Ten Games That Angered The Religious World

   25/10/2008 at 13:39       NewYork       13 COMMENTS.
Okay, the world is hurting, right now. We know how you feel. LittleBigPlanet was so close you could feel it, and then it got snatched away. Makes you want to cry, don't it? Oh well, at least, and perhaps most importantly, nobody gets offended, this way. Hey, you know what'll make you feel a bit better? Let's have a look back at a bunch of games that have pushed the wrong buttons with religious folk, and see how they fared. And, please, don't watch any of the videos if you think they might tick you off. Like, duh.

1. LittleBigPlanet

Why it ruffled feathers: Sony were forced to delay the release of LittleBigPlanet when they realised one of the background tracks in the game contained two expressions straight out of the Qur'an. With making light of verses from the Qur'an potentially being a no-go area for Muslims, Sony decided to hold the game back from launch till they could fix the track in question. Media Molecule, though "shellshocked" over the decision, were supportive of the delay, stressing that "LBP should be enjoyable by all".

Though safest to assume that most Muslims would have been offended on hearing the track (the infamous letter to Sony reads: "We Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending"), not all Muslims felt that way. M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., president of the non-profit American Islamic Forum for Democracy, felt that the decision was ultimately harmful, telling Edge: "Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted." Not to mention the track itself was composed by a Muslim in the first place (though, admittedly, not all Muslims behave in a way that most Muslims would appreciate, so that's hardly a defence).

Can it be saved? Aww, who can stay mad at blissful, ignorant little Sackboy? He means no harm, really. And anyway, Sony have fixed the problem, so everyone will be happy in the end. Which is good, because the sooner we get over this LittleBigControversy, the sooner we can appreciate what LBP is all about: pure, inoffensive joy. Till someone makes that inevitable Mohammed level, that is. Heads under the sand, everyone!

2. Resistance: Fall of Man

Why it ruffled feathers: If Sony felt they were in hot water when a couple of Muslim fans politely steered them the right way regarding offensive lyrics in a song, it was nothing compared to when they suffered the full-blown rage of the Church of Freakin' England. Resistance: Fall of Man allowed players into a virtual representation of the Manchester Cathedral, where there were many bullets to be sprayed. The shootout in the cathedral, described as a "virtual desecration," shocked and dismayed the cathedral leaders "beyond words". Their demands were simple: withdraw the game and remove the cathedral, and apologise unreservedly for using the interior of the cathedral without permission.

Sony did indeed end up apologising unreservedly. David Reeves of SCEE said in the Manchester Evening News: "It was never our intention to offend anyone in the making of this game, and we would like to apologise unreservedly to them for causing that offence, and to all parts of the community who we might also have offended." He also promised that Manchester Cathedral would never be a setting in any of its games again (so, again, please don't make a LBP level based on it). However, with regards to pulling the game, Resistance is still very much on the shelves, and you can still very much give the holy place a nice gunpowder dusting, so it's clear Sony didn't cave to all the demands. Things have been quiet since then, with the last peep out of the Church being them reservedly accepting Sony's apology, and with a cathedral leader remaining rather fearful for the future, saying: "We still fear that the next buildings to be cloned for virtual desecration could be a mosque, synagogue, temple or other church." A mosque? Somehow I don't think Sony would touch that one with a ten-foot pole. A gurdwara, perhaps...

Can it be saved? Well, it doesn't seem Manchester Cathedral ever had a case against Sony on legal grounds, so there's a victory for common sense, there. As for moral grounds, it appears Sony got away with its "virtual desecration," and perhaps came off better for it: following their punch-up with Manchester Cathedral, Sony must have been happy to see Resistance climb to the top of the PS3 charts. Nothing wrong with a bit of bad publicity, after all. And really, is there anything wrong with shooting down some alien scum inside of a cathedral in a purely fictional sci-fi 1950's setting? Heck, no, it's freakin' awesome!

3. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Why it ruffled feathers: "Allahu akbar!" goes the Muslim cry, meaning that God is great (and He certainly is, let's be honest). But great as He may be, there's certain places you don't want to be yelling things like that; certain times you might want to keep His greatness on the down-low. The Council on American-Islamic Relations would certainly agree: they were happy when Capcom removed the phrase from Zack & Wiki, claming, "We appreciated Capcom's willingness to address Muslim concerns and applaud the company's swift and appropriate actions." Sounds a bit familiar to LittleBigPlanet, dunnit?

