Ubisoft: Controversial Topics Need Polish

Ubisoft: Controversial Topics Need Polish

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Ubisoft's Jade Raymond explains how to walk the line between controversial and offensive.

The mainstream game industry is going through a kind of awkward, drawn-out puberty. Much like your average teenager, it wants to talk about the big issues, but its voice keeps cracking, and it's easily distracted by breasts. That hasn't stopped a number of developers from tackling topics like religion, war, torture, sexual assault and drug abuse in their games, with mixed results. Talking to Official Xbox Magazine, Ubisoft Toronto managing director, Jade Raymond, outlined her stance on covering controversial topics.

"At Ubisoft we have studios all over the world, and there's a very fine line between what you think is interesting and what someone else may think is not respectful - you don't want to offend anyone," she said.

As a producer, Raymond worked on Assassin's Creed, a series that offers a less-than-sympathetic take on religion. Her team at Ubisoft Toronto is currently working on Splinter Cell: Blacklist which, according to this gameplay trailer, has Sam Fisher torturing wily foreigners for information.

"I do think that certain topics, in order to be treated properly, do need a certain level of polish and quality," she said. "There are certain topics that we are able to just jump right into, and one that a lot of people have tackled wholeheartedly is environmentalism. That one doesn't feel so touchy because we can make a statement, we can simulate stuff and say 'this is what's going on.'"

"We could make a game about that topic very easily and still make it a big success. Others, I agree, would be better to try in indie games and maybe the statement or experience can be better expressed that way."

Recently, Square Enix sparked controversy with its trailer for Tomb Raider, in which tiger-hating protagonist, Lara Croft, faces what Crystal Dynamics describes as "close physical intimidation." Online arena game, Smite, has been criticized by Hindus and Christians alike for its portrayal religious deities. And let us not forget Six Days in Fallujah, a third-person action game from Atomic games that was canceled after a media outcry deemed it well ... too relevant, for lack of a better term.

Source: Gamasutra

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Of course you shouldn't specifically want to offend anyone, but I don't think you should necessarily go out of your way not to. For one thing, it's a thankless task, because some twitching media hack or another will always get offended whenever you try to say something relevant, no matter how careful and sensitive you try to be. Personally, I'd rather play a game that said what it wanted to say and said it plain, pulling no punches, than a game that tried too hard to be inoffensive and ended up delivering a message that was toothless and lukewarm.

As for Assassin's Creed, I wouldn't say the series has it in for religion at all. What the series speaks out against is corruption, the actions of a few greedy men take in order to keep their fellow man beneath them. In AC 2/Brotherhood, the Catholic Church isn't your enemy, the Borgia's are, and they are using the Church for their own personal gain. The actual religion in question isn't relevant to the actions or motivations of either side, and anyone who would claim that the games are offensive to Catholics is an idiot who is clearly too sensitive to separate the faith that they follow from the individuals who represent it (if they could, perhaps they'd be more willing to open their eyes to the same sort of corruption that exists in the same institution even today, and maybe even actually do something about it).

Anyone else feel like Jade sort of... said nothing? Interview seems largely pointless.

Yes, what Ninja said. I do think that PR should never talk about a certain controversial aspect in their game and instead allow the game to do the talking for them instead. I feel Crystal Dynamic is a victim of horrible wording and speech and we should see how the game tackles the issue before jumping the gun.

Grey Carter:
Ubisoft: Controversial Topics Need Polish

In two words, these kind of topics require intent and specificity. Whatever it is you want to say about a topic, go for it, but know exactly what it is you want to say and whether or not your product inadvertently adds to or subtracts from it.

There are too many games and stories that include edgy topics in the sense that something related to that topic occurs in the story, but they don't include the topic in a thematic sense beyond the scene in which it occurs. They knew they wanted to "do something with X," but they didn't pin down what they wanted.

And if you're not intentionally doing something right, odds are you're accidentally doing something wrong.

The reason assassins creed isn't offensive is because it's too darn goofy. There isn't a wider message you can take it way, it's just blockbuster conspiracy schlock.

