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Whaling VS Killing Children
by Eric Salmon on 03/12/13 08:23:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

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).

 


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Comments


Kyle Redd
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"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."

Especially considering that there aren't exactly a dearth of voices trying to protect children in the world. Pretty much any law that is going through the legislature can get a boost if the pol claims he's doing it "for our kids," regardless if it actually benefits them or not. On the other hand, almost no one cares about the welfare of animals outside of animal-rights groups unless the animal is cute and furry.

Very good editorial.

Freek Hoekstra
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we kill people in games all the time...
so whales can;t be an real issue, we can all agree this is fantasy. and common practics in these times... so case closed ?

Janosch Dalecke
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Spontaneous rant: Killing children should be possible. But not without consequence. People would come after you and you could be punished ingame for it (you could be hanged or expelled or important figures won't give you any quest because they refuse to talk to you, you sick child-killer). Also, in most games there is no way to hit people in a non lethal way. In the real world if children annoy you you could tell them, scream at them or give them a slap. In many games your option are reduced to hitting them with a weapon. all sorts of stuff is included in games to for the sake of reality, but the player doesn't get any more options for dealing with that fake reality.

Matjaz Puhar
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As others have noticed as well, I still haven't seen PETA write a single sentence on the subject of killing and skinning animals in AC3, Far Cry 3, Far Cry 2, Tomb Raider, MGS 3, and don't even get me started with all the hunting simulators, which imo, should be criticized, because they are positioned in the now and promote killing/hunting as a sport.

ACIV is based on historical events and ways of living in the 18th century. I think that in this context, whaling is not an issue, people have actually done it and lived off nature's resources (and still continue to do so). I am fairly sceptical that this will inspire people to turn to a pirate's lifestyle and sail across the oceans in order to spot a whale and hunt it down.

Come to think of it, has PETA ever protested against Japan's insatiable love for dolphins and whales, legal or not? Why not do something relevant for a change and protest a cause which can actually make a difference instead of hoping on a bandwagon of "Games are bad because..."

Arnaud Clermonté
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Of course they have protested against dolphin slaughter.
Why not get your facts for a change, instead making up the answer to your question?

Emppu Nurminen
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The thing is that despite do you want it or not, people will interpret content as something what developer team want to say with it. I mean, Hitman's video fiasco wouldn't have been such a thing, if they had thought it bit further and wonder why it appeared such a wife-beater porn clip (I guess the aim is to have all the cool things, so it's quite ironic to end up in completely opposite end). The problem is in the beginning rather than the consumers end, because thinking how people feel about things is one thing to avoid PR-fiascos in the first place.
If you go to the point you have to remove a feature because public insists it, you have done it wrong from the beginning. There is no subject, theme or issue that couldn't be handled, but the more painful it is in public eyes, the more you have to consider how people interpret your decisions revolving around it. You can ignore public opinion, but the public don't ignore your decisions, if you aren't communicating clearly enough.
It's always so sad, how people hide behind "It's my creative right to do this!". Yes it is, but it's consumers' right to criticize it. Surely PETA is bit of a laugh of an organization, but, like said, if they were children dying the most exploitative matters, people have right to criticize it.

Luis Guimaraes
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I hate this stupid old idea that some people still that video-games are for children. That's why all other medias can do what they want, but when it's the new media everything is wrong and bad. Ridiculous.

Emppu Nurminen
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All am I saying, nothing is sacred, but if you give room to be yourself an ass about the issue, yes, public condems you simply because of the facts they have about you via your "creative" work. That just Human Interaction 101, not conspiracy for freedom of expression what so many people think it is. So many games have only shock value than any actual value in story telling wise, so obviously, yeah, no wonder why so many people find games juvenile.

Luis Guimaraes
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Doesn't seem like it's going away very soon...

Oliver Waters
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Sounds points, but one thing does still plague my mind: historical accounts. The Assassin's Creed franchise has always prided itself in delivering rich and immersive worlds saturated in history. It's been one of the fundamental building blocks for its success: reinventing and reinvigorating certain historical landmarks in time through a more contemporary medium — the digital canvas. In their upcoming iteration, their focal point is in exploring the depth behind the notorious, the revered, and the treacherous warlords of the 18th-century seven seas — whaling was simply a very day-to-day, routine aspect of their lives. It's no different from the skinning of the native fauna that took place in Assassin's Creed III, or in Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. Were these simply superfluous features added merely for some additional shock-value? Perhaps. Did this in fact have a purpose other than publicity? Most certainly. It serves to educate us on how times were back then, it's a depiction, an interactive painting that accounts for our past, a retelling to the youth of today. It encourages them to seek out the past that has gotten us where we are today. Eric, you mentioned that their main problem was in their inconsistency, but it would seem the reasons for why they did this were so they would stay consistent within their identity. Whaling goes hand in hand with the pirate's life, but killing children just for the sake of killing children seems completely devoid of the history we are revisiting and inconsistent with the story Ubisoft are trying to tell us.