The term, which is a "frequently repeated religious statement made by Muslims and is used often in daily Islamic prayers," featured in Capcom's innovative Wii title, and was dealt with swiftly by Capcom, who said: "We have already contacted the team working on the game, and the phrase has been removed from the game and will not be heard in future videos released to the public." Perhaps the video below will shed some light on why it was seen as so offensive (aside from making light of the phrase in the first place, which we all now know is a bad thing): yep, the cry is uttered by a bunch of primitive monkeys. Intentional or not, there's some nasty connotations, there.

Can it be saved? Capcom managed to deal with the issue without too much fuss (though perhaps a few loud people on the Interwebs got a tad angry at the censorship). The release date was unaffected, so most gamers went on with their daily lives, undisturbed. When the game did eventually hit, despite there being a distinct lack of God appreciation, there was certainly no lack of fun. Zack and Wiki remains one of the Wii community's best loved games. It didn't sell too great, though, which makes one wonder: perhaps the game could've benefited from a little bit more controversy?

4. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Why it ruffled feathers: Okay, setting part of your game in Manchester Cathedral is one thing. Shooting alien invaders in said cathedral is one thing, too. You know what's way, way worse? Setting part of your game in the mothership of Sikh gurdwaras, and killing turbaned terrorist Sikhs in said gurdwara. You know, this is probably one of those times when game makers drop the pretence and openly admit it: "yeah, we're out to offend an entire religion of people." I mean, dude! How do you top something like that?

Sikhs instantly recognised the level in question as the inside of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in India, one of the oldest and most holy of Sikh gurdwaras.

Nothing says shock and disappointment like the words of a Sikh boy whose innocence has been shattered: "This game refers to terrorists in a Gurdwara. This is disgraceful, because people may think that terrorists wear turbans but they don't." Heck, if I were a terrorist, a turban would be the last thing on my wardrobe list.

It's not entirely clear what frame of mind Eidos were in when they sent the player into the Sikh equivalent of Mecca, The Wailing Wall, or the Vatican, in order to kill Sikhs, but here's their explanation: they "didn't mean to cause offence". Oops, mission failed!

Can it be saved? Hitman kind of took a tumble from this mishap. Forget what I said about bad publicity being good - the publicity around this game got it pulled off the shelves in stores such as Woolworths and PC World. Okay, so Eidos apologised, and later on released an altered version of the game for Gamecube and Windows without the offending materials. But to be honest, you can't cross religion and then not expect religion to bite back. Hitman 2 had favourable reviews, sure, but where's it been since then, eh? God works in mysterious ways, folks.

5: Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Why it ruffled feathers: As you'd expect from an RTS where you either kill or convert non-Christians, not all Christians were unhappy with this one. After all, what stronger case for your own religion can you make? Praise Jesus or die, bitch. Still, some Christians, who we'll call the "liberal and progressive" ones, didn't care too much for such a game to be on store shelves. The Campaign to Defend the Constitution and the Christian Alliance for Progress, two online political groups, had put pressure on Wal-Mart to stop stocking the game.

The game is based on a series of books popular with teens, which are based on the authors' interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Taking place after the Rapture, Jesus has taken his people to heaven, leaving non-believers behind to take on the Antichrist.

Game maker Jeffrey Frichner defended his game, saying it didn't encourage violence as players lost points whenever they killed a heathen, instead of converting them (which is obviously the correct thing to do). Somehow I think he's missing the point. The president of the Christian Alliance for Progress was quite understandably offended: "So, under the Christmas tree this year for little Johnny is this allegedly Christian video game teaching Johnny to hate and kill?"

And just look at the type of people the in-game Antichrist rolls with: fictional rock stars and folks with Muslim-sounding names. Meanwhile the good Christian side are made up of gospel singers, missionaries, healers and medics. Naturally, the game offended Muslim folks, too. A spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain demanded the "evil" game be banned, saying, "This game is irresponsible and highly racist. It demonises every other religion which isn't Christianity. People must boycott this violent game." When Frichner was asked about the Arab names, he denied that the game endorses prejudice. Defending the use of the names, he said that "Muslims are not believers in Jesus Christ" and thus of course can't be on the side of Christ in the game. "That is so obvious."

