Rise of the oversensitive gamer Easily offensive? Or easily offended?

Videogame controversy has been around almost as long as games themselves. From the rape scene in 1982’s Custer’s Revenge, through to 2003’s Postal 2 which 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, antisocial, 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 groveling apologies from developers and hate-mail or death-threats to game developers.

Now, standing up against discrimination, whether it be about the color of one’s skin or the contents of one’s pants, is something that should definitely continue, but there have been numerous instances over the past few years that should never have reached websites’ front pages. 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 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 a wise one, no matter the color of the infected’s skin.

Previous Resident Evil titles have featured the killing of infected Spanish citizens as well as white (and black) males and females. In fact, in 2012’s Resident Evil 6, the majority of the infected you gun down are Asian – but no controversy arose with that. So why is it 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 favor 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. In an interview, Ron Rosenburg – Crystal Dynamics’ Executive Producer – stated 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 Rosenburg may have been slightly mistaken, 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’s unsurprising that he threatens 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 so with someone else in the trailer? 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 . . . just two weeks into 2013, 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 just days later.

The controversial statuette.

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 brutalized woman.

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 claimed it was glorifying violence towards women, others stated that because the breasts were unharmed that it was glorifying sexual violence and others suggested 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. Would it be as offensive if the statuette wasn’t female but a decapitated, disembodied male torso? What 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 alternative cases, I also can’t see what makes this scenario so special. 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 is 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. Incredibly, Burch has stated that if enough people feel this way then things may change for Tina in future DLC packs.

This, right here, is the reason this oversensitivity needs to stop. It’s not the controversies themselves, 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 toward 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 medium 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 end-product and an industry that is afraid of trying something new.

Imagine a future where no characters are designed with a 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.

Reagan Morris, an experienced gaming expert, writer, journalist, and free-thinker, shares his frustrations on a very "now" issue: the supposedly controversial characters, situations, and themes in videogames.

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rooper
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rooper

I mostly agree with this article, I think that most people are just overreacting to most things. In saying that however I think that if something is really bad and lets the gamers down, then people should voice their dislike for it in hopes that the company does not make the same mistake. I personally don’t find any of the games mentioned in this article offensive (except for Custer’s Revenge), the bust of the woman’s torso isn’t any more offensive than a lot of things you can buy at many stores, you get white people in movies and real life who use the same lingo and street slang as black people, there is nothing wrong with the Tomb Raider thing compared to the kind of stuff you see in some movies rated PG.

animallover
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animallover

People have free choice whether to play these games or not. If you find them offensive don’t play them. As long as they are well labelled so people know what they are getting themselves into there shouldn’t be a problem. Every game could have something someone is offended by. Soon they will say there should be no killing in games. How would that work, when that is the point of so many games?
At times they may take things too far but it should need to be the majority vote not the minority for major changes to be made.

There is always exceptions but common sense should prevail.

OG_Mudbone
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OG_Mudbone

I totally agree with the article and the author. I see this kind of discussion pop up all the time and I usually ignore it but now it seems this vocal minority are having a big influence on the final game. Publishers and devs are trying to appease people who probably wont even buy their game. There’s a lot a want to say on the topic but I’m horrible at wording my arguments.

Oh well I guess I might just play video games and you know have fun… Like nimrod said “If you don’t like it don’t bloody play it!”

Curuniel
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Curuniel

Sometimes people are over-sensitive, and judging content (threatening a woman, killing dark-skinned people) without its context is unfair. I’ll agree to that; no need to be trigger-happy with the accusations.

However, there are times when objections need to be raised. Something the author of this article misses is that it’s often BECAUSE something is so everyday that we have to raise objections. Why is it ok to give people a bikini-clad severed torso to display in their house? Why is it ok to display a woman’s sexual features, and nothing else? If someone was giving away a giant phallus, people would question it. It’s precisely because this stuff IS so normal that we need people to speak up when it’s disquieting.

A man threatening Lara Croft while she’s restrained seems appropriate enough. Even a sexual undertone, while disturbing, would probably be appropriate to the scene. A rape scene, essentially experienced by the player? That would not have been ok. Clarification was very much required there.

Coddfish
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Coddfish

That first point is a really important one – sometimes things that seem harmful out of context make sense when seen in full, and vice versa. It’s probably in the publisher’s best interest to avoid these kind of displays in trailers and such, because they will cause if taken out of context.
Still, people criticising damaging content in trailers need to understand and acknowledge that it is a piece taken from a whole – as critical of the Tomb Raider trailer (and comments that followed) as I’ve been, I’ve always stressed the point that the judgement was based on trailer only, and that it might be less problematic in the full game.

Another important point is that these sorts of discussions – “is this harmful, what makes it harmful, is it harmful enough to warrant change?” – are necessary for the growth of any medium, and particularly one as young as gaming.