Gene L
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Ubisoft is not being inconsistent at all.

'Right' and 'wrong' are not a strict binary; some acts are more 'wrong' than others based on the harm they can generate. Such harm can be targeted towards an individual, such as emotional harm to players, or to society at large, such as through advocating destructive behavior.

We have had many incidents in the last decade involving the killing of children by individuals. The act strikes a starker emotional cord for a larger segment of the game's audience than whaling. By portraying the act and empowering players to kill children, Ubisoft would be purposely entering a conversation regarding an extremely vivid and unfortunately increasingly common form of violence. Players are likely to be made more uncomfortable by the ability to kill children in an Assassin's Creed game, and, as you mentioned, it would garner a lot of negative press for Ubisoft--which, in themselves, are forms of harm.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Are you taking the whole matter maybe a little too serious? It was already leaked that the whole PETA statement was engineered by the author of the original article to stir up a controversy.

"So, here's my challenge. To be consistent, whaling should be removed or children should be killable. I'd prefer the latter."

Your argumentation makes the mistake to oversee the most obvious fact while Ubisoft is willing "to cross the line" with whaling but not with infanticide: because whaling gives the game an opportunity to explore some real unused game mechanics and might even elevate the whole hunting subject of AC3 to a whole new (melvillesque) level. Killing children that are annoying you is not, it serves no purpose besides you sparing some ability (coins) which the developer specifically implemented to silence them.

So your argument and demand is pointless, you would have a point if Ubisoft would deliberately commit History fraud, like if in Brotherhood Ezios Task would be to kill the evil pope, and instead of an old man this specific pope (like Benedict IX) would have been a child in real life and Ubisoft took this specific route (to artifically age the main villain) to avoid bad press.

Clifford Roche
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Sorry, but this blog is practically a religious argument. Where to draw the line in controversial matters is an issue of preference (not consistency) which as you can imagine that Ubisoft will base it at least partially upon the reactions of the public and audience. The reality is no one cares about PETA (relatively), lots more people care about killing children and so they chose the content of their game to reflect that. Aiming for consistency is not only not required, but really has no impact in the final game, and thus as a goal is completely arbitrary.

Paulo Ferreira
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The problem with whaling is because there's still controversy in it. Now most people think it's wrong, to the point of making it illegal, but I bet there's still people who still like the idea of slaughtering these animals. If there was no one practicing this, there would be no activism by PETA. So when a game inserts a feature like this, and saying that's a cool, fun feature, they are undermining a little of the work done to end this practice.

It's different from stealing cars and killing people on GTA for example, because there's no one who believes it's a valid thing to do in real world.

Eric Salmon
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This is exactly the issue. I'm not sure if people are unaware that whaling still occurs, or if they just don't care, but many of the comments surrounding this issue are baffling to me. Though I feel Gamasutra is a website tailored for professionals, I'd expect a lot of adolescent responses on any gaming website, particularly if they perceive something as attacking a beloved franchise or company, but the hostility is overwhelming even in posts from adults.

As developers, we have to understand that we are an influential part of the media, particularly on teens. For many of them, this will be their first introduction to whaling. Do we really want the reaction to that to be "Cool!"?

Jimmy Albright
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When you say whaling you need to provide some clarity. Are you discussing the Japanese whaling industry?

There are many native tribes (especially in the state of alaska) that survive off whaling and have done it for hundreds of years. They don't exactly run them all into a cove and slaughter them, but the practice of whaling for subsistence hunting is pretty standard for a lot of the native villages.

james sadler
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But there are sects of people that do feel that killing people and GTA are valid things in life, just like there are people that believe the same thing about whaling. It still occurs, but it is at a very slight level compared to a hundred+ years ago. I don't think there's much controversy over it. Most countries have banned the practice, but some still do.

I think the issue here is that PETA is a well known organization that not only seems to care more for animals than humans, but attacks things without really thinking them through or use some pretty extreme tactics, thereby lowering the effect of the message. As such they've become a kind of joke whenever they spout some comment. Kinda like the Westborough Church people.