IF you really want to do something controversial it's less about polish and more about you taking it seriously and make it part of everything. You can't talk properly about gender politics if your game involves shooting people in the crotch. You can't talk about death, the meaning of way and sancitity of life if you gun people down for a combo multiplyer (unless that's the point). You can't talk about rape unless you really want to talk about rape and are willing to bear the consequences of that (not that CD want to talk about it)

In general there's only be a handful of games that have been clever enough to talk about controversial issues in a meaningful way

NinjaDeathSlap:
Of course you shouldn't specifically want to offend anyone, but I don't think you should necessarily go out of your way not to. For one thing, it's a thankless task, because some twitching media hack or another will always get offended whenever you try to say something relevant, no matter how careful and sensitive you try to be. Personally, I'd rather play a game that said what it wanted to say and said it plain, pulling no punches, than a game that tried too hard to be inoffensive and ended up delivering a message that was toothless and lukewarm.

As for Assassin's Creed, I wouldn't say the series has it in for religion at all. What the series speaks out against is corruption, the actions of a few greedy men take in order to keep their fellow man beneath them. In AC 2/Brotherhood, the Catholic Church isn't your enemy, the Borgia's are, and they are using the Church for their own personal gain. The actual religion in question isn't relevant to the actions or motivations of either side, and anyone who would claim that the games are offensive to Catholics is an idiot who is clearly too sensitive to separate the faith that they follow from the individuals who represent it (if they could, perhaps they'd be more willing to open their eyes to the same sort of corruption that exists in the same institution even today, and maybe even actually do something about it).

There's a difference between pulling your punches and being respectful, though. Back to AC, the easy way to make that story is to have the religious people be trying to take over the world. They chose not to do that, and it's instead a story of people trying to use the church (and everything else) to take over the world. The first game, in particular, I thought did a great job of showing how both sides of the Crusade weren't exactly saintly, nor was either side completely villainous. Respectful, in this case, was representing both sides, and putting the focus on the people, not the religions.

Compare to The Binding of Isaac which is (obviously) highly offensive to Christians and makes no effort to be even a little respectful.

But Ubisoft you offend me with your anti-PC gamer shenanigans all the time!

Boudica:
Anyone else feel like Jade sort of... said nothing? Interview seems largely pointless.

I had to reread the damn thing, because I was left with the feeling I zoned out and miss something.

Yup. She could be a politician.

Zachary Amaranth:

Boudica:
Anyone else feel like Jade sort of... said nothing? Interview seems largely pointless.

I had to reread the damn thing, because I was left with the feeling I zoned out and miss something.

Yup. She could be a politician.

lol My exact thought, too.

Something about offending people being bad and you shouldn't offend people and an indie group could make a game about environmentalism.

Grey Carter:
"There are certain topics that we are able to just jump right into, and one that a lot of people have tackled wholeheartedly is environmentalism. That one doesn't feel so touchy because we can make a statement, we can simulate stuff and say 'this is what's going on.'"

"We could make a game about that topic very easily and still make it a big success. Others, I agree, would be better to try in indie games and maybe the statement or experience can be better expressed that way."

In other words: Don't risk offending/panicking the tiny minded investors by making a game with statement that stopped being "edgy" before the majority of your customers were even born.

Basically, yes, Witcher clearly shows that the Polish are awesome at tackling controversial topics. I believe, this is what Jade was really trying to say.

like ninja said, doesnt matter what you do, there are always people who get offended in some way.

i also never saw AC as a religious game. i think its pretty neutral towards every known religion out there.

coulndt help my self to put this one is regarding religion.

and this documentary is really funny

Don Reba:
Basically, yes, Witcher clearly shows that the Polish are awesome at tackling controversial topics. I believe, this is what Jade was really trying to say.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who read it like that. Who doesn't love Poland?

I think this is relevent as well.

Sure you shouldnt go out of your way to deliberatly offend someone. But like Ninja said no matter what you do someone somewhere will find something offensive in your work.

Deploying Stephen Fry in 3...
2...
1...

Fry away...

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Speaking of the battle for feelujah, I wonder if the design time has thought about trying kickstarter.

On the one hand, Assassin's Creed 2, for instance, tells you that Jesus came back from the dead because he had a magic cloak, and then tells you that creationists are right but in the worst way possible, in a move that pretty much ought to have offended anyone, but didn't, probably because they didn't pull an EA and built their marketing around making fun of religion, and boy this is a run-on sentence or what.