CheeseTastic
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CheeseTastic

“Still, people criticising damaging content in trailers need to understand and acknowledge that it is a piece taken from a whole – as critical of the Tomb Raider trailer (and comments that followed) as I’ve been, I’ve always stressed the point that the judgement was based on trailer only, and that it might be less problematic in the full game.”

I don’t think somethings isolated existence in a trailer excuses it though. (The Tomb Raider example is kind of bad though, since the creators didn’t actually intend it to be taken sexually. Rather, it was a website doing a feature on it that assumed it was rape).

Getting back to point, incidents of that nature illustrate a complete dissociation from reality, and the harm presenting such dangerous material out of context can cause. Include these issues in your media, but take them f**king seriously.

Which adds on nicely to your last point I think.

Is this harmful? What makes it harmful? Is it harmful enough to warrant change? AND is my use of this issue going to be more beneficial than it is harmful?

Because, everything that deals with contentious issues will hurt someone. You just have to ask what is the point of depicting this, does it add to the product? And does it add beneficially to the debate about X issue in the real world. People often cite generic violence as never getting the press issues of rape and racism get, but their position in western society (for better or worse) is incomparable.

To use a film example, the Millennium trilogy features brutual sexual violence, but in my opinion it adds more than it takes, both in regards to the film itself but also highlighting the horror that rape is. It’s not just smut or entertainment. Something like ‘A Serbian Film’ on the other hand is just gore porn.

Munkah
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Munkah

Any kind of violence in a game can trigger anxiety attacks in people – veterans may suffer an attack from war shooters, a murder witness might have attacks triggered by a murder scene. In most cases the title would suggest a game has this sort of thing.

When it comes to sexual violence it’s not always clear the game contains it – Tomb Raider only advises it has violence and offensive language. It’s not a matter of taking mature content out of games altogether – just one of labeling them better; you know, the OFLC’s job.

nimrod76
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nimrod76

People need to get off their high horse, it’s getting to the point that you can’t do anything with out upsetting someone.

The Tomb Raider thing was handled badly by one idiot but what I saw in the trailer was a suggestive scene which from memory was followed by Lara kicking some villainous arse, by the gods she such a weakling!

People need to grow up and realise it’s okay to not like things but it’s also okay to like things.

Like Kiwisharp said there are trailers, previews and slew of other media leading up to the release of a game. Don’t like what you see, don’t by it, speak with your wallet not your powerless internet caterwauling and the Dev’s may actually listen.

PotatoLegs
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PotatoLegs

the whole ‘speaking with your wallet’ line is a bunch of bull; if people don’t openly discuss and critique this stuff, how will people ever know to be selective with their gaming purchases in the first place?

responsibility as a conscientious consumer extends only so far, and is merely one minute part of the entire social discourse.

and again, the point is not to cause controversy because one feels offended; actively and openly discussing the use of rape, objectification, racism and damaging stereotypes in games serves to illuminate potential issues, and question the attitudes of gamers and developers alike – not to erase these issues from gaming, but to encourage different ways to approach them, and open the floor up to consider more varied narratives and gaming formats

and if that winds you up, I can accuse you of being oversensitive as well and advise you to just ignore it 😉

nimrod76
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nimrod76

“the whole ‘speaking with your wallet’ line is a bunch of bull; if people don’t openly discuss and critique this stuff, how will people ever know to be selective with their gaming purchases in the first place? ”

I sheepishly agree with this, yes things need to be discussed but I grow tired of anything remotely objectionable being subjected to a mass witch hunt (yes witch hunt is an exaggeration)

” and again, the point is not to cause controversy because one feels offended; actively and openly discussing the use of rape, objectification, racism and damaging stereotypes in games serves to illuminate potential issues, and question the attitudes of gamers and developers alike – not to erase these issues from gaming, but to encourage different ways to approach them, and open the floor up to consider more varied narratives and gaming formats”

Maybe as I have gotten older I am harder to offend. I agree these things need to be handled properly, but I see no issue with the attempted rape scene in the Tomb Raider trailer, I believe that was handled correctly. The follow up comments not so much.

Although I have no experience with the Borderlands character it strikes me as a knee jerk reaction from what is more than likely some middle class white kids with high ideals. Attacking a game because of the way someone speaks? Really? So it’s okay to stereotype a white English male as a not so bright c*ckney crook (I’m not referring to anyone in BL) but not to have an American(?) girl speaking street?

“and if that winds you up, I can accuse you of being oversensitive as well and advise you to just ignore it ;)”

I do mostly ignore it these days, like most things that bother me. I was just grumpy and tired this morning and now I have to back myself up 😛

KiwiSharp
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KiwiSharp

Games are rated as are movies. Games have trailers just like movies. If I see a movie trailer I don’t like I don’t watch the movie. I don’t complain to the world that I was offended by it as others may have different tastes or standards. Same philosophy for gaming.

