Videogames get a lot of unwarranted bad press. There’s barely a week goes by that they aren’t being blamed for social ineptitude and aggressiveness, with some even claiming that video games turn us into cold blooded killers. Along with parents and lawyers looking for an excuse for why their ‘oh so perfect’ son is a violent maniac, there is another institution that is seemingly always getting video games in the headlines for all the wrong reasons; religion.
Most recently Valve agreed to give a full refund to a customer after they’d purchased Irrationals stellar shooter Bioshock Infinite from their download service Steam. Why? Because the complaint was made on a religious basis. The offensive scene appears within the opening minutes of the game when the player must undergo a forced baptism. In a letter written by the consumer Breen Malmberg, he states;
"The player is forced to make a choice which amounts to extreme blasphemy in my religion in order to proceed any further - and am therefore forced (in good conscience) to quit playing and not able to experience approx. 99 per cent of the content in the game."
Valve was in no way bound by law to offer Malmberg his money back, but refunded him as a gesture of goodwill and under exceptional circumstances; although there’s no doubt countless others have tried the same tactic since.
Every gamer has had their fair share of games that they’ve been ‘forced’ to stop, due to some aspect of the game they didn't like. If a woman got offended by the fact they are ‘forced’ to visit a strip club in a game, and let’s face it, it’s almost an obligatory addition to most FPS games these days, would they be offered the same compensation? I think not! Like any other entertainment medium there are always going to be things people find offensive and, religious beliefs or not, the fact remains he played a game, didn’t like it and consciously decided to turn it off, and how many of us have done that? Anyone who’s played the abomination that is AMY, that’s for sure.
This is not the first time religion has been in conflict with Bioshock Infinite either. It’s a game that's steeped in religious themes with the inhabitants of Columbia worshiping their ‘Prophet’ Father Comstock, who established the floating city to segregate the wholly religious from the ‘sodom’ below. While initially portrayed as seemingly perfect religious do-gooders, the inhabitants of Columbia are rapidly shown as nothing more than a bunch of racist and oppressive xenophobes. This has led many to suggest that Levine’s masterpiece holds a resoundingly anti-Christian message.
While this may have caused a stir with deeply religious folk, initially the games religious themes were set to be even more offensive. In an interview with Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Ken Levine spoke of changes he made to the game in terms of its religious content; "One of the characters in the game was highly altered based upon some very interesting conversations I had with people on the team who came from a very religious background,"
Levine makes it clear that he did not change the game in order to seek approval, but that he believed the proposed changes would benefit the story overall; “The last thing I wanted to do was change something because it offends somebody, but the thing they pointed out was making it a lesser story”. Still, one can’t help but wonder if maybe his decision was partly influenced by a desire lessen the impact of the inevitable religious outcry.
Despite being the most successful video game of all time, it seems Call of Duty isn’t above being altered because of its religious content either. Back in October of last year Modern Warfare 2 saw its Favela map taken offline when Activision received several complaints from Muslim fans after religious teachings, recognised as those of the Prophet Muhammad, were found in a bathroom within the map. Activision swiftly apologised to those offended, and the map remained unplayable until Infinity Ward patched it in order to remove the offensive material. The game is undoubtedly offensive to others for its glorification of war, especially soldiers who’ve seen combat, but have they received as much as an apology from Activision? It turns out it's okay to offend everyone else, but not the religious types.
Media Molecules revolutionary creative platformer Little Big Planet, one of the cutest most family friendly games on the planet, also managed to stir up controversy with Muslims. Everyone keen to sample its innovative idea of player created content were forced to wait after two lines from the Koran were discovered in the game's soundtrack. Not only did it mean that millions of players were inconvenienced, but it was a costly blow for Sony, who had to withdraw millions of copies of LPB that had already been sent to warehouses ready for distribution. Is it fair that a vast number of players, who do not care about religion, were forced to wait while the game was altered for those that would have been offended?
I’m not saying that every game should depict an anti-religious message or go out of its way to disrespect, but that religion shouldn’t be given free reign over games. It’s highly discriminatory to listen to a set of arguments from one group and not another, yet if developers gave into every complaint they received, be it from anti-violence protestors, feminists or just gamers themselves, titles would be so far from their original vision that they would cease to be recognisable as the same game anymore.
Nowadays, with the internet producing vast quantities of information about games before they are released people can make informed decisions about what games are right for them. If certain players are offended by an aspect of a game because it conflicts with their idealism, then they are simply forced live with it and, as such, the wishes of religious players should not be given special treatment. Developers should not give into their demands so willingly and instead they should learn to avoid games that are going to offend instead of trying to ruin it for everyone else.