The gaming industry is a lot like Hollywood or Washington, D.C. It’s full of characters, hangers-on, weird B-listers, and robber barons. While everyone knows that movie stars are generally nutcases and politicians are liars by nature, we still revel in the Jerry Springer moments those two groups can generate. It’s amazing how consistent they are, in fact, and it’s often a focus of conspiranoid wonder when they seem to be happening right in synch with daily news cycles.
Well, gaming is another industry that has its fair share of scandals. While not as consistent or as flamboyant as Hollywood and D.C., the industry surrounding making our games still has its moments. Here are some of the best (or worst, depending on your perspective):
Let’s start here, since this guy is single-handedly responsible for some of the most heinous anti-gaming acts ever committed. He’s an attorney who’s been disbarred for “making false statements to tribunals and disparaging and humiliating litigants,” according to his Wikipedia page.
For some reason, this man decided to lead a crusade against all things indecent. Usually, this is left in the hands of people like fundamentalist preachers and slightly off-kilter housewives – thsoe we all expect to go nutty over tiny fragments or out-of-context entertainment content they deem “morally repugnant.” Instead, we have this wild-haired Florida attorney whose extreme activism got him thrown out of the lawyer’s club.
Think about that. Other lawyers decided this guy was lying too much. What does that say? Right, it says the guy needs to run for office where he can really shine.
Anyway, he started with a local radio show that played a humorous song he personally seemed to find offensive and worked his way up by attacking then-Florida-based Janet Reno, then going against rap music, and finally landing on video games. He’s most famous for his tirades against Grand Theft Auto. He was, err.. given tribute to in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, which allowed players to create a toon that looked disturbingly like him.
He’s now, apparently, attempting to become some kind of priest or something and writing a book.
Related to the above, we have the fair and balanced news channel, Fox, which, as we all know, reports everything from no slanted angle whatsoever. /sarcasm In reality, even many political conservatives think Fox News is way over the top with much of its reporting. So when Fox declares something to be “bad” or “morally reprehensible” then most of us realize that this is code for “this game will rock.”
When Mass Effect came out back in 2008, Fox called it an “alien sex simulator.” They focused on the sex scenes they claimed were possible in the game. The reality? It was vaguely possible to see some implied sexuality, but no actual nudity. If Fox had never mentioned this aspect of the game, nearly every player who played the game wouldn’t have ever known it was there.
Coming closer to the present, the disconnect at Fox continues as they stretched really, really hard to try to turn a tragedy into something to blame on video games. While others were (wrongly) blaming everything from gun ownership to the Occupy Movement for the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado in which a young man entered a movie theater and opened fire during the latest Batman flick, Fox was busy trying to pin it on video games.
George Hotz (Geohot), a white hat hacker, figured out how to jailbreak (gain control of the operating system) on his Playstation 3 (PS3) in order to make it do things it wasn’t meant to do – like get online and display PDF files for electronic books, for example. He specifically did not give or instruct people on how to use tools to copy games, though he did show how to cheat on a few. Sony, nevertheless, took Geohot to court.
This pissed off other hackers and the loose-knit hacking group Anonymous decided to make Sony pay for their “corporate arrogance.” Down went the Playstation Netowrk (PSN) as Anonymous hacked in and stole every account on the network, including names, passwords, and more. PSN was shut down by Sony for the ensuing investigation and to repair the security breach, resulting in a lot of bad press.
Geohot has since settled with Sony and gained praise from none other than Steve Wozniak, the other Apple founder, for his mad hacking skiwz.
Ya, we’ve seen a lot of games come out of this publishing house. Many of them were really good, but the company itself has a long history of scandal making. In fact, Activision is in court so often that they probably have designated parking for thier legal team in the courthouse’s parking garage.
Two of the bigger scandals involve Harmonix and Infinity Ward. Separately, but in incidents that would both go down as debate fodder for gamers to throw at one another just before going into full flame mode in forums everywhere.
The Harmonix incident was an interesting one and it created a rift between two similar games that still persists. Back in the day of the first and second Guitar Hero (I and II) releases, Harmonix finished the second and then split from RedOctane, who was purchased by Activision. Then Harmonix made Rock Band, which was an obvious competitor for GH. Up to that point, Guitar Hero had only had marginal success, but when the third rendition came out, it became the GH we all remember playing until our fingers bled. RB, of course, was not really anything yet at that point and so Harmonix sued for royalties and.. settled out of court.
At about the same time, Activision saw itself in another scandal, this time involving its top game seller, Call of Duty. Basically, two of the biggest game designers behind Duty were a part of Infinity Ward, a company bought by Activision. Those two were, on the side, shopping themselves around to Activision’s competition (rumored to have been Electronic Arts). This, of course, resulted in those designers getting fired. While who was at fault, if anyone, for this scandal has yet to be determined, it wasn’t exactly promoted in Activision’s favor by the gamer press.
And so we come to the finale for our Scandalous Gaming list. Let’s say you’re the number one target game for soccer moms and other people with too much time on their hands to focus on in their tirades against the moral decay of America and the corruption of her children. What do you do? Why, you toss in a sex minigame into your violent and bloody “carjack old ladies” game theme. Then when you get called out on it, you attempt to blame it on terrorists or hackers or something. Makes perfect sense. Right?
When Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas released, it was already being protested for its escalated violent content and depictions (“glorification”) of street-level criminal activity like beating up old ladies and carjacking random commuters. Then someone discovered something called Hot Coffee embedded in the game..
This is a mod file that can be added to the PC version of the game and that gives access to the already-embedded minigame (likely a fun easter egg the developers thought better of later and removed access to). The mod’s name actually comes from the first scene in the scenario in which the unnamed girlfriend of CJ invites him for “coffee” at her house as a euphemism for getting it on.
It didn’t take long for the minigame to be found on the console versions too. Basically, the game was already skirting the edge by going outside of the house Sim’s style and depicting some of the sounds taking place during Hot Coffee to insinuate the intercourse. The mod just let you in the door so you could actually see it.
In the end, Rockstar Games found themselves getting their top product re-evaluated by the decency board, becoming the subject of several lawsuits, getting investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, and more. The publisher, Take-Two Interactive, also got in a lot of hot water with various civil authorities.
The incident also gave plenty of ammunition to the game-hater crowd and is still brought up today in various talk show and radio formats by various “experts” and activists.
See? The world of video games is embroiled in sex, violence, and scandal of all types. Maybe not on the level or frequency of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., but still pretty up there. And you thought it was all just fun and games..