Sports video games must license everything. League symbols, player likenesses, individual events, even certain stadiums. Then they must provide a soundtrack every year and, yep, those songs must be licensed, too. It is a neverending headache unique to the sports genre.
Further complicating the job, nearly all league-licensed sports video games are rated E, or close to it. Not only must all of the content of a video game pass inspection by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board—which will boost something to M-for-Mature if a song has a single F-bomb—but league licensing officers also must agree to associate their brands with the music.
This leads to some rather strange and outright sad edits of excellent songs with vulgar lyrics. Some have ended up in an almost unrecognizable state when compared to their original version. These five reflect both the skillful management, and the outright bungling, of that challenge.
Fight Night Round 3
The twangy synthesizer-horns at the open make this song a natural for a boxing title, but the lyrics needed heavy-duty sanitizing. The full version clocks in at 4:11; after removing all of the references to sex, racial slurs and gun violence, the version in Fight Night Round 3 comes in at 3 minutes. "Never Gonna Get It" has an excellent hook and really communicates the seedy, dead-eyed worldview of an up-from-nothing boxer. But if it required removing 25 percent of the song, I have to wonder why they didn't just make it an instrumental.
Madden NFL 11
The silly bleaching of certain lyrics in this song—"feel my serpentine" was removed—may not be EA Sports' fault (or its request). The label made a big push in 2010 to deliver all of the stadium staples fans hear on Sunday, and "Welcome to the Jungle," with its barbarians-at-the-gate opening guitar, has been a fire-up-the-fans introduction song for nearly all of its existence. This may be a version edited by the image-conscious NFL. I haven't been to a league game since 2005 so I can't tell for sure. It's interesting that the remainder of the soundtrack includes the classic "Rock and Roll Part Two" by Gary Glitter, notoriously convicted of possession of child porn and barred from 19 countries as a suspected pedophile.
MVP Baseball 2005
This rowdy, fist-throwing punk anthem comes from a band near where I live now, the Rock n Roll Soldiers of Eugene, Ore. What EA Sports was thinking when they went after this one, I have no clue. Read the lyrics, they are shot through with references to sex, and violence, my favorite being the passage about a teenage transvestite prostitute. They removed "transvestite," and also "g-string," which might not be good for the dinner table but you could say it on the nightly news. "I've still got so many musicians to kill/will kill until I fill my landfill full of bodies standing still," got chopped into something completely incomprehensible. The entire first verse was deleted, meaning the song begins with its chorus. Great song, but this is one of the most horrible edits I've ever heard.
This sounds like damnation by faint praise but 2K Sports has done a fantastic job with its soundtracks, often the parsley of a sports video game production. "Naive" by The Jealous Sound, was a particularly inspired selection for MLB 2K7 and fired me up to pitch every time I heard it. The only reason I'm not featuring it here is because the song needed no editing.
"Fast Lane," by the collaboration of Royce da 5'9" and Eminem, was quite a risk for 2K Sports. Eminem's driving vocals take me directly to a desperate, back-and-forth game featuring two scorers going unconscious, possession after possession. It certainly made for a showstopping sizzle trailer in advance of the game's release. But the full lyrics are a minefield of swear words, sexual references and racial slurs.
That said, I think this is one instance where the editing makes the song better. This opens directly with Eminem's rant, tightening the song and cleaning out silly gratuitous punchlines, such as the Jim Carrey-esque "stick my penis in your anus" at the song's midpoint. It keeps the tempo focused on the action and funnels everything to the memorable hook without really losing its emotional punch.
Fight Night Champion
We're back to Fight Night with this smooth, honest testimonial of a young man who emerges from a bitter time with his values intact. This song would be gutted if "First thing they teach you is not to give a fuck," from the chorus, was masked or removed. Fortunately, we don't have to deal with that because Fight Night Champion was EA Sports' first M-rated game, making any objectionable content in its soundtrack a moot point.
I must have sounded like one of Arnold and Willis Drummond's insipid white friends when I asked Freddy Ouano, the game's audio producer, whether songs would allow for "the hip hop usage of certain ethnic slurs." Ouano said company values against such content would carry the most weight, yet N.E.R.D.'s "I Wanna Jam" features the uncensored line "And all your old school niggaz should just go fishin for pearls." "Round of Applause" by Black Milk also features the notoroious N-word. There is no designation for racial slurs in any ESRB content descriptor, and I'm sure it wouldn't move something rated M to AO, anyway.
Still, this is an adult game, with an appropriately adult soundtrack led by one of The Roots' finest songs. "How I Got Over" is very evocative of the "Champion Mode" protagonist, Andre Bishop, who emerges from his unjust imprisonment just as sure of his principles and purpose as the day before he was incarcerated. It's the song of someone who will not be beaten, either by his circumstances, or by any other man.