Personally I loved the response that Ubisoft gave since it threw their comments, and in reality a lot of people's outside perception of the games industry, back in their face. Lets face it, whaling happened, and still happens, but they aren't advocating the practice nor making it seemingly appealing. Just as the hunting mechanic of AS3 was. There "might" be one or two people that play the game and get a fascination for whaling and I'd love to see a couple try to do it. Try is the operative word since it is a ridiculously dangerous task, kind of like trying to kill a charging bear with a knife. I wonder how many people have tried that.

But lets not forget the idea of allowing players to kill the children. Granted they are annoying, but even in a historical context where it was easier to "get away" with killing A child or two, killing a multitude of them would not go unpunished. So within the context of the period child killing still trumps whale killing. As a rough fix they should allow for at least smacking (or threatening) the children so that they run away. That would be even more historically accurate and accessible to the mass audience.

Lets also not forget that most of the people reading these articles as well as those that will play the game are intelligent people that know whaling is a bad thing, as much as killing an annoying child is. There are always exceptions to the rule, but lets not assume the base is the exception. I don't know why people think that gamers are just some sniveling idiots that try to personify everything they see in video games.

Daniel Hayes
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I agree with the author. Killing children should be allowed if whaling is allowed in video games. I liked that I was able to kill that annoying child in Baldur's Gate that would just follow you around and monopolize your dialogue console.

Paulo Ferreira
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sorry, duplicate (refreshed the page)

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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I wonder if ESRB ratings had anything to do with it? To my knowledge, killing whales has no impact (beyond that of killing any other animal), however violence against children does raise the rating beyond simple murder.

Luis Guimaraes
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That's was not a weak defense from Ubisoft. That was exactly the facts of it. You shouldn't have to go any further than that for a defense just because the other side fails to meet very basic logics.

Or perhaps I put too much fate in humanity and like to illude myself into thinking we're somehow intelligent.

Paulo Ferreira
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So basically, intelligent is someone who you agree with?

Luis Guimaraes
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We got a side mission over here... Let's finish this so we can get back to the main quest.

Er... No. Where did you read that in my post?

Intelligent people disagree all the time in complex matters. That's perfectly normal and good.
Simple, obvious facts, you don't have to be intelligent to see. And the fact is that Ubisoft "does 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."

Seeing things that are not there isn't intelligent thinking.

Apart from that, I also doubt PETAs intentions are so straight as to just be ranting about the game. They just want to make noise and get free publicity, which they saw an opportunity for in this case. And it's working, we're talking about it.

Guillermo Aguilera
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Five start trolling post 2013

Michael Rooney
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Why is it hard to believe Ubisoft is enforcing what is moral for the character rather than what is moral in modern society? The character believes whaling is just a part of life; I doubt the character believes murdering children is ok.

Murdering children shouldn't be allowed by them because it doesn't reinforce the character or the world they are creating. It shouldn't have anything to do with moral freedom.

Kevin Reese
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It would be a fascinating exercise to work out some sort of moral sliding scale of shock value equivalencies in games. So what would this be? Maybe 100,000,000 Nazi's shot = 10,000,000 aliens zapped = 1,000,000 criminals summarily executed = 500,000 citizens run over by cars = 100,000 killer robots destroyed = 10,000 quest-giving NPCs killed = 1,000 attack dogs stabbed = 100 innocent folks eviscerated = 10 whales = 1 kid [non-annoying variety, of course]?

Seth Strong
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I'm with Ubisoft on this one. They don't owe it to anybody to be morally consistent with all choices. They should serve their target audience. As an avid Assassins Creed purchasing station, I don't mind whale hunting and I do mind child slaying in game. If that's the majority of their market, then their choice makes sense.

Kevin Reese
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Even if we were to care about the poor ole digital whales, a better game target for this misplaced silliness would be Dishonored. At least in that game the miserable whales are tortured unnecessarily.

Brandon McCulligh
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I say just play the damn game. I am so sick of all these articles & organizations saying that if something is in a video game that it encourages it in real life. Get a life people, that's like saying if I watch an hour of porn every night I might become a porn star.

Kyle Redd
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So you'd be ok with a game where you play a married guy, and the objective is to keep your wife in line by beating her whenever she gave you lip (bonus points for combo punches), throwing her against the wall if dinner wasn't ready on time, and humiliating her in public.

No objection to any of that right? Because gameplay doesn't influence real-world behavior?

Gordon Ross
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Is it because it's not real and and like guns in games it's unlikely to encourage players to take up whaling....

Arnaud Clermonté
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This is a PR issue, not a moral one.
Killing virtual whales or children is neither moral or immoral, it is just bad taste.

As far as I'm concerned, Ubisoft can virtually kill whatever they like as long as it doesn't lead to real-world killing.
They're only hurting their own PR.