Can it be saved? Christian videogames come with a certain expectation for quality - a very, very low expectation. Left Behind: Eternal Forces certainly aims for that low bar, and hits it square on. Even without being deeply offensive in nature, the game flat-out stinks, managing only a 6 in its highest Metacritic-ed review. The graphics sucked, the gameplay sucked, and the story most definitely sucked. There wasn't even any blood in the game - now what's the point in gunning down non-believers if they just fade painlessly off the screen?

6. Muslim Massacre

Why it ruffled feathers: Gee, this one isn't subtle. Well, perhaps the title is open to interpretation: is it the Muslims doing the massacring, or the Muslims being massacred? Either way, it probably wouldn't go down too well. If there was a worse of two evils, it's probably this: you play as an American soldier set to "wipe out the Muslim race". Strapped with a machine gun and rocket launcher in the Middle East, you must ensure that "no Muslim man or woman is left alive." In the freely downloadable game, players take on Muslims in the form of civilians and terrorists, later progressing to face Osama Bin Laden, Mohammed, and even Allah. Allah! Now, let's get this straight: Zack & Wiki couldn't get away with calling Allah great. It's probably a heck of a lot more offensive, then, to be able to kill the dude.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of The Ramadhan Foundation, said, "Encouraging children and young people in a game to kill Muslims is unacceptable, tasteless and deeply offensive. There is an increase in violence in this country and some of it comes from video games. When kids spend six hours a day on violent games they are more likely to go outside and commit violence. If it was the other way around, with a game featuring Muslims killing Israelis or Americans, there would be uproar and rightly so. We would urge ISPs to take action against sites like this." Wow, what a restrained response for a game so blatantly and intentionally offensive.

Can it be saved? Well, it's pretty much available anywhere if you Google for it, but then trying to wipe something off the Internet was always a ridiculous notion. Fans have tried to defend the game, saying that it's a satire of US foreign policy, rather than anything malicious or hateful in intent. The game's maker, Eric Vaughn, however, is having none of that. Vaughn says: "I think it's pretending to be legitimate commentary, and I'm sure there will be lots of people who defend it on those grounds, but ultimately it's just a game where you blow the gently caress out of arabs. Anyone is free to believe whatever they won't (sic) though, because I don't even know how to interpret it myself anymore. The bottom line is that I enjoyed making it and it's fun to play." You can respect his honesty, perhaps. And the game itself certainly didn't suffer from all that extra attention.

7. Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal

Why it ruffled feathers: If LittleBigPlanet felt like déjŕ vu, it's because we've been here, before, except with a lousy game that nobody cared about. Microsoft had to pull copies off store shelves in the US and Japan when it became apparent that some of the background chanting used in the beat-em-up was potentially offensive to Muslims. So desperate were Microsoft to purge the game of this error, they had all the pressed game discs immediately destroyed, and recalled the remaining copies from stores. "As a company, we value and promote diversity and remain sensitive to cultural and religious backgrounds," a senior Microsoft spokesperson said. "We apologise for the mistake and have taken all appropriate actions to rectify the matter." It turns out the chanting was indeed the same Muslim call to prayer that landed Zack & Wiki in trouble, years later. You'd think developers would pass a note around, or something.

Tom Edwards, Microsoft's senior geopolitical strategist, first noticed the Arabic chanting when reviewing the game. "I checked with an Arabic speaker in the company who was also a Muslim about what the chant meant and it was from the Koran," said Edwards. "He went ballistic. It was an incredible insult to Islam."

Though he asked for the game to be withdrawn there and then, the game was issued in the US against his advice, in the belief that the chant wouldn't be noticed. Three months later, the Saudi Arabian freakin' government made a formal protest, causing Microsoft to wipe the game off the face of the planet as fast as possible. Edwards noted in his investigation that the Japanese developers of the game had added the Muslim chant to the game because "they liked the sound of it," but they hadn't checked its origins. "They were chastised and corrected," said Edwards. Woo-tish!

Can it be saved? Huh? Can what be saved? Seriously, this game was on nobody's radar. Most online comments even portrayed the recall as a mercy killing for a game that Edge called "diabolical," EGM called "the worst fighting game" they'd played in years, and G4TV called "one of the most derivative fighting games ever created". You should thank Microsoft for killing it. And to be perfectly blunt: any game with "Back Alley Brutal" in the title deserves to be destroyed.

