The major controversies, disappointments and outrages of the preceding week all seemed to share one trait: They contained some eye-rolling levels of double-speak and ulterior meanings.
The issues themselves have been gummed to death, and I really don't wish to rehash those arguments. But we're talking about debates that could have been better served, and even made a little more intellectually honest, had people involved used some straight language to begin with. Here's an assessment of what was said, and what I think was really meant.
Leading off it's, what else, the Tomb Raider "rape" controversy.
Who said it: Darrell Gallagher, in charge of the studio making Tomb Raider.
What he said: "Sexual assault of any kind is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game."
What he meant: "We were fine using the threat of a sexual assault to create protective male sympathy for Lara Croft until dumbass over here went and used the R-word."
At E3 (as reported on Monday), an executive producer at Crystal Dynamics told Kotaku's Jason Schreier that in a scene in the new Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft fights off an attempted rape. That's not an implied statement—Ron Rosenberg used the word "rape." This is important for two reasons: He's the game's executive producer, not some uncoached designer or community manager who is a PR handler's cold-sweat nightmare. And, again, he used the word "rape."
On Wednesday, Gallagher, the studio head himself, tried to make it all go away—probably because to have anything that remotely looks like sexual assault, attempted or otherwise, would get the ESRB to consider a very restrictive rating, and this thing looks like it'll start out at M. (It's already PEGI: 18)
A game's rating is only one part of a publisher's anxiety. The ESRB has a content descriptor for "Sexual Violence," which specifically covers "references to, or depictions of, rape or violent sexual acts." Even for M-rated games, publishers try like hell to avoid certain content descriptors, and assuredly "sexual violence" would be one of them. Parents buy M-rated games for their underage kids all the time; but that kind of flag, and stories about why it was given, would stop more than a few from doing so with Tomb Raider. In fact, I could only find one game that has received that content descriptor—it was the PC-only , Japan-made visual novel Animamundi.
Tomb Raider is due in March. I guarantee that sequence will be recut, and I guarantee you will not see anything that could possibly be interpreted as a man forcing himself on a woman—as suggested by that goon lightly caressing Croft's arm and moving down to her hip, before he gets his head blown off.
Speaking of sexual violence ...
Who said it: Tore Blystad, director of Hitman: Absolution
What he said: "The Hitman games always come from this kind of cartoony, dark universe. ... This is no different from those."
What he meant: "We're still patting ourselves on the back for being so controversial."
The fuck? Since when has "cartoony" ever described any aspect of the Hitman universe? I've done some pretty heinous things in my time with three Hitman games (I did not finish Blood Money), but "cartoony" would not describe any of them, even if that's meant in a comic-book sense. Bottom line, I have not come close to anything as outlandish as killing a bunch of fetish models dressed up like nuns. I'm trying to remember if any of my intended targets were even women.
If he's not sorry for the trailer, and that's entirely his right, then say so. Own it. Retrofitting a self-satire excuse into this, when we haven't seen anything like that before, is the equivalent of a "lol, sarcasm" troll when a joke goes wrong. It doesn't make me not want to play the game or buy it, but it does make me not want to watch any more Hitman ads.
It wasn't the week's only cop-out, either.
Who said it: The creators of Game of Thrones (the HBO series, not the video game).
What they said: "We meant no disrespect to the former President and apologize if anything we said or did suggested otherwise."
What they meant: "We also don't take responsibility for what we say and do."
People who have read me long enough know that George W. Bush is not my favorite president. That doesn't mean I endorse every stupid thing said or done to insult him. One of the most pointless provocations came in the producers' commentary to the Game of Thrones season one DVD.
The show's creators laughed that a prop severed head on a pike was George W. Bush's. But, "it's not a choice, it's not a political statement." Oh, fuck off it's not.
Have you seen the clip? Evidently it's an inside joke on the set that they have a severed head that look's like Bush's. Fine. But in the clip, there's no way you can tell that head looks like the 43rd president unless some jackass makes the choice of identifying it as such, which then is a political statement. Everything any president or former president does is political. Same goes with any treatment of him. Don't want people to think you're making a political statement? Don't go out of your way to tell us that's George W. Bush's head on a pike.
But at least they didn't squat Joffrey Lannister over Dubya's cranium for maximum pwnage.
Who said it: David Ellis, whose 343 Industries is making Halo 4
What he said: "Victory crouch."
What he meant: "Teabagging."
Given the tradition of candor in the development of this series, and in relationships with its community, Ellis' refusal to use a meaningful term everyone recognizes (and in this context, I'd argue, no longer associates with a sex act) could only come on orders from Microsoft. Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining, and don't give me an insta-spawn option to avoid teabagging while calling it a "victory crouch."
Finally, a kernel of truth if you know to look for it.
Who said it: An EA Sports spokesperson
What they said: "We did not receive confirmation that they were changing to a full FBS schedule this year until it was too late for inclusion in NCAA Football 13. South Alabama will be included in NCAA Football 14."
What they meant: "Someone else screwed up, not us."
Know what? I'm inclined to believe that. I've been around this enough to know that licensing partners are the mothers-in-law of video gaming, who will do all sorts of things to humiliate a publisher and leave them to take the heat. There could be any of three partners involved in NCAA 13's omission of the University of South Alabama, which joins major college football this year.
Either the NCAA, the Collegiate Licensing Company and/or the Sun Belt Conference could be the ones who "didn't send confirmation," even though USA made it clear back in 2009 they'd be joining big boy football in 2012. EA Sports, according to the terms of its agreements, can't act on this sort of thing until it gets definite approval—that's part of the reason they don't automatically move schools to new conferences in future years of the game's dynasty mode. TCU jumping from the Mountain West to the Big East to the Big 12, without playing a game in the Big East, is a great example of why official confirmation of everything is needed.
Sports fans might think this is EA's incompetence. But sports fans also are familiar with some true masters of bureaucratic nonsense: the NCAA. I think it's more likely someone in Indianapolis forgot to push the correct paper, and EA Sports has to take the heat. That's part of holding the license. Their partners can insist—and have insisted—on doing some pretty stupid things that piss off or disappoint gamers, and EA Sports knows it'll be the only one taking fire for it. They can't blame their licensor for fear of offending an essential partner.
And it's not just EA Sports. Last year, it looked very much like Charles Barkley backed out of an appearance in NBA 2K12 at the last minute, and 2K Sports just had to smile and tell gamers they were sorry the 1985 Philadelphia 76ers didn't have one of its starters.
Bottom line, a full member of college football's top division is not in the game in its debut season. Whoever is really responsible for that should send an apology to South Alabama's athletics department.
Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam on Fridays. Let yours out in the comments.