If you want a real moral issue, inform yourself about how your fish, meat, eggs and diary are produced, and what you can do to reduce the amount of animal abuse and destruction you cause,
instead of focusing on virtual whales and virtual children.

Matjaz Puhar
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This can become a PR issue only if Peta decides to pursue it in its absurdity. However, it can become bad PR - for them.

Part of my comment above was in a form of a question because I was not sure and I was happy to welcome anybody who can set the record straight.
As it happens, I was semi-right - Peta has never been overly active in an anti-whaling campaign (not talking about dolphins!) - from what sources are available, they have amassed a staggering two articles on their site regarding whales and were much more active in protests against keeping killer whales and other marine mammals in captivity - not anti whaling and definitely more TV friendly.
Also, they've never joined Greenpeace in their efforts to stop whaling - maybe because nude models don't fare well at high seas.

It is my opinion that with the amount of real life issues about animal abuse as you write above, they really don't need to concern themselves with a few pixels on screen.

Peter Smith
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Silly post but it's good for comments and ad impressions so I'll play along.

Differences between killing whales and killing children:

1) In a historical context, whaling was 'business as usual' at the time that AC4 took place where as killing children was frowned upon.

2) Children are the young to the species. Assuming AC4 doesn't have you hunting whale calves, it's a 'killing adults vs killing young' issue and species doesn't come into play.

3) Intended audience for the game are human beings. I'm sure the whales are making games where it's ok to kill human adults but not ok to kill whale children.

Really Gamasutra, this is a "Featured Post?"

Kyle Redd
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"In a historical context, whaling was 'business as usual' at the time that AC4 took place where as killing children was frowned upon."

Also contextually accurate for that time period: widespread rape and abuse of women, slavery, and torture. None of it was frowned upon. If all those "activities" made an appearance in the game, would you defend their inclusion for being historically accurate?

Eric Pobirs
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Lets pretend a major part of history never happened. Straight out of Orwell. While we're at it, lets round up every copy of Moby Dick in existence and destroy it. Why trouble people with pesky unpleasant knowledge?

PETA can go to hell. They're more about self-loathing of humans than about concern for animals. The man who did more to save the whales than any animal rights crusader in all of history is John D. Rockefeller. It was his work, more than any other person, that made petroleum products more practical and lower cost than whale oil.

John Trauger
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Saying if you kill whales, you should be able to kill (human) children, equates children and whales morally.

I don't think many humans would. The whales could not be reached for comment.

Whaling functions as the background of the time, assuming historical accuracy is a mark one is shooting for. Perhaps child-killing would as well for AC3, I dunno. But since we do place different values on whales than kids (even PETA; it's just the reverse emphasis from most of us), it's reasonable to show whaling and not child-killing.

Eric Salmon
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PETA does not put a higher emphasis on whales than children. They simply speak for the group they were formed to speak for. There's nothing odd about that. Many PETA activists are involved in numerous organizations, in which they speak for whatever they seek to protect. That's just rational. It'd be confusing if PETA started demonstrating at abortion clinics, right?

Eric Salmon
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Double post.

Rob B
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'By taking a moral highground on any single feature...'
You might as well argue that all crime regardless of what it is is equally wrong.

'There's always been a bit of backlash against PETA for caring about animals more than people'
No, there are backlashes against PETA because their fervent members are borderline psychotic. They actively and openly support violence and terrorism against those they dont agree with, they attack experts in animals through ignorance, spread fear and bias through people who dont know any better, and have entirely contradicted all of this with their own actions.
PETA dont just defend animals because that is there mandate, they literally make humans suffer in the place of them. They really are a vile organisation.


Now I dont know if the author here was trying to make a bigger point about all censorship being wrong but its a horrendously broken way of doing it. Self censorship is perfectly okay for anyone to indulge in, (Though Im fine with people making a point that the pressure to self censor can be too strong.) and comparing whaling and child murder as issues is frankly absurd.

Society rightly frowns on child killing more than it frowns on whaling. If you cant see why then I think you need to take a long look at yourself because as far as I am concerned you are a deeply sick individual.

James LeGeros
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"So what does whaling add to the experience?"

You ask this question however you never address it in your further comments on the subject. You paint a picture of black/white and then criticize UbiSoft for being inconsistent. I feel this is a poor way to argue your case.

What would allowing a player to kill a child add to the experience? I can't say. I honestly can't think of any reasonable way it would improve the experience for the player.

