The big movie news cannot be ignored: Sony decided it will not go forward with it’s plans to release The Interview, a Seth Rogen film about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Sony was hacked and received threats, while the number of respectable movie chains who would take the film was dwindling. All at once, the internet (save for a few rogue supporters) cried out about free speech, bowing to terrorist demands and all-around support for Rogen and his now-canceled film. The equally troubling news is that no one cares when this happens to a video game.
The video game industry has been embroiled in this sort of controversy for the past few weeks leading up to the news about The Interview. In two separate events, the gaming community (and even some outside the gaming community) have shown a willingness to accept and often times support acts comparable to Sony’s just as often as it condemns them. The first happened when Target and Kmart stores in Australia decided they would not carry Grand Theft Auto V due to its depictions of violence against women. Then days ago, Hatred, the game that may yet actually morph into a scolding-hot button, was pulled from Steam Greenlight.
When both of these incidents took place, there was controversy. Debate ensued with two sides each offering up different points and demanding equal validity. But Sony has been met with almost universal admonishment after pulling The Interview. A quick search of The Interview mentions on Twitter reveals a starkly one-sided picture. A tweet by Judd Apatow (long-time associate of Rogen’s) calling the move by Sony “disgraceful” was retweeted more than 5 thousand times in 11 hours.
Tweets about Hatred are much more skewed, and conversation about GTA V, much discussed in the video game press, seems to paint a two-sided issues. Defense of Target’s decision as not censorship and a positive step toward equality were just as rampant, if not more so, than concerns over the kind of precedent their move set. Consider this, if it’s not censorship for Target to pull the game, what if all retailers pulled the game? It’s well within their rights, but it would achieve the exact same effect as a blatant censorship did. Thus, a de facto censorship – a universal lack of availability that’s not necessarily enforced by law.
Hatred saw the effects of this much more than GTA V. Being pulled from Steam Greenlight can be a death sentence to indie game developers, as Steam is essentially the only game in town for newcomers. Fortunately for them, Gabe Newell decided that this wasn’t a good decision. Without extrapolating his reasoning, it’s nice to see someone in the gaming industry care about whether a developer has an honest shot and releasing their creation, regardless of how tasteless the content may be.
The content of these games shouldn’t matter. The greater principle at stake here is the idea that people should be free to express their ideas, a value clearly held dearly by movie-goers but not so much by the gaming community. Society has spoken about movies: we want any film, regardless of how controversial the subject matter, to be available to the public in an exercise of our right to free speech and ideal of free expression. The question remains when, if ever, will society feel the same way about video games?