Videogame controversy has been around almost as long as games themselves. From the incredibly distasteful rape scene in 1982′s Custer’s Revenge through to 2003′s Postal 2 that included “offensive depiction of cruelty” there always seems to be a developer trying to push the limits of what is acceptable. As the medium becomes more mainstream, however, it seems that the stigma attached to those that call themselves gamers is causing people to over-compensate in defense of their beloved pastime.
Gaming is still in its infancy in comparison to the movie and music industry so it’s quite understandable for people to get upset when their hobby of choice is called out for being immature, anti-social and sexist. While the majority of gamers can counter those arguments using examples that portray the opposite there is a growing minority that are taking a different stance: to help the industry mature by pointing out what needs to be changed.
In what is quite clearly a case of “white-knighting” there are a slew of gamers that are starting to point out new controversies in titles before anyone else even seems to have a problem; it is this heightened sensitivity that has turned minor details in some videogames into apologies from developers and hate-mail or death-threats to game developers.
Now, standing up against discrimination, whether it be about the colour of one’s skin or the contents of one’s pants, is something that should definitely continue to be addressed, but there have been numerous instances over the past few years that should never have reached websites’ front pages. So let’s take a look at a few…
In 2008 N’Gai Croal was interviewed by MTV Multiplayer in regards to black people in videogames. The topic of Capcom’s upcoming title Resident Evil 5 was brought up due to the fact that the newly released trailer showed a white male protagonist mowing down a horde of black people. Now, out of context, that sounds pretty horrific, but in the context of the game itself it’s hardly an issue at all. The game was set in Africa and the inhabitants of the area the game focused on have been infected by something called Uroboros. This virus turns whoever has been infected by it into mindless, violent killing machines whose purpose it is is to spread the virus further. Under that context, the idea of wiping out all infected humans is an ideal situation, no matter the colour of the infected’s skin.
Previous Resident Evil titles have dealt with the killing of infected Spanish citizens as well as white (and black) males and females. In fact, in 2012, with the release of Resident Evil 6 the majority of the infected you gun down are Asian, but no controversy arose with that. So why is that a title set in Africa gets the race-card played when the inhabitants are black? Wouldn’t it have been more racist to set it in Africa and exclude the indigenous people in favour of appeasing a minority of overly-sensitive gamers? Or perhaps go even further and not allow any games to be set in Africa, ya know, just in case.
Next up we have the upcoming title Tomb Raider and the controversy surrounding something that was unveiled in last year’s E3 trailer. A snippet of the trailer shows Lara Croft with her hands bound and someone making unwanted sexual advances towards her, and in an interview with Crystal Dynamics’ Execute Producer, Ron Rosenburg states that Lara would be the victim of rape, encouraging gamers to root for her and want to protect her. Hearing or reading something like that may be shocking, and offensive to some, but it’s nothing that hasn’t already been portrayed in books or movies before.
It looks as though the words out of Rosenburg’s mouth may have been slightly incorrect, or maybe he just forgot the word “attempted”, but Crystal Dynamics quickly jumped on the unwanted media attention and let everyone know that there was never a rape scene, just a scene that had a threatening undertone. This, however, didn’t stop gamers from being upset that Lara, a once proud gaming icon for being the first controllable character known for her boobs, was being put into a situation that shows her as the object of unwanted male attention. What people seemed to be forgetting is that she has essentially been captured and restrained by a villain.
Villains are often known for being BAD PEOPLE. This guy, as seen in the trailer, has already MURDERED one of Lara’s friends and now has her exactly where he wants her. Knowing that he’s bad and that rape is a bad thing it’d almost be an insult if he didn’t try and threaten her in this way. Would it have been better for Crystal Dynamics to take the safe route and just threaten her with a knife, despite having already done this with someone else in the trailer, or maybe replace Lara with a character that a villain wouldn’t want to sexually assult, just kill. Maybe if you were playing as the villain and part of the game required you to rape or attempt to rape a female character there’d be something to be upset over. Aren’t we being a little too precious when even a bad guy can’t do villainous things?
Speaking of sexual violence, with only two weeks of 2013 having passed, all eyes were on Deep Silver; the publisher for the upcoming title Dead Island: Riptide. Deep Silver had proudly announced a limited edition version of Riptide for fans of the series and while it included a bunch of DLC, concept art and a fancy steelbook case it was the small statuette that caused them to deliver an apology days later. The statuette shows a disembodied and decapitated female torso, complete with fake breasts and a bikini top. From the reactions overheard you would have thought the statuette was created from the actual remains of a brutalised woman, and again, out of context, it seems rather crass and unwarranted.
Let’s ignore the fact that the game is set on a tropical getaway island where bikinis, speedos, muscles, fake tans and fake breasts are abundant and look at the hatred the statuette got for purely being female. Some people stated it was glorifying violence towards women, others stated that because the breasts were unharmed that it was glorifying sexual violence and others claimed it caused them grief due to mothers or sisters having been victims of abuse. While it may not be the classiest statuette to hit collectors, it’s hard to believe that the people designing the object had any intention on stirring up these feelings.
So the big questions here are: would it be as offensive if the statuette wasn’t female but a decapitated, disembodied male torso? Would it be as offensive if they released two separate packs and you got to choose which one you wanted? While I believe the backlash surrounding this statuette would have been a non-issue in either of these cases, I can’t see what makes this scenario such a special case? Should they just not have bothered with a collectible statuette marketed towards the demographic that purchased the last in the series or should they have just released a run-of-the-mill zombie statue instead? Lastly, why is no-one upset that it’s a white person’s torso?
The last example here was the reason this article exists in the first place. Every time a new “controversy” rears its head I get angry inside; some, like the ones above, I can understand on certain levels but essentially feel are unwarranted, but the latest issue to hit gaming has me shaking my head in disbelief. Last week Twitter erupted over one of the characters found in 2012′s Borderlands 2. Essentially it seems that some white gamers out there find Tiny Tina’s script a little too racist for their delicate little ears. If you don’t know the game, or character, you might be thinking that Tina is a black character that is clearly making derogatory comments about white people. If only that was the case.
People are upset because Tina — a white child, and explosives expert — speaks using African American lingo in what one Twitter user compared to “verbal blackface”. People were attacking Tina’s script writer and demanding that things be changed. The game’s lead writer, Anthony Burch, stated that he knows white people that talk the way Tina does and that he didn’t mean for her to come off racist, but instead completely insane — and she does. Incredulously, Burch has stated that if enough people feel this way then things may change for Tina in future DLC packs.
And this right here is the reason this over-sensitivity needs to stop. It’s not the controversies but responses like Anthony Burch’s that makes each and every one of these stories a serious issue for people passionate about gaming. As gaming becomes more story focused, and advancements in technology keep pushing graphical capabilities into hyper realism, games will begin to push boundaries in the same way films do. They’ll try their hardest at making you feel for the characters involved, make you think more about their motives and actions, and since none of us are used to this in the videogame medium, it’s going to upset a few people. But being offended doesn’t give you the right to demand change.
At the moment the videogame industry has the most potential to drive a consumer through its story or experience. If developers or publishers jump to make changes to stop the vocal minority from making complaints we’re going to see a watered-down industry that is afraid of trying something new. Imagine no designed characters with backstory for fear that it’ll isolate some gamers; imagine character interaction being removed or restrained in case someone’s sexuality isn’t promoted; and imagine taking a big step backwards to appease one or two white knights.
‘It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?’ —Stephen Fry.