Deanology
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Deanology

Some things do not need to be in games (and maybe should not). Simply because it is distasteful.
But, if the developers deem it necessary to have it (for whatever reason), then I am not going to cry my heart out.
People do need to stop being so easily offended.
At the end of the day there is a line, and some people draw theirs much shorter than I do.

PotatoLegs
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PotatoLegs

I call bullsh*t.

These excuses pop up again and again, to defend the games that reproduce the same tired old cliches and stereotypes, thinking its an unwarranted attack on seemingly innocuous components of game presentation.

I say allow people to continue to call out the game devs and players who perpetuate the sexist, racist, bigotous crap that otherwise floats under the radar because we’ve been rendered insensitive to it. And to also celebrate the games and media that successfully challenge this, as well as produce complex characters and storylines. Because the ultimate aim is to encourage the industry, gamers, and people in general to open their eyes to more alternative ways of thinking, than just using the same old tropes. That’s not being oversensitive, that’s just being plain sensitive. that’s a good thing

Coddfish
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Coddfish

I pretty much agree with PotatoLegs.

I think a big problem is not so much the actual inclusion of controversial material, but that it’s often handled poorly, which raises valid concerns.

The Tomb Raider thing is a good example of this. Yes, rape is bad, and yes, the villains are villains who do bad things; but does the inclusion of this suggestive scene actually serve any function, that one of any number of other heinous acts would not have been able to? Portrayal of rape can be very triggering to those who have been through that in real life (PTSD is a very common symptom among rape survivors). Nobody is suggesting a blanket “no rape scenes ever” kind of thing (and I’d question anyone who does suggest that), but they have to be included in a sensitive way that serves some purpose. If it’s just sexual assault for the sake of sexual assault, because ‘that’s what bad guys do’, (which the Tomb Raider trailer appears to be, but we won’t really know until the game is actually out), then that’s just needlessly triggering without any real constructive benefit to balance it out. Shockjocking is just immature.

I can’t really comment too much on the other controversies, because I haven’t really followed them or played the games in question; but what I will say is that the ‘if you don’t like it, don’t play it’ kind of misses the point, as does the idea that the problems with these portrayals start and end with being ‘offensive’. The deeper problem (and this is a problem with media as a whole, not just games) is the way racist/sexist/whateverist portrayals contribute and reinforce these kind of societal attitudes. Media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And forsaking easy tropes in favour of deeper, better-written characters can only benefit gaming as a medium.

CheeseTastic
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CheeseTastic

Exactly.

I’m sick of people defending anything offensive because ‘OMG, free speech.’ Yes, fine, whatever. But people also have the right to stand up and say, ‘no, I don’t think that’s OK.’

The Stephen Fry quote is also arguably not so much a rail against being offended, but rather without any backing argument or substance.

Without being a d*ck, I’d be curious to know the background of the author. Because, to not empathise with how things many of the quoted examples could be offensive is telling. I’m not saying things should be banned, but to not see how they could anger many people is odd.

Take the Resident Evil 5 example. Whether or not it’s racism is up for debate, personally, I’d say no. However, what it does perpetuate is historic racist, incorrect cliches and tropes about Africa. That it’s this dirty, barbaric, lust filled, tribal society. Moreover, when trailers show a white man running around in this pisspoor overused representation of Africa killing a bunch of black people, don’t you see how this can evoke tired racist tropes that will offend people? Also, the reason people didn’t get angered by Spanish deaths is, when was the last time Spain was colonised, brutally oppressed and suffered mass killings under while rule.

I would have thought the reason the female bust was offensive would be obvious. I mean, come on, it’s hyper-sexuality and violence chucked together and presented as this amazing work. If the creators didn’t think this could upset people they were idiots.

I’m sick of this anger directed towards people expressing their distaste and offensive. Not everyone is saying offensive things should be banned, but if you’re going to be offensive, be ready to get challenged on it. If you truly believe in it a) it won’t bother you, and b) you’ll welcome criticism.

Just because something doesn’t offend you, please take a moment to see how it might offend and upset others. ESPECIALLY, when we are dealing with historically marginalised people such as racial minorities and women, where most of your popular history is bigoted objectifying bullsh*t.

Like codfish said, this isn’t creating deep backstories or histories. It’s relying on tired crap. And really, don’t use phrases like “White Knight,” it’s lazy and show’s a distinct lack of objectivity.

Additionally, I think the word ‘oversensitive’ is very loaded one way.

A rise of empathy is more in line with how I see it.

nimrod76
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nimrod76

“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 f**king what?’ – Stephen Fry.

Quote for truth.

It always strikes me as ludicrous the changes that can take place because a small minority find something offensive, there has to be a line of course but it’s getting to a point now were any complaint will be taken seriously.

Leave it alone for the love of freedom! If you don’t like it don’t bloody play it!