(Real Talk) Gaming and Controversies: What’s the deal?

*Note: This is an opinionated piece. Either you agree with it or not, it’s up to you.

Bugs, release delays, these are only few of the many things that go hand in hand with gaming. But what I’m going to talk about is the other thing that has been with gaming since the 1980’s: Controversies. Perhaps it doesn’t strike as much surprise that Nintendo removed a controversial scene from Fire Emblem Fates in its English version as this hasn’t been the first time that a J-RPG, or any game at that matter, has been subject to such changes.

Now we are not going to talk about which controversies in particular, but instead talk about controversies in general. Gaming has been hand in hand with controversies since the early 1980’s to which gaming has been subject to debate and research between those who advocate gaming as an expressive medium and those who think that video games have a negative effect on attitude. Other than that, there are also issues like addiction, aggression, violence, social development, a variety of stereotyping and sexual morality which have also been debated upon.

Looking down the line, video games were initially advertised as “child friendly” or “family oriented”, and while there are companies like Nintendo that still uphold this ideal, it is quite obvious that games nowadays are mostly aimed at a more mature audience, either they be the children who play video games who grew up or the ones who are just getting into gaming. Be it casual or the hardcore, most games nowadays are aimed for mature audiences.

“Now why are we talking about this?” so you ask. Well fellow gamers, it is mostly because these issues on controversies strongly involve its audience and most of them revolve around children. While being aimed at a much more mature audience, it is unavoidable that children have easy access to these games which is why there’s the “average 12 year old troll” as most grown up players would call them, who could play violent controversial games such as Call of Duty (Don’t tell me that the “infamous No Russian scene” wasn’t controversial?). While yes, there are games that are aimed for children but exposure doesn’t necessarily have to be them playing the games themselves. There are other mediums like Youtube and Twitch where most of the fad are gamers streaming themselves playing games. It’s this easy access to exposure on violence that most complaints against videogames use as evidence to back up the theory on the attitude influence of games. This is the reason why the ESRB rating for games exists and it aids the parents’ responsibility to sift through what to expose their children to.

It should be taken into account however that content sensitivity issues doesn’t only stop at children. There are other issues that videogames are mostly criticized on and a few of them include:

Racism – The 2002 game Grand Theft Auto:Vice City was criticized for promoting racist hate crimes. The game took place in 1986, in “Vice City”, a fictionalized Miami. It involved a gang war between Haitian and Cuban refugees which involves the player’s character. The 2009 game Resident Evil 5 was set in Africa, and as such had the player kill numerous African antagonists.

Sexual themes – In June 2005, an entire portion of unused code was found within the main script of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The code allowed the player to simulate sexual intercourse with the main character’s multiple girlfriends. The game could be accessed in the PC version via modding, and through Action Replay codes in the PS2 and Xbox versions. This resulted in its ESRB ratings to change the rating of San Andreas on 20 July 2005 to “adults only”. Furthermore, the game was withdrawn from sale in many stores. Rockstar Games posted a loss of $28.8 million in that financial quarter. This event was dubbed the Hot Coffee mod controversy.

Gender Portrayal – Dietz’s findings are supported by a survey commissioned in 2003 by Children Now. The survey found that gender stereotypes pervade most video games: male characters (52%) were more likely than females (32%) to engage in physical aggression; nearly 20% of female characters were hyper-sexualized in some way, while 35% of male characters were extremely muscular. To this day these stereotypes are still seen.

Now what could be the problem here? Surely there isn’t a single game publisher out there whose main goal is to publish a game that could be offensive and get himself broke by the end of the season right? No. The thing with games is that developers have free reign on the games they develop. They have every right to inject their sense of artistic freedom within their games. The hardest part is probably having to juggle through the many many rules that could get these games either censored, modified or worse, cancelled. These injections mainly include a part of the developer’s self. It could be a tell tale of what his experience was like to venture around the country or just an expression towards a certain issue. The possibilities are endless. This artistic freedom is what allows games to carry a lot with them which includes experience, stories and mainly, culture.

Culture could also present a factor on gaming’s controversies. There are some things while normal to the developer, can be found offensive to others. For instance, SMITE is a MOBA with fast-paced action, terrific game modes, and well-endowed goddesses and in 2012, the game was forced to change the designs of multiple characters, one of them being Kali.

Kali before and after
Kali (left) before and (right) after character design.

Smite was criticized by various religious groups in its sexualized depiction of Kali, even going as far as to accuse the game of subjecting Kali to pornification in order to attract a demographic of young males into playing the game. The question is, was Smite wrong?

Below is an image of how Hinduism usually depicts Kali

V0045118 Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma. By: Ravi VarmaPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma

Perhaps the accusations of pornifying Kali was a bit too much and/or ignorant as historic and cultural portrayal of the goddess usually depict her as topless and clad with only nothing but a skirt and a well placed necklace made up of severed heads.

So where does this lead us? Are gaming controversies a result of misinformation? Ignorance? Too much creative freedom? Easy access? There are many factors that contribute to gaming controversies that result in a game’s alteration or cancellation but one thing stands among them. All of these are because games are being cornered into trying to preserve its image as a “child friendly” or “family oriented” product. And it is because of this anchor that games have had to juggle the many obstacles and many apparent controversies they has to go through before being released.