On the other hand... Didn't Ubisoft publish Call of Juarez: The Cartel? ' Nuff said.

Also, having Tomb Raider's rape demo and Smite's depiction of Shiva - two obvious instances of one dude deciding he totally can deal with sensitive topics like rape/Hindu religion and then proceeding to give solid proof he had never even been in the same room as a rape victim/Hinduism follower - and Six Days in Fallujah - a game about the horrors of war written by those who wanted to tell their real story - even share a sentence, let alone the implication that they are held back by the same thing, is the kind of odious, insidious ignorance rarely seen outside of an IGN editor-at-large.

Imagine a game where you can Assasinate the Presidents of every country to form a new World Order. Offensive or Fun? Actions are Illegal in the real world, Ideas and simulation of actions are legal in the virtual world.

If you taunt and deride something purely for the purpose of being edgy and daring(and to prove to everyone watching that you're modern and uninhibited), that's called acting like a brat, whatever your age and station. Treating what other people believe with respect is neither oppressive nor some kind of plot to deny free speech, it simply makes things easier for everyone because all too often people take attacks on their personal views(wait for it..)personally. If I made a game portraying everyone who had beliefs other than my own as ridiculous simpletons, should I not expect someone to see in it an attack on them, personally, for their holding that belief?

Sure, if you have some dazzling insight into something people are touchy about go ahead with it, but don't go around insulting other people's views just because they are not yours, and especially don't do it for applause.

On-topic:
What was said above by Boudica, it seemed like a lot of words to say a very short message. It's not exactly important, but I would love to know more about how the people running Ubisoft aim to bring up hot-button topics and try to make them non-offensive, though that Splinter Cell thing...yeah, that's a pretty big turn-off for me. Not a fan of torture in games, whatever the reason for it being present.

I kissed another girl on the lips in Fable, as a girl, then i took her home. Offensive to your beliefs? Sure. Hurts anyone? No. Because it's Fiction, not Non Fiction.

And those Criminals in North Korea playing FPS/RTS games while in prison are not training for war mentally, they are having fun, right?

Educational Software is just Fictional, right? I mean this game taught me the materials to make a nuclear weapon to use against my enemy in game, that's fine right?

I agree 100%. A lot more Polish is needed in this series. They could have when Poland took over Moscow! How cool would that be to play in?! They could have...

Oh wait... (ninja'd)

Er, uhm, I mean... Doesn't this all just go without saying? Of course games need polish. As far as controversy goes, I don't see them blurring any lines that shouldn't be crossed. Hell, I didn't think the last few CoD games stepped over the line either. Sure 'No Russian' got peoples panties in a bunch, but I didn't think it was horrible. Mature games have an age restriction for a reason, eh?

I can see why people are getting pissed off at the God Fighter game thing. They are taking someones religion and warping it to be violent. That's kinda f'd up. Hell, look how pissy gamers get when devs changed Dante a bit.

its voice keeps cracking, and it's easily distracted by breasts

I laughed a lot harder than I should've

Boudica:
Anyone else feel like Jade sort of... said nothing? Interview seems largely pointless.

Did you read the actual interview or just the few sentences above? She said quite a lot in the interview, here's the link if you'd like to read it.

Grey Carter:
Ubisoft's Jade Raymond explains how to walk the line between controversial and offensive.

I don't mean to offend and I hope I'm not modded for criticizing, but you took another sites churned article, churned it again and presented it here? I find this amazingly lazy. You could have read the interview and then made your own summary of it instead of rewriting Gamasutra's. I know Escapist does take their news from other sites, but I thought they would at least read the original interviews and base their articles on those. She had good points and ideas, it would have been nice to see those presented here as well.

Boudica:
Anyone else feel like Jade sort of... said nothing? Interview seems largely pointless.

maybe there was more to it but we are not being told?

"At Ubisoft we have studios all over the world, and there's a very fine line between what you think is interesting and what someone else may think is not respectful - you don't want to offend anyone," she said.