What does whaling add to the experience? Assassins Creed 4 is a fictional story based in a historical setting. Whaling was, no matter how much PETA protests it today, a morally and ethically acceptable practice in the 18th century. For hundreds of years before that, it was how many Native Americans survived on the eastern coast.

So, once again, what does whaling add to the experience? It helps to generate player immersion by adding authenticity to the familiar historical setting of the game.

Eric Salmon
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A lot of interesting (and a few inane) points here. Let me clarify my positions:
Developers should be free to include or exclude whatever content they wish. I'm not making any call for legislation, etc. restricting that freedom, and I'm not lambasting Ubisoft for that. If anything, I'm criticizing the call to initially refuse to allow children to be killed out of fear of negative publicity (and self-censorship out of their own discomfort with the topic). That fear is legitimate, and it was the right call as a business, but allowing one censorship invites any censorship.

I do not believe that games have a causal effect on actual violence. If anything, I think it's the opposite--games give a risk-free environment where no gets hurt to vent a lot of the natural impulses we have and rightly control in reality. I do, however, know that games and internet media affect impulse-control.

I do believe that games (and all media) can shape public opinion about a topic; therefore, confronting a topic like whaling that is not universally recognized as wrong and is still ongoing in modern societies should be done with care. Reinforcing the status quo public opinion is not okay even if it is marketable; what would we have said about a game where you target homosexuals for ridicule 15 years ago? It's not okay just because more people think it is than do not, or because enough people don't care either way.

Consistency is not a business requirement. Neither are honest business practices, which is why we have corporations selling addictive products that harm their customer. That does not mean that businesses can't choose to hold themselves to a higher standard, nor that I must be happy if they do not.

I'm quite "informed" on the plight of animals of the food industry. Gamasutra is not the place to fight that fight, however. I'm also informed about the historical context of whaling (which goes on to this day) and the treatment of orphans in the 18th century (which wasn't nearly as civil as some of you seem to think).

Several of you question the "wrongness" of actions, suggesting some things are more wrong than others. I disagree, for a very simple logical reason: you can only do something, or not do it. Therefore, the choice is either do, or do not do. Therefore, the moral question can have only two answers that matter. Arguments about punishment are after the fact, and I don't personally judge the morality of my actions and whether to commit them based on how severe a punishment or reward I will receive. If you do, perhaps you need to take a long look at yourself and what you really are.

Finally, I want to reiterate that players would not be uncomfortable with the mere ability to kill children, and many actually desire it. Why? Because it's enjoyable to get rid of something that annoys you in a violent manner. Is that a good impulse? No, of course not, and we refrain from doing so in reality because we understand that, and most of the core engagement in modern video games is exactly that ("Destroy your enemies!") Also, those who don't understand that murder is wrong are by definition psychopaths or sociopaths. Those who don't believe that killing whales is wrong are the majority, or so it would seem.

Certainly, many of us would be uncomfortable being forced to kill an innocent child in a game, but the mere ability to choose not to nullifies any discomfort we might have as players. The issue here is not players. Parents and the media, and their concerns are very different from those of players (even those who are both gamers and parents can and should have very different concerns regarding what kind of experiences they allow their children to have).

The post got quite a bit more attention than I anticipated, so if I can't respond to everyone individually here, but thanks for reading!

Rob B
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'Several of you question the "wrongness" of actions, suggesting some things are more wrong than others. I disagree, for a very simple logical reason: you can only do something, or not do it.'

Actions are not morally equivalent because there are two options.
If I steal a pound off someone who rightly deserves to have that money that is not morally equivalent to stealing a thousand pounds off that person, nor is it morally equivalent to murdering them, all based on the fact that I could or could not have chosen to do it.

Killing children in our society is categorically, and undeniably, orders of magnitude more wrong, more morally bankrupt than killing whales, yet youve continued to equate whaling with child murder, slavery, warmongering and other crimes on entirely different levels.

While this explains your affiliations your 'morality' and the fact that you dont seem to be able to perceive the difference is genuinely quite scary.


There is a good debate to be had here about representing something that is wrong on _any_ level as a fun part of a game without depth of history (because come on Assassins creed is hardly a history documentary.) and without consequence. It is getting lost to most of the commenters here because of this worrying amoral comparison.

That said, I do believe that if large studios included child murder that it could well lead to legislation against it, and ultimately out right censorship, (Despite the protections games have been afforded recently.) all of which is entirely unacceptable. So at least we can agree on the fact that nobody should feel overly pressured in to censorship, self imposed or otherwise.

Kevin Reese
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Eric I do think your position is flawed, but I do have to commend you on putting together logical and cogent responses and arguments to support your position.

Kevin Reese
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[double post erased. ]

Eric Salmon
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Thanks, Kevin.

