(If that title sounds like I'm just grabbing for hits, you have not been following the news with Beyond)
Well, this is different and interesting! Is it strange that I’m excited to talk about this? I just find the differences between developer’s ideas and what the players get to see really fascinating. Throw in one of the more interesting moral quandaries of our digital age, and you have a mature, complex discussion that, for once this year, doesn’t tie in that much to the overarching problem of sexism in our industry/culture/whatever. (Not the way I see it anyway. I'll explain.) It’s basically this console generation’s Hot Coffee Mod (more in the sense of what exactly it is than the cultural effect it will have.)
First, let’s get our facts straight. Beyond: Two Souls features two shower scenes of the main character Jodie, who’s played by Ellen Page via motion capture and carries her likeness. Played as it’s intended to, the player will NEVER see any private parts because they cannot control the camera in these scenes. It’s an M-rated game, but I doubt these scenes are what crossed the line. (It was probably all the uses of the f-word. Because if there’s one thing gamers understand, it’s that we must protect the pure, fragile innocence of thirteen-year-olds!) The game was cracked using a PS3 dev kit and the full nude images were leaked online. All of the… um… features were fully detailed, despite not being visible in-game.
Here are the big questions:
--- Why did Quantic Dream even fully render the nudity if the player wouldn’t see it? ---
I can’t speak for them, BUT I think I have some insight. Remember Ethan’s shower scene from the beginning of Heavy Rain? Even though the player would only see his rear, review copies allowed users to control the camera and see every last inch of the rendered models.
And, yes, they rendered Olympus Mons.
You see, Olympus Mons is a mountain on Mars and also the largest mountain in the solar system; and his last name is “Mars,” so I figured that’s what he’d call his… well that’s what I’d do, anyway!
(Also, this is why I’m willing to believe that QD would have done the same thing with a male character, so I’m not willing to call “sexist perv” here. Just regular perv, if anything.)
Anyway, I think this was part of “maintaining the illusion.” Games and movies can put a lot of work into things that the audience never sees, and there is kind of a “wow” factor to thinking you’ve broken a game only to find out how well the developers covered their tracks. If Stanley Kubrick made games, that’s the borderline sociopathic attention to detail he’d give to it. (Note: No, David Cage, if you’re reading this, I’m not saying you are the Stanley Kubrick of video games. You’re more of a combination of Roland Emmerich and a still-tolerable M. Night Shyamalan. On that note, don’t ever adapt anything. Ever.)
But is it okay to do that with people’s junk? Well, my next question is…
--- Was Ellen Page aware her character was being rendered in such detail and did she consent? ---
If so, that seems kind of strange, considering she doesn’t get naked for movies as far as I know. (At least that’s what other people have been saying, I haven’t done that much research) Devs should realize that no matter how well they hide content in a game, it will find a way out. They should also make sure people whose likenesses they use are aware of the “risks” and all the sick, sick things modders will do with their image. While I’m not crazy about QD’s brand of Hollywood worship, I do think that getting big name actors like this is a great way to draw the eyes of non-gamers and yell “HEY, WE CAN DO SERIOUS ART TOO.” Celebrities tend to be very protective of their image, though, so they should know what a couple hackers can do with their likeness in a game.
Because pervs… pervs find a way.
But then there’s the biggest question:
--- Are we seeing Ellen Page? ---
Technically, no. It’s just the character Jodie. Ms. Page couldn’t have left her motion capture suit for this. Jodie is just programmed to have her face and an approximation of her skeleton, following her motions. Essentially, this is taking a body and photoshopping Ellen Page’s head onto it. Or maybe rotoscoping a nude body over her.
Put in her position, though, I could perfectly understand taking it personally. If I wanted to be a serious, respectable actor, I wouldn’t want images floating around of what really, really looked like me nude. (I don’t think ANYBODY would want those images floating around, but I digress.) I can perfectly understand wanting to “maintain an image.”
It’s not unlike copyrighting a creative work, is it? You don’t want people using your work a way you didn’t intend, and you don’t want people showing off fake nude pictures of you. Though I do think this is a far bigger deal than some band whining about their songs being set to an AMV or something. I mean, I’m all for exercising fair use to ridicule celebrities, but this, I think, crosses a line. It’s something incredibly private for Page, and not something she could have anticipated nor something she had real power over. It’s the sleazy stalker paparazzi of game hacks. Maybe there DOES need to be some kind of law for this. And maybe we should get on it now before someone makes an Oculus Rift sex sim starring celebrities of our choosing and the law has no idea what to do about it.
After all, let’s not kid ourselves: “Oculus Rift Celebrity Sex Sim” is the end goal of our entire medium. Of our culture, even!
But even then…
--- Should Quantic Dream be held responsible? ---
I honestly don’t know.
Legally, they have no responsibility over what happens when the player breaks the End User License Agreement, which reverse-engineering the game in a dev kit certainly did. Ethically? Hmm…
It’s worth asking if they might have originally intended to have full nudity in the game. Quantic Dream hasn’t shied away from it in the past, at least in European versions of their games. If it was originally intended, and they changed their minds late in development, then it would have been far easier for them to simply rework the camera then go back and remake textures and models. I think that’s understandable.
And that would certainly be a weird press release: “Yeah, we’re about ready to go gold, but we need to delay just a couple weeks so that we can Barbie-fy our characters’ baby factories.”
While they didn’t release the images, having the completely nude model was ultimately unnecessary, and you’re asking for trouble when it’s based on a real person. It’s one thing for it to be possible for modders to ADD nudity, it’s another thing to just have it sitting there, waiting. This is starting to sound disturbingly like I’m “blaming the victim” here, but perhaps devs should be held responsible for what’s hidden in their code. Paradoxically, as games have gotten more complex, it’s become more common to break them open like C++ piñatas and look at all the unused pieces. It may be time to start putting more care into what pieces we leave laying around before somebody gets hurt. In the meantime, I think this particular instance should serve as a warning.
That’s my take on it all, anyway. Thanks for reading! If you’ll excuse me, I need to see if GameStop is taking pre-orders on “Oculus Rift Celebrity Sex Sim!” And the developers can feel free to use “end goal of our culture” as a box quote!
Fun Fact: sometimes a blog idea hits me when I’m writing something else, and I’ll just start writing in whatever word doc I have open. This whole entry ended up being in the file “Hidden Gems.docx.” Make your own joke.