8. Pokémon

Why it ruffled feathers: Not all games are suitable for all countries. The highest religious authority in the Muslim state of Saudi Arabia issued the ban on all things Pokémon, saying that the games and cards contained "the star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel's national emblem." Other disagreeable symbols included "crosses, sacred for Christians, and triangles, significant for Freemasons." The cards themselves were criticised as a bad influence for promoting gambling.

The game has also been religiously prohibited in countries such as Egypt and Qatar. Religious committee members in the United Arab Emirates added that the game included the theory of evolution, "a Jewish-Darwinist theory, that conflicts with the truth about humans and with Islamic principles".

It's been having trouble in Christian circles, too, with a church in Mexico labelling it as "demonic," and a pastor who literally went at it with a sword. Yep, a pastor in Colorado Springs used a blowtorch and a sword during a church service to mark the Pokémon games as instruments of the occult and evil, in front of 85 children. Mark Juvera "burned Pokémon trading cards with a blowtorch and struck a plastic Pokémon action figure with a 30-inch sword. Juvera's 9-year-old son then tore the limbs and head off a Pokémon doll."

Mark Cowart, pastor of a 1,500-member nondenominational church, learned of the issues surrounding Pokémon when he read an online essay which revealed how Pokémon is laced with dark references. His suspicions were confirmed when he was driving home with his kids, and heard them talking in the back seat about "Abra'' and "Cadabra.'' "My antenna went up,'' Cowart said. Watch out, people, thems Pokémons are the Devil's tools.

Can it be saved? Nintendo of course defended their game, claiming they had nothing religious in mind when putting all those stars and crosses in there. They also claim they've heard nothing of occult references, and maintain that Pokémon's a very positive influence in children that encourages them to read and nice inoffensive stuff like that. That aside, Pokémon is still big money, and depending on the strictness of your morals, the controversies surrounding Pokémon probably never bothered you anyway. There's bigger stuff to worry about, like the addictive, money-sucking "gotta catch 'em all" nature of the game, or that whole issue with Jynx being a hip-hop fan, or something.

9. Messiah

Why it ruffled feathers: Even before the release of the angelic Messiah, Shiny Entertainment was facing the wrath of Christian groups. After all, it casts the player as a God-sent cherub on a mission to cleanse the streets of a futuristic Earth. The player has the ability to possess innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders and make them act as they wish. Shiny's David Perry was surprised by the premature reaction: "It's crazy that all these people are already upset and they haven't even seen the game." But it's perhaps something he should have expected - Messiah's a pretty hot word in the religious community.

That the title referred to "a" messiah, as opposed to "the" Messiah, mattered little to Christian organizations, including one that charged Shiny with "violating the Catholic Church's moral copyright" on the word.

"I realize that 'messiah' is a very powerful word," said Perry. "It's not a swear word. It's not a taboo. It's just a single, simple word."

Can it be saved? Where's Shiny Entertainment now, eh? Eh?!

10. Imagination is the Only Escape

Why it ruffled feathers: When Brit developer Luc Bernard described his upcoming Holocaust-themed game, which details how the Nazis tortured children, eyebrows were raised. One online comment read: "Disgusting concept. Some people have no shame." Imagination Is the Only Escape, which casts players as a young lad in German-occupied Eastern France, won't be distributed within the United States. "At this time, there are no plans for this game to be released for any Nintendo platforms in North America," said Nintendo.

Bernard stressed the game will be educational. "I hope that young children will play it," he said. He also hasn't been swayed by pressure from the game production company, Alten8, to remove Swastikas from the game. The Anti-Defamation League are yet to assess the game, and may even welcome it as an educational tool.

Can it be saved? Sure - in fact it hardly seems to be in that much trouble, yet. Okay, so it won't see release in America; boo-hoo for them. What has been shown of the game so far looks very stylish and haunting (given the subject matter), and quite different to the safer content the DS usually sees. Even the Anti-Defamation League aren't offended, and that's kind of their job. All that matters now is that the game does get a European release, and that mouthy bloggers don't get their knickers too twisted about the game. After all, what's wrong with using a game to teach kids about the very real horrors of history, anyway?

There you have it. Ain't the world an angry, offensive place sometimes? How 'bout we all just hug and make up? All of us. Aww, wasn't that nice? Please leave your comments, including any games I may have missed. Till next time, just remember...

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