As I said, the post got much more attention than expected. It's not much of a controversial topic to have on a personal blog, but on the front page I felt the need to back it up a bit more. I respect that you disagree, and I appreciate the commendation.

Steven Christian
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So if a Medieval game gave you the option to marry little girls, you would be ok with that because it was historically accurate;
or when your group of in-game nomads/soldiers raid and burn a village, surely you have the right to rape their women, because that is historically accurate.

What is socially-acceptable changes over time. If you are providing a historically-accurate simulation, should you adapt to what is currently socially-acceptable, or try to be as accurate as possible and risk your game getting banned?

Most devs would draw the line somewhere I'd imagine, which unfortunately means that anyone looking for a true historically-accurate simulation is probably out of luck.

But kudos to Ubisoft for pushing the boundaries.

Robert Nesius
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What a ridiculous equivocation. "Whales are the same as children and we should be able to kill all or none."

Whether killing a whale is wrong or right or bad or good depends on your point of view - it's completely subjective. For coastal natives on the northern part of the Pacific coast killing a whale was a huge component of survival - they used many parts of the animal to survive. They weren't killing for sport - though I have to imagine killing a whale while bobbing around the ocean in a small boat can induce an adrenaline rush. The whales passed by seasonally, they killed a few, the whales moved on and came back next year. Cycle of life. From the point of view of a PETA activist, it's whale murder. THE HORROR!

Zooming out a bit, the type of whaling that severely depressed whale numbers was commercial whaling. Not exactly sporting or fair to the animal and species, and as is so often the case with hunting driven by commercial forces, ultimately a self-defeating endeavor due to the tragedy of the commons that occurs when everyone is trying to get a "Nash catch".

Where does the equivocation end? If we're going to put whales on the level of children, what about dogs, cats, cattle, birds, snails, ants, spiders and cockroaches?

I don't see Ubisoft as being inconsistent... their games are purchased and played by people. They have the gauge the potential reaction to any content decision in terms of the society their games are sold in. Whackable-children will certainly evoke a near universal out-cry. Whaling-sims will just piss off a small minority of people who are arguably making a mountain out of a mole-hill in part because they can't tell a mountain apart from a mole-hill.

Eric Salmon
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This is a stance we can afford to take primarily because our species is dominant. However, it's also the exact same stance that leads to war, racism, etc. ("My people and children matter more than THEIR people and children.") Prioritizing life that's closer to us is natural, but it's not necessarily right. Blindly clinging to that prioritization as obvious and natural is the same thing slavers felt regarding slaves. Progress is about challenging basic assumptions like this that are simply wrong.

Judging moral value based on commercial success is also a misguided endeavor; the least moral route is most often the most profitable, and the most marketable route is always the most popular. As we've often seen in history, most popular does not mean right in any form of the word.

Robert Nesius
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A great white shark eats a surfer.

Was the shark wrong? Or does it get a "not the dominant species" exemption?

Not sure you understood my position clearly. I was pointing out that there is (in my subjective view) an ethical difference between subsistence hunting and commercial exploitation, and the whaling sim in Assassin's Creed is neither of those things, but your condemnation seems universal and absolute.

Stepping further back, "rightness" and "wrongness" exist in the eye of the beholder. If you saw Adam shoot Bob, you would probably think Adam was wrong to do that. But if you found out afterwards you didn't see the gun Bob was holding and that Adam had acted in self-defense, that might not look so wrong. But the way you are defending your position it sounds like Adam should have let Bob shoot him because, in your words, you either do the action or you don't - so it's more important for Adam to be dead and right than alive and wrong.

And the indigenous people who learned to make use of every part of the animal they killed - from bones to hide to meat - wrong?

Eric Salmon
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I think it's you who has misunderstood. The shark was not wrong. Nor were the people. Commercial slaughter is altogether different from hunting for survival.

Rightness and wrongess are, of course, subjective. However, what is not subjective is that it is cowardly to decide something is wrong, and proceed to do it; likewise it is cowardly to decide something is right, and proceed to not do it.

To get back at least somewhat to the original point, you say killing a whale being right or wrong is subjective; it is. You then imply killing children is not subjective, but in reality it also is. It only seems as if it is an objective, universal truth because of human arrogance. We clearly believe ourselves superior than all animals, and our lives and the lives of our young more important than the lives of anything else; that is a subjective position. It's an assumption that merely goes unchallenged because there is no species capable of speaking out against it. Is that wrong? I believe so.

I'm not particularly interested in taking a philosophical argument much further, simply because it's unlikely to resolve or change any opinions; I just wanted to make my position a bit clearer.

