The Worst Gaming Scandals Ever
As you’re about to read on this page several times, the tabloid press has a knack for getting all hot and flustered about the games industry. Popular rags just love to take a crack at game developers and in doing so, quite often bend or misreport the facts entirely.
But then sometimes developers genuinely do slip up unintentionally, and that is when things start to get very heated indeed. It’s happened a lot over the years and it’s destined to happen many times again.
So in the quest for truth, we’ve decided to run down the top ten worst developers scandals, as reported by the press or triggered by activist groups.
10. God of War II (PS2)
What the papers said: “Horror at Sony’s depraved promotion stunt with decapitated goat”
The reality: This stonker comes courtesy of the Daily Mail after it reported on Sony’s God of War II launch party in Athens. The newspaper reported that Sony had placed a freshly slaughtered goat on a table, and invited attendees from the gaming press to reach inside its carcass and eat the gooey insides.
The truth was that the goat had been long dead, and the offal inside its body had been manufactured elsewhere and then stuffed inside. It was later discovered that a local butcher had supplied the edibles.
While the goat was the main issue, other papers and soapbox shouters cried foul at Sony’s use of topless models feeding grapes into the mouths of attendees. An animal rights group was said to have been appalled at Sony’s exploitation of a dead animal “to sell a few games”.
Try several million games guys.
9. Cooking Mama (DS)
What the papers said: “Your Mama! (Kills Animals)”
The Reality: Another example of activist groups and campaigners firing misplaced blame, Cooking Mama came under PETA’s crosshairs during thanksgiving in 2008. The group demonised the cutesy connoisseur for making meals made out of dead animals. That is, meat-based dishes.
PETA’s rebuttal to the launch of Cooking Mama on DS was to create its own flash-based game called Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals. The title screen shows the titular chef brandishing a bloody knife in one hand, and a beaten and bloody chicken in the other.
Mama’s crazed expression suggested an unstoppable animal slaying machine. PETA’s game was wide of the mark as it tasked players with plucking feathers from a turkey, pulling out its intestines and chopping off its head. Which is actually much worse than preparing a steak fillet dinner in the actual DS game by the way.
Cooking Mama developer Majesco apologised, and pledged to chuck in a few vegetarian dishes in its next game and PETA applauded the studio for its grace and humility.
8. Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)
What the papers said: “Cathedral Row Over Video War Game”
The Reality: Religion and games simply don’t mix, as Resistance developer Insomniac Games found out in 2007. The Church of England flipped its lid over the inclusion of Manchester Cathedral in the game’s campaign, and took to the press in united anger.
Amazingly, Sony had to go on record to remind everyone that, “Resistance: Fall of Man is a fantasy science fiction game and is not based on reality.” However, the real argument was that Sony hadn’t sought permission to recreate the cathedral.
You don’t see the mayor of New York having a stroke every time NYC gets evaporated in alien invasion movies, much in the same way you don’t see the citizens of Middle Eastern countries taking to the press after they are wrongly misrepresented in almost every modern FPS.
The more valid complaint came from Manchester locals who had recently been affected by gun crime. They said that the timing of the game was inconsiderate given the spate of shootings that had been going on at the time. It’s just a shame the religious angle made the top of the page and not the real issue.
7. Manhunt 2 (PS2/Wii)
What the papers said: “Violent Manhunt Computer Game Banned In UK For Its Casual Sadism”
The Reality: Despite being less violent than your average Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth flick, Rockstar’s follow-up to risible gore fest Manhunt was subjected to intense scrutiny for what the press dubbed ‘casual sadism’.
The argument was that the game should be banned from sale, as it lets kids carry out violent acts, instead of watching them on telly. Game developers over the world came under fire for subjecting infants to graphic imagery, and parents everywhere lost their shit.
The real question parents should have been asking themselves was, “Why am I letting my infant child play violent games in the first place, instead of putting my foot down and protecting them myself?” Instead, they just shrugged off their responsibility and blamed game studios instead.
Presumably androgynous rocker Marilyn Manson was on holiday and unable to play scapegoat this time, so Rockstar took the flack instead. The saga resulted in a long, overblown diatribe against games that quickly got boring for most people concerned. In the end, very little changed.
6. White PSP Console
What the papers said: “Sony ad provokes race accusations”
The Reality: Something of an unfortunately ill-judged misstep for Sony, the Japanese giant revealed a new billboard for its new White PSP model in 2006, which subsequently resulted in a string of race accusations across the globe. Uh oh spaghetti-o!
The provocative advert showed a white woman grabbing the face of a black model in a rather violent way. The tagline, “PlayStation Portable White Is Coming” appeared next to the controversial image, and rather than create an imposing message, caused an intense backlash.
Sony later issued a statement that read, “All of the 100 or so images created for the campaign have been designed to show this contrast in colours of the PSPs , and have no other message or purpose.”
While it’s clear to see why the ad was understandably deemed offensive, it’s perhaps a tad premature to suggest that Sony intended on the ad to be racist on purpose, as some commentators did.
For one, it would be devastating for Sony’s business, so this one can probably be chalked up to chronic misjudging. Rest assured, Sony won’t be trying this one again anytime soon.
5. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (Online)
What the papers said: “Exploiting grief; bad taste, it appears, makes money”
The Reality: Following the horrific Columbine school shootings in 1999, rookie indie dev Danny Ledonne created a video game interpretation of the massacre, triggering a global outcry in the process.
It’s never acceptable to joke or parody an incident like this, although amazingly, the reception of Ledonne’s game wasn’t entirely negative. Parents and publications condemned the indie for creating a title based on the killings, while others argued that the game was a sensitive, artful take on the incident.
Depending on your views you can quite easily take either side here, with supporters claiming Ledonne was simply using the game medium to express his views on the subject. Understandably however, the press reaction was largely negative.
While reporters slammed the developer, it was clear from the vague facts and scattershot knowledge of the title that most of them had never played the game as research. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, research must always be done first.
It’s a tricky one, as no one should take an event like the shootings lightly, but at the same time, where do we draw the line with games as a means of expression? Regardless, Ledonne has changed the way many onlookers think about games as an art form.
4. Bulletstorm (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
What the papers said: “Is Bulletstorm the worst game in the world”
The Reality: Now this one is taking the piss just a little bit. It seemed that American news desks were having a slow day when they decided to gang up on People Can Fly’s violent and tongue in cheek shooter Bulletstorm. They clearly don’t realise that the word ‘irony’ isn’t in the dictionary. Go ahead and look it up, we’ll wait.
The article above places Bulletstorm in the firing line and states that excessive gaming leads to an increase in sexual assault. To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing funny about this kind of attack, but Fox’s demonising of Bulletstorm was both irrelevant and ignorant.
Again, it all goes back to the violent movie debate. Many films have portrayed terrible acts of sexual violence, innuendo and more. But of course, you don’t play films do you? Then of course the argument went back to parents saying they didn’t understand age ratings on game boxes, and moaning about kids playing violent games as a result.
How much clearer can age ratings be? If your child is younger than the age rating on the box, don’t buy it for them. It’s just that simple. Also, Bulletstorm is only ever light-hearted and never once takes itself seriously. So any implications that the game is knowingly provoking violence or worse are well wide of the mark.
3. Super Meat Boy (PC, Xbox 360)
What the papers said: “Super Meat Boy Meets His Match”
The Reality: More PETA capers this time, as the organisation decided to focus on Team Meat’s utterly brilliant platformer Super Meat Boy. The group slammed the game for its pro-meat message, and even made its own game again, Super Tofu Boy.
The game showed Meat Boy’s partner Bandage Girl dumping the bloody blob and going out with Tofu Boy instead. PETA was incorrect however, as Meat Boy isn’t actually made but of animal meat, but is actually a human boy whose skin has fallen off.
Team Meat hit back by adding Tofu Boy as a playable character in Super Meat Boy, except the vegan hero suffers from a crippling iron deficiency, meaning he can’t jump high enough to complete the first level. Bravo gentlemen, bravo indeed!
2. GTA: San Andreas (PC, PS2, Xbox)
What the papers said: “How Hot Coffee Sex Scene Landed Rockstar In Hot Water”
The Reality: After managing to get the PS2 version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas past censors without much in the way of controversy, all looked well for Rockstar. However, when the PC version shipped, hackers quickly found a sex-themed minigame called Hot Coffee lurking around in the game’s code.
The backlash to this one was absurd, as the Hot Coffee game didn’t actually appear in game, and could only be accessed by hacking it on PC, or using a mod.
Regardless, parents and politicians everywhere went nuts without doing any research and slammed the game for corrupting the world’s youth. The key issue however, was that the game was only rated 17+ in the states, which doesn’t classify it as a mature game.
Rockstar was unable to take the scene out of the PC code as it was so ingrained into the overall make-up of the game, meaning it had to stay put. Still, your average kid on the street probabyl doesn’t know how to hack or mod, so they were probably safe.
Sex and suggestive imagery has been around in films for decades and no one has batted an eyelid. The whole messy ordeal stank of knee jerking and chest-beating that, in the end, didn’t change a bloody thing. Next please.
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
What the papers said: “Outrage As New Video Game Lets Players Kill Civilians In Terror Attacks.”
The Reality: Apologies for sounding like a broken record, BUT WHY ARE PARENTS BUYING 18-RATED GAMES FOR THEIR KIDS? Phew, now that’s out of the way, this incident involves the notorious Modern Warfare 2 level ‘No Russian’, and the almighty uproar that followed.
In a spate of gross misreporting, newspapers stated that the game lets players ‘plot’ terrorist attacks, which is of course completely untrue. In the scene you play an undercover American soldier posing as a Russian to take down series baddie Makarov, and yes, you can choose to kill holidaymakers in a Russian airport.
It all goes tits up however, and triggers the start of World War III. The incident resulted in a massive wave of debate within the industry and beyond, but again it all boiled down to the age rating issue.
Besides the 18 rating on the box and a disclaimer that asks if you want to edit out the No Russian level, Infinity Ward couldn’t possibly do more to protect consumers.
Along with the other examples on this page, the Modern Warfare 2 controversy just goes to show that many people are too eager to rush in to these debates, and that video games are still getting a huge amount of criticism. One thing is certain however; games aren’t going away any time soon.