If you go to a movie that offends you, do you generally get up and walk out, or do you also go and demand a refund? Okay, so maybe you do go and ask for a refund, but how often are you told to just sod off? Do you know why you’re told that? Because no one twisted your arm to get you in that theatre. Your beliefs are the last thing on the minds of anyone making a movie. My question is: why are they the first things on the game industry’s mind when they’re making a product?
Last week, a particularly religious man came into the spotlight for demanding a full refund for Bioshock: Infinite after he discovered that you must undergo a baptism to continue past the opening segments of the game. According to him, he was awarded the refund, and life went on. This may seem a rather mundane case of the over-sensitivity in some people’s eyes, but I have one nagging question sitting on my mind: does the game industry have any self-respect, confidence, or conviction?
There has been a larger movement than ever in the games industry to make our medium more respected by the general public. We have begun taking on more serious subject matter in an attempt to grow up. However, we seem so afraid of offending anyone along the way that it seems like we’re never going to get anywhere.
Does anyone recall Six Days in Fallujah? Developed by Atomic games and (not) to be published by Konami, the game was to be a tactical third-person shooter set in the Second Battle of Fallujah, with a narrative that followed a squad of Marines during the 2004 battle.
Some background: In an interview with Gamepro, Atomic Game’s president Peter Temte said that a division of Atomic Games was working with the Marines to develop some training tools for the United States Marine Corps. A few months into development, however, they were sent away to Iraq to take part in the Second Battle of Fallujah. When they returned, they asked Atomic to develop a game.
Well, needless to say, that didn’t fly with just about anybody in the mainstream press. First, there was Konami’s vice-president of marketing Anthony Crouts totally kow-towing to the public with quotes like this:
We're not trying to make social commentary. We're not pro-war. We're not trying to make people feel uncomfortable. We just want to bring a compelling entertainment experience... At the end of the day, it's just a game.
Then, the developers and publishers alike soon came under fire. Fox News wasted no time in being condescending to the developers and advisors (“Well, there’s a lot of controversy over this new video game…”) In an interview with the Daily Mail, Reg Keys, the father of a Royal Marine who died in the Iraq war, felt that “These horrific events should be confined to the annuls of history, not trivialised and rendered for thrill-seekers to play out, over and over again, for ever more.”
Certainly, mourning is expected from those that lost loved ones, and I understand. However, his true ignorance showed when he added that, “Even worse, it could end up in the hands of a fanatical young Muslim and incite him to consider some form of retaliation or retribution. He could use it to get worked up and want to really ‘finish the game.’”
If anyone is thinking these ignorant mind sets are purely the work of the news and a close-minded public, you are wrong. It has gotten to the point where the developers, publishers, and other representatives of our beloved medium are equally at fault – and this fiasco with Steam is just more evidence to support this.
Did any of these people ever think to take the approach the people at the movies take? If we had any confidence in what we were doing, we would tell these media heads, these protestors, these parent groups out to protect the children to take a walk. If movies like The Hurt Locker can exist to give an inside scoop of war in the Middle East and others like Saved can exist to provide commentary on religious fanaticism – why doesn’t anyone seem to think a video game can exist to provide the same things, the ones responsible for making and publishing them included?
The whole reason no one ever does their research on the damn things is because we never give them reason to. We bow down to the scrutinizing public and the overly-sensitive religious believers and cancel our games or provide refunds to those that feel that their beliefs were trivialized by a game. What reasons do we give those that are critical of our medium to do some of their own research on our medium when we show up and say, “You know what, you’re right – we aren’t capable of doing anything meaningful with a video game. We make crap for kids!”
Whether or not you’re watching a documentary, reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a video game, you are doing all of that to entertain yourself. You know why no one is taking us seriously? Because we aren’t taking ourselves seriously. Go back and read the quote from Konami’s Anthony Crotus – “We’re not trying to make people feel uncomfortable.”
How do you expect anyone to think you have a noble cause when you say something so spineless? You’re making a game about a very touchy battle. Yes, it will make people uncomfortable, and you should not trivialize that when speaking to those that are speaking down to us. You know what? If the media won’t even give us the courtesy to research our culture before bringing us on national television to belittle us, why should we even show up until we know they read an article or two?
I’m not saying that no one in the industry is taking a stand. Adam Sessler showed up to back up Mass Effect when it was accused of being a rape simulator. We finally got the Supreme Court to grant us First Amendment rights. We aren’t always sitting on our hands.
However, if we are ever to be taken as seriously as we want to be, we are all responsible for standing up to those that look down on us. Stop cancelling games. Stop the PR stunting. Stop it all. If we are here to stay, let’s start acting like it.