Robert Nesius
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> The shark was not wrong.

Agreed.

> Nor were the people.

Agreed, though you seemed to think very differently earlier? It seems to me you implied as much. You were coming down on the issue of whaling in very black-and-white, no compromise terms.

> Commercial slaughter is altogether different from hunting for survival.

Agreed. Though I see bias bleeding through here - are you a vegetarian?

> Rightness and wrongess are, of course, subjective.

As I've been saying all along. But now you appear to be contradicting yourself. You framed a moral choice as objectively right or wrong earlier. At least, that's how it read to me.

> However, what is not subjective is that it is cowardly to decide something is wrong, and proceed to do it; likewise it is cowardly to decide something is right, and proceed to not do it.

Okaaay. Right and wrong is subjective - cowardlyness isn't? :) Come on! That's subjective. How to tell? Get me a coward-meter that you and I can point at someone and get a coward-reading. What would the units for that be?

> To get back at least somewhat to the original point, you say killing a whale being right or wrong is subjective; it is.

Yep.

> You then imply killing children is not subjective,

I didn't say it was not subjective. I said allowing that in a game would probably lead to an outcry.

> ... but in reality it also is.

Yep.

> It only seems as if it is an objective, universal truth because of human arrogance.

That's one theory.

> We clearly believe ourselves superior than all animals, and our lives and the lives of our young more important than the lives of anything else; that is a subjective position.

Dunno if I'd agree we value our lives and the lives of our young over the lives of anything else out of arrogance. I recently read a tragic article about a family on the Oregon coast - their dog was swept to sea. The father went in after the dog, the mother after the husband, the son after his parents. Parents and son died, dog swam out. I think you're painting with a broad brush and generalizing.

> It's an assumption that merely goes unchallenged because there is no species capable of speaking out against it. Is that wrong? I believe so.

I would call it unenlightened.

I'm not a fan of line-by-line responses but unfortunately things were getting really confusing and I couldn't find a better way to point out where you got me wrong, and where you then in turn made some shaky logical inductive steps.

Regardless - we don't have to carry this farther. I do think you've contradicted yourself somewhat. I sense we could have some good conversations over beer and some nice tasty veal burgers (just kidding on the veal burgers. ;-) ). Also, while I took exception to your article I do want to thank you for writing it and following up with me.

Peace!

Kyle Redd
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@Robert

"I recently read a tragic article about a family on the Oregon coast - their dog was swept to sea. The father went in after the dog, the mother after the husband, the son after his parents. Parents and son died, dog swam out."

I don't know that story but the way you described it sounds like something straight out of The Onion.

Eric Salmon
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@ Robert

Sounds good, and I'm not a vegetarian. I am fairly careful about where my meat comes from, though. I'm also not a member of PETA as a few people seemed to think. I'm not quite sure what our misunderstanding was since our positions seem to be essentially the same, but thanks for reading!

Bret Dunham
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Is this a troll post? The game is called "assassins creed". There is no valuable data that can be derived from this article. Now I need to try to forget I even read this.

Steven Woyach
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Here's an idea:

Allow both, and then when you kill your first whale and your first child, you get the accurate historical reward for each:

Killing a whale: huge amounts of money.
Killing a child: everyone in the game world turns on you, you are captured and spend 25 years to life in jail (that can't be skipped), and then a dialogue pops up that says "You have killed a child, and the game is pretty much over. Would you like to reload your game to right before that, but this time make children invulnerable?".

Eric Salmon
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In general, that's not what happened to people who killed to peasant orphans in the 18th century, whom were mostly treated as a resource of forced labor. Killing orphans was actually much easier to get away with than killing anyone else, because there was no one to care.

Steven Woyach
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Hmm, I'm not sure if you're getting at anything deeper than just a potential problem.

It's a resolvable problem, though: most children are not orphans, for one. And even if most people don't care, manslaughter would still be illegal, so it wouldn't be historically inaccurate to have some NPC decide to be a decent human being for a moment and then you get the jail/popup thing again.

Anyway, I'm not arguing your point about whaling, necessarily, I'm just proposing a solution that satisfies your issue of consistency and their issue of public sentiment. I don't see the two as mutually exclusive.

Robert Nesius
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Natural Law, which is the position you're essentially arguing from as you debate the 'rightness' and 'wrongness" of actions from a moral perspective, only exists in the mind of the observer.

Eric Salmon
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Which is why I wrote the post from my point of view, I'd assume.

Eric Salmon
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Double post.

My internet seems to be lagging a bit.

