tools for critique and intervention.” Among other things, it’s the company that teamed up with Lil Nas X to make Satan Shoes, a collaboration that led it into a legal beef with Nike (opens in new tab). Still, I’d be awfully iffy about dropping my tax details into Tax Heaven 3000—which is to say, I just wouldn’t do it. Valve apparently had similar concerns, because a day after the game’s Steam page went live, it was taken down.
Just before the store page was wiped, MSCHF updated the store page description to say that Steam was “deplatforming” the game—visible via SteamDB (opens in new tab)—and hinted that “maybe TurboTax sent a check” to make it happen. I assume that’s not a serious allegation, but MSCHF definitely has some beef with TurboTax and other companies like it.
(Image credit: SteamDB) (opens in new tab)
“Corporate tax filing services like TurboTax are (by dint of extensive lobbying) predatory, parasitic bottlenecks that deliberately complicate the tax filing process in order to make it unnavigable by ordinary people,” the Tax Heaven 3000 website says.
“Most wealthy countries make tax filing free, if the burden of preparation is even passed along to individuals at all. TurboTax actively seeks to backdoor the regulatory structure that could otherwise seek to rein it in. And it works! The villainous corporation that controls the government from the shadows is a sadly mundane reality. It’s the most boring industry imaginable.”
Tax Heaven 3000, the site states, is essentially a response to that: Where TurboTax is predicated on the “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” people have about taxes, Tax Heaven 3000 is “built on parasocial desire for intimacy and benign horniness.”
“All of TurboTax’s cutesy loading animations are fake graphics; TH3K simply makes the fiction the point,” the site states. “For some reason the game-to-real-life interface has tended to remain in the purview of corporate metaverse fictions. TH3K is a dongle that adapts from a visual novel to the IRS.”
For the record, I see no lies, but there’s clearly an issue somewhere. Oddly, though, the developers don’t know what it is. “Truth is we have no info,” Greenberg, the MSCHF co-founder, said in an email sent to PC Gamer. “TH3K went through Steam’s standard verification process, and was ready to go live April 4, but out of nowhere it was de-verified and removed from the platform without explanation yesterday. That’s all we know.”
Greenberg said MSCHF isn’t looking to get Tax Heaven 3000 back on Steam, which I suppose is understandable since it doesn’t know why it was removed in the first place. Instead, the game will be available on Itch.io and directly from taxheaven3000.com (opens in new tab)—pricing isn’t listed but the SteamDB entry for the deleted Steam store page indicates that it will be free to play. A collector’s edition, with a boxed copy of the game and—of course—an Iris body pillow will also be available.
Also note, if you’re interested, that the “do your taxes” aspect of Tax Heaven 3000 is actually integral to the game: Greenberg said that people living outside the US “can still play it, but without all the info you won’t get very far.”