Top 10 Biggest Gaming Controversies of the Generation
Written Friday, November 15, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
The end is nigh. As the Xbox 360 nears the end of its tenure as Microsoft’s leading console, X360A is remembering some of this generation’s highlights. So, in the run up to the launch of the Xbox One, we’ll be publishing features that celebrate the very best the current-gen console has to offer. This time, it’s controversies.
If there’s one thing this generation of consoles has had in abundance, it’s controversies. From gamer outrages, to industry mud-slinging, mainstream media sensationalism and the ever-present violence debate, there’s been plenty to talk about. Below you’ll find our pick of the 10 biggest, encompassing sex, red rings of death, Tim Schafer calling Bobby Kotick a prick and beyond. Buckle up.
Activision vs. Jason West and Vince Zampella
It all started with a strange news report in March 2010. Infinity Ward founders Jason West and Vince Zampella had been escorted from their own offices at the behest of Activision “bouncer types”, and nobody knew why. It ended two years and dozens of stories later with an out of court settlement. But by then everyone had been dragged through the mud.
Activision accused West and Zamepella of insubordination for talking to EA about new projects (which turned out to be Titanfall), West and Zampella accused Activision of holding out on royalty payments for Modern Warfare 2 and it all came out in the grubbiest bit of dirty laundry washing the industry has ever seen. It was a long-running soap opera of recriminations, legal action and video games, acted out by the creators of the world’s biggest game franchise and the world’s largest publisher. Drama!
Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death
Those blinking lights still haunt many of us. Indicating the failure of an Xbox 360 unit, the Red Ring of Death affected between 23.7 and 54.2 per cent of all early models of the console, depending on whose survey you believe. It was a controversy that ran for years and reportedly cost Microsoft more than $1 billion to rectify. Ouch.
Various causes for the problem have been touted, from graphics chip failures to overheating and even the use of the wrong type of solder. Whatever it was, whatever the reason, it was a scandal that caused consumers a major pain in the ass and fuelled angry forum rants and fanboy fights on a scale we hadn’t seen before. Good job console wars are a thing of the past, right? Oh wait.
Good old Phil Fish is no stranger to a contentious headline. Outspoken, sometimes misunderstood and endlessly quotable, the creator of Fez caused outrage in 2012 when he said that Japanese games “just suck.” Subsequently challenged by a Japanese games journalist, he added on Twitter, "I'm sorry Japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country's games are fucking terrible nowadays."
That’s nothing compared to Fish’s meltdown earlier this year though, in which the developer seemingly ragequit the industry and cancelled the development of Fez II, after GameTrailers host Marcus Beer called Fish a "hipster," a "tosspot," a "wanker" and a "fucking asshole.” On his studio’s website, Fish wrote “I am done. I take the money and run. This is as much as I can stomach. This isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign. You win.”
Mass Effect Sexy Times
"Mass Effect can be customized to sodomise whatever, whomever, however, the game player wishes," and "with its 'over the net' capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away.” These were the quotes that lead to a brainless, confused, ill-informed campaign of waffle by mainstream media concerning our favourite space opera RPG. It was all bollocks.
That didn’t stop Fox News from getting involved though, with a televised debate that stopped short of accusing the game of customisable sodomy, but was almost as spurious. In Mass Effect, said Fox, teenage boys can engage in “full graphic sex" that "leaves nothing to the imagination" while playing as a character whose mission it is to decide who he bonks. Confirming reactionary fears about the effect of video games, the Mass Effect controversy is notable thanks to the sheer amount of misinformation it helped spread.
Bobby Kotick vs. Tim Schafer
Less of an explosive controversy and more of a back and forth of hilariously cutting remarks from Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and Double Fine boss Tim Schafer, this one’s a cracker.
Schafer kicked it all off by saying that while Kotick’s obligations are to his shareholders, he “doesn’t have to be as much of a dick about it, does he? I think there is a way he can do it without being a total prick… [but] it’s not something he’s interested in.”
Kotick responded by ripping Schafer to pieces: “The guy comes out and says I'm a prick. I've never met him in my life, I’ve never had anything to do with him. I was in one meeting where the guys looked at [Double Fine’s Brutal Legend] and said, 'He's late, he's missed every milestone, he's overspent the budget and it doesn't seem like a good game. We're going to cancel it.’
"And do you know what? That seemed like a sensible thing to do. And it turns out, he was late, he missed every milestone, the game was not a particularly good game.”
Who knew a face-off between “the most hated man in video games” and a beloved indie dev could be so funny?
Online Passes & Microtransactions
This generation has seen publishers come up with a number of ways to combat pre-owned game sales and drive up revenues, very few of which have been popular with fans. The online pass is one of these methods, blocking off multiplayer content from those that haven’t bought the game new. Initially considered an outrage before becoming the norm, online passes are now going the way of the dodo. Few tears will be shed.
In place of online passes, microtransactions are now on the rise, leading to fears that in some cases gamers are being encouraged to “pay to win”. Whether used in an underhanded manner or not, they’ve been widely dismissed by gamers as further evidence of nickel and dime tactics by greedy publishers. The days when you could just buy a game in a store and receive access to the entire experience are sadly gone.
Mass Effect 3 Ending
Has there ever been a bigger fan outrage? The narrative climax of the Mass Effect trilogy, as originally envisaged by BioWare, upset dedicated players to such a degree that forums, comments threads and blogs were filled with angry dissatisfaction. BioWare had no choice but to respond.
To be fair to the developers, they did so in style, first by addressing fan concerns and offering greater closure to the story with the free release of the Extended Cut DLC, and then later by giving Shepard and crew the send off they deserved with the brilliant Citadel expansion. Such a response was unprecedented and a mark of BioWare’s class, going some way to repairing tense relations with outspoken fans. A happy ending to a sad story.
Video games have long been linked to video game violence, but never so explicitly as in the case of Anders Breivik. On 22nd July 2011, Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo, then gunned down 69 people on a nearby island, in one of Norway’s greatest tragedies. When he appeared in court, Breivik said he had trained for the massacre by playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
At trial, the confused killer described the game as a simulator for the use of red dot sights, which are so effective that you could give them to “your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman.” Clearly disturbed, Breivik’s comments tapped directly into fears from some that games are capable encouraging potentially dangerous behaviour. However misguided those beliefs may be, it was a dark day for the industry.
Resident Evil 5 “Racism”
The allegations started before Resident Evil 5 even came out. Commenting on the game’s announcement trailer, Newsweek editor N'Gai Croal suggested that the African set zombie title, “dovetailed with classic racist imagery.” The claim was quickly shot down by Capcom, but thanks to previews that supported the accusations, question marks persisted, leading to discussion over the nature of race representation not just in Resi 5, but the medium itself.
In the end, however, many believed the allegations were overblown, including noted social anthropologists and the BBFC, who said that “We do take racism very seriously, but in this case there is no issue around racism.” Despite this, it was a controversy that sparked heated debate.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - No Russian
Call of Duty has been responsible for countless murders over the years, but Modern Warfare 2 was different. Part of the game’s single-player campaign, the mission 'No Russian' featured a vicious airport massacre, in which defenceless, screaming civilians are gunned down and mercilessly executed as they attempt to crawl to safety. It caused headlines around the world.
You didn’t have to take part in the bloodshed, but you could. Taking the role of an undercover officer, you had the choice of merely watching passively as innocent people died around you, or actively taking part in the slaughter. Mainstream media, especially right-leaning outlets, leapt on the chance to attack the “simulated terrorism” being acted out by “8 year-old boys.” Video game dramas rarely spill out into the wider consciousness, but this one did so with force.
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