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My wife and I were just reading an article on IGN dicussing PETA's reaction to whaling in Assassin's Creed. They reported that a spokesperson from Ubisoft stated:
"History is our playground in Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag is a work of fiction that depicts the real events during the Golden Era of Pirates. We do not condone illegal whaling, just as we don’t condone a pirate lifestyle of poor hygiene, plundering, hijacking ships, and over the legal limit drunken debauchery."
I felt that was a weak defense, but a plausible one, so I wanted to investigate a feature they had held back on moral grounds: killing children. I found a few articles referencing creative director Alex Hutchinson's stance on allowing killing orphans in Assassins's Creed III:
"There are lines we don't want to cross: there's only so much publicity bonus you get from being on Fox news, and it doesn't add anything to the experience."
So what does whaling add to the experience? Apparently, that's a line they do want to cross.
Now, I'm not entirely against their point: games are strictly fantasy, and I don't personally think content should be regulated at all because content doesn't necessarily reflect what a developer or player condones. Few of us actually condone assassination or grand theft auto, but creating and playing games is a far cry from actually committing crimes. However, as bans on titles such as Manhunt, RapeLay, etc. demonstrate, society is not tolerant of that stance; worse, being inconsistent as a company implies things they'd probably rather not.
Ubisoft has already demonstrated that they don't put features in because they don't condone them by refusing to allow players to kill children (and many players do want to kill children in these games, particularly if they're annoying). By taking a moral highground on any single feature, you are at best saying that every other feature in your game isn't wrong enough to remove, and at worst saying that every other feature is condoned.
Hutchinson's fears about negative publicity involving killing children are legitimate and honest. Why add a feature that's just going to stir up controversy, even if some players do want it? However, the statement that they don't condone anything in their games is simply an evasive maneuver--an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for their content.
So, here's my challenge. To be consistent, whaling should be removed or children should be killable. I'd prefer the latter.
In addition, there's been some criticism of PETA that I want to address. Negative publicity by PETA is exactly what is needed to get a feature removed (or, at least, keep Ubisoft and other developers from repeating it in the future) because, as Hutchinson admitted, fear of public outcry is really what defines the lines developers will cross more than anything. There's always been a bit of backlash against PETA for caring about animals more than people; but PETA is an animal rights group dedicated to standing up for animal rights. Do you think children's rights movements wouldn't take notice of killable children in a video game? Not likely. These groups exist to give a voice to those who don't have one and speak out for them (and you can be a member of both!). If you're concerned about violence against adults, as a human adult you can pretty easily speak out for yourself (and there are plenty of groups for that as well if you're afraid to do so alone).