...and this is the fundamental problem. Having to avoid offending everyone places some tight restrictions, because someone can always find something to be offended at, if they look hard enough (including third party mods changing ESRB classifications, disabled content from removed game features, in-house skill titles only found by digging through code looking for a single never called debug statement that mentions it, that kind of thing), so you can't just sanitize the game versus anything that anyone might potentially be offended by, you have to carefully sanitize every single mention of everything and every debug statement, and every word out of every employee's mouth just in case... Why? Because some people are thin-skinned and will hunt for reasons to be angry, and they must be catered to.

The Random One:

Also, having Tomb Raider's rape demo and Smite's depiction of Shiva - two obvious instances of one dude deciding he totally can deal with sensitive topics like rape/Hindu religion and then proceeding to give solid proof he had never even been in the same room as a rape victim/Hinduism follower - and Six Days in Fallujah - a game about the horrors of war written by those who wanted to tell their real story - even share a sentence, let alone the implication that they are held back by the same thing, is the kind of odious, insidious ignorance rarely seen outside of an IGN editor-at-large.

Aside from the fact that Tomb Raider and Smite are pushing ahead despite it, are they not being held back by precisely the same thing, that thing being people being offended by the content and demanding it be stopped? That two of those are cases where you agree that the content in question should go away and one isn't is beside the point (I'm sure army recruiters and strongly nationalist folk probably feel Six Days in Fallujah is incredibly offensive, as well as some subset of veterans who assume it won't do it justice).

One thing I'm missing is what exactly is so bad about Smite's depiction of Kali, and why only Kali's a problem, and not any of the other Hindu deities. I mean yes, I think I'd rather she be a bit more true to the iconography, drop the bikini top, pick up a necklace of heads and a less revealing loincloth and such, but she's not terribly far off. See: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Kali_lithograph.jpg http://www.touchofclass.co.in/Vintage/Ravi-Verma-14-20/RV-040.jpg http://www.ipcny.org/images/india_prints/Kali.JPG

Compare to: http://www.smitewiki.com/File:T_Kali_Default_Card.png http://www.smitewiki.com/File:T_Kali_Default_3D.png

Personally, I'd rather them add Jesus as a "Melee, Mage, Support"-type character (give him two stances like Hel, call the transitions "Prince of Peace" and "I bring not peace, but a sword", you get the idea) then decide to scrap the project because a few Hindu are angry, because once they get their way it will be a few Asatru who are angry, and so on until there's nothing left. And frankly, the concept is kind of awesome if viewed in the right light.

Sorry, I just think "must not offend anyone" is a thing that should even be considered a goal, I'd rather content creators offend everyone than no one, or even better not be concerned who they might offend and just create what they want to create, but that's a pipe dream.

Boudica:
lol My exact thought, too.

Something about offending people being bad and you shouldn't offend people and an indie group could make a game about environmentalism.

*slaps forehead* D'oh! Shouldn't offend people! I had it all backwards!

It's a shame, though. This is an issue that should be talked about more by the gaming industry itself, because it's a real issue. It does impact how gaming develops as a media. Unfortunately, the lot of us can flap our gums until the sun burns out, and it's meaningless unless there's some level of dialogue from the gaming industry.

Schadrach:

Aside from the fact that Tomb Raider and Smite are pushing ahead despite it, are they not being held back by precisely the same thing, that thing being people being offended by the content and demanding it be stopped? That two of those are cases where you agree that the content in question should go away and one isn't is beside the point (I'm sure army recruiters and strongly nationalist folk probably feel Six Days in Fallujah is incredibly offensive, as well as some subset of veterans who assume it won't do it justice).

TRO clearly argued isolation from the actual material. This is kind of a big deal, and this is from someone who doesn't care whether or not Shiva is in some MMO. Fallujah was being made with direct input from soldiers who served. While TRO can't exactly prove the lack of interaction or dialogue with the type of people who might have a problem with this, it's pretty unlikely that either bothered to get any input from their respective prospective offended parties.

Fallujah would have depicted combat as experienced by actual people. Smite and Lara Croft would not have depicted their controversial topics through the eyes of the people who have experienced it: Lara's "rape" was a hollywood rape, one which we were told would be character defining. Smite is not depicting Shiva as adherents to the religion understand him.

Whether TRO approves of each case or not, this is a salient point about understanding the nature of the suject one is tackling.

 

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