The Story Behind Those Two Controversial South Park ScreenshotsS

It's a funny thing, working as a reporter who covers the video game industry. Often, video game publishers try to treat you like you're part of their marketing arm. Sometimes they ask for some very strange things.

This morning, Ubisoft sent us a handful of screenshots from their upcoming role-playing game, South Park: The Stick of Truth. The images looked great, so we shared them with you. But apparently someone at Ubisoft flipped the wrong switch, because shortly after our story went live, a PR representative frantically emailed to ask us to take down the screenshot of Cartman farting fire. Later in the afternoon, they also asked gaming press to take down a second screenshot, which involved an unidentified character getting an anal probe.

"Due to a technical error," a Ubisoft repsentative said, "we mistakenly sent you two screenshots that are not approved for distribution by the ESRB for 'crude and/or offensive language,' and for 'offensive depictions or ridicule of basic bodily functions.' Can you please remove them from your gallery, and ensure they aren’t posted in the future?"

The ESRB is the Entertainment Software Rating Board—the folks responsible for all those Ts and Ms on game labels. They handle the guidelines and rules surrounding how games and game-related content are rated and distributed.

It was a strange request, the type of thing I can't imagine would make it past the desks of the notoriously controversial creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Sure enough, you may have noticed a number of game websites pull the images from their previews of the upcoming RPG.

We censored one of the images, because we thought the initial request was silly and wanted to have some fun with it. But after the second request, we told Ubisoft that we had no intention of pulling the images. Published images are published. Pulling those screenshots would have been doing a disservice to our readers—and insulting your intelligence in the process.

So we decided to dig around a little bit to figure out just what happened. We reached out to Ubisoft, but they never got back to us. Then we heard back from the ESRB.

The Story Behind Those Two Controversial South Park ScreenshotsS

Turns out, the ESRB never asked anyone to pull any images. According to an ESRB representative, the ratings board is perfectly okay with gaming websites hosting those screenshots. There are different guidelines for materials meant for marketing and those meant for editorial, the ESRB told us. Ubisoft was going by the guidelines meant for marketing. The ESRB has no problem with any gaming websites using those images.

In other words, those images didn't need to be pulled.