Michael Pianta
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Personally I'm not at all offended by whaling being in the game. And PETA doesn't really have a lot of credibility with me anyway. I think they bring up this stuff just to raise their own profile. I mean who actually thinks the depiction of whaling in this game is going to have any impact whatsoever on the real life practice?

But more on topic, to me including whaling in this game is not only fine, it's actually one of the most interesting things about the game. Ever since reading Moby Dick, I've been impressed at the idea of whaling in this period of history. I can hardly imagine a more terrifying task. Crab fishermen have nothing on these guys. We'll have to see how Ubisoft handles it, but done properly it could be really impressive. And for that matter it might actually reinforce the wrongness of it, if they faithfully depict how brutal it was.

Brian Kehrer
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Interesting. We (developers) should take responsibility for the art we create. Ubisoft can't have it both ways. I haven't played the game, so commenting on their implementation is impossible, but you've laid out a nice contradiction.

That said, I consider Assassin's Creed to be low art in terms of it's ultimate goals (reaching the largest audience possible), so holding it to the standards you set may be unfair.

A lot of arguments I see here center on the idea that games somehow exist outside context. While I feel that may be possible for the most abstract-experimental of titles, mainstream titles like AC cannot hope to make that claim.

Ignoring the political context in which their work is created in some scenarios, and not in others, dilutes the overall impact of the artistic work. Their response clearly indicates PR-first thinking, rather than a work of art. At the very least, I think you've shown where their priorities lie.

Alan Rimkeit
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It is not ok, it is historical. To ignore history is just plain out right foolishness. It is like having a game based in the American's Civil War but trying to omit slavery. It is not possible. History should never be ignored, no matter how distasteful.

Now if the new Assassins Creed game glorifies whale hunting, then I am offended. But that is just my own personal moral code.

Eric Salmon
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I believe this wholeheartedly. I assumed that the game glorified whale hunting given the screenshots, and the fact that I think PR could quickly jump to say "We depicted whaling in as a historically accurate manner as possible to give a proper context on what it's really like for players." but I absolutely could be wrong about that.

Jed Hubic
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How about we remove nothing and be thankful we live in a free society where you can not pay for what you don't like.

Personally I don't care for Assasin's Creed games anyways, and I definitely wouldn't want to kill orphans in it. I did happen to play Far Cry 3 and I killed an ass load of tigers though, which I guess is likened to whales, and personally I enjoyed the game. Also after I beat Far Cry 3 I took my dog for a walk outside and played fetch in the field with her, as opposed to eating aloe vera and crab grass and shooting her with a reflex sighted cross bow. My point (debatable I'm sure) is that I'd hate to miss out on a fun game only because some people are more concerned with enforcing a world that conforms to what they consider right. (I'm not calling out the author as it seemed clear to me that he's not really for censoring games)

I seem to always hear about people up in arms about hurting animals in games, yet I rarely bump into anyone who volunteers at animal shelters or know many people that donate a decent sum of money to their local animal shelters.

Gil Salvado
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PETA is just trying to stay in the news. It's not the first game published by Ubisoft that features whaling. The Anno series by Related Designs has also an historical background and you just received blubber from it, needed for the production of parfum and lamp oil. No meat, not ivory. 90% waste. No one complained.

Did PETA ever complained about the Deer Hunter games? I don't think so. And they were quiet popular back in the days.

Ron Dippold
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The RSS summary of this was something like 'Is it wrong to have Whaling in Assassin's Creed 4?'

And my response was 'Hell yes - just how did this series get so damn far afield? Are we so desperate for any assassination now (given the dearth of it in AC3, and the pirating emphasis of AC4) that we're reduced to assassinating whales?'

Now I see it's a moral outrage thing, but I think that skips the more important question about where your game design has gone with so many cooks dumping random things in the stew.

Andreas Ahlborn
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The virulence of this thread shows, that any game that let the player kill puppies will get lot of resonance.
Team Meat - my bet is on you!

Ryan Samms
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I too agree with Eric and Paulo. I do however think that PETA is getting a little too much flack for their annoying but perhaps healthy reminder. Games are under enough scrutiny right now with the violence and killing topic finding its way into congress, some moral obligation is necessary. Mr. Hutchinson somewhat addresses that issue ahead of time by stating they have a line they will not cross by killing orphans. If being a part of history is ubisoft's explanation for the whaling, at least they have one. I doubt any extraction of the whaling scenes will happen because of PETA but it's good someone took note of it.

David Fried
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As long as you can't kill baby whales, I don't see an inconsistency in Ubisofts statements.

In Assassin's Creed you kill adult mammals all the time.


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