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Veteran Member - Level 13
It's been a strange weekend.
I'm certainly familiar with the power of Twitter. After all, as my bio on the site states, I hooked up with the fine men and women of Game Informer via Twitter. In some ways, I very much owe my current job to that 140-character-focused site, so its reach and ability to actually affect things should not surprise me.
Still, I use Twitter the way most people do: to spout off my opinions on whatever games I've been playing, movies I've been watching, books or articles I've been reading, or on whatever else the hot news of the moment is. I try to make those opinions entertaining and well-informed, but they are still opinions.
On Friday night, Infinity Ward posted a humorous video on their official YouTube channel as part of the push toward the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I arrived home late Friday evening and noticed the video via a few Twitter posts that linked to a Kotaku story about it. I clicked through and watched.
My initial reaction to the video was as such: I found the use of "pussies" as an insult lame but shrugged it off. Most of the video was pretty funny. The concept -- a popular sports star speaking out against grenade spam in the game -- is actually excellent and ripe for comedy. And I laughed as he got tagged by a barrel-full of grenades and blew up. Then came the voice at the end: "This ad brought to you by Fight Against Grenade Spam." Many people commenting on YouTube and Kotaku quickly picked up on the carefully accented reading of the name that highlighted this organization's offensive acronym.
Before I get into why this specific instance irked me, I want to clarify that I do not at all consider myself a proponent of political correctness. Most people who know me personally would burst into laughter if you suggested such a thing. I think it's possible to take even the most seemingly awful words and phrases and, with the right context, turn them into comedy. But context is extremely important, and context is why I was not amused by this video.
The context for Infinity Ward is that online multiplayer is a huge focus for their Modern Warfare series. They have been extremely successful with building a huge community of avid players. But that community, as with Xbox Live and many other multiplayer experiences in general, contains a lot of assholes. While I firmly believe (and hope) that those players are not the majority of the community, they are certainly the loudest, and the acronym from that video is one of their most frequently-used rallying cries.
One common argument is that "f--s" is somehow no longer hate-speech because when people online use it, they're just using it as a replacement for idiot or moron or a million other interchangeable words. While I certainly respect the ability of the English language to morph and change, I disagree with this assessment. The unfortunate truth is that we still live in an America where this word is commonly used as hate-speech. Using it as a replacement for calling someone an idiot just heightens that hate-speech.
Gaygamer.net writer VorpalBunny has a far more suitable and poignant write-up on the power of this word for some people than I could hope to provide. Check it out on his blog. There's also a fantastic blog post on the topic from my fellow Game Informer editor Meagan VanBurkleo. Another friend gave me her opinion on the matter in a conversation on Saturday: "I am so over the homophobia. It's what keeps me away from shooters. I loved Counter-Strike for a month or two when I was 16, but finally gave the f--k up because of this s--t."
Now the truth is that Infinity Ward can't do much about this part of their community. It's a pretty impossible task to monitor this behavior in such a huge game, and they don't necessarily need to. However -- and this is why I think the video was such a bad idea -- I think it would be extremely stupid for Infinity Ward to condone that part of the community. I was not upset just because the word was used in a humor video; as I said above, I think it's possible for any word or phrase to be used in comedy if handled correctly. But this video's handling was not terribly funny, and more importantly, by Infinity Ward using that word in an "official" video, they were more or less giving the rogue elements of their community a thumbs up, a sort of "Yeah, we get that joke too! Keep it up!" I very much doubt that was Infinity Ward's intention, but with the way the joke was handled in the video, it was certainly how a lot of viewers and commenters on YouTube and other sites were interpreting it.
So with all of that in mind, I posted my opinion on Twitter: "F--S? Pussies? Seriously, Infinity Ward? This makes me want to not purchase MW2 way more than any other controversy." Later I posted a link to the Sarcastic Gamer write-up of the video as well, since that story's writer, Lono, is one of the least PC-concerned guys I know, and he still thought the video was a terrible idea. I spent a couple hours debating back and forth with some of my Twitter followers, and then I went to bed.
On Saturday evening, after Halloween festivities, I found out that the video had been pulled. Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling had replied to my concerns on Twitter: "I think it was more of a social commentary joke of that stereotype than it was a fist-bump of acceptance to it."
I responded: "I respect it if that's what you were going for, but it totally didn't come off as such." His next post was his decision to pull the video.
Here's an important point of distinction I'd like to make: While I stated my distaste for the video very clearly, and I was happy to hear Bowling's response, I did not once ask for the video to be taken down. That was a decision Bowling and Infinity Ward made entirely on their own. I have no interest in censoring people or telling them what they can or cannot say. I just also don't plan to censor myself when I have a negative opinion of something someone has said.
After the video was pulled, Destructoid and Kotaku posted write-ups wherein they pointed to me and my friend Mitchell Dyer as two of the primary voices that got the video taken down. We were singled out both for having clearly-stated opinions and because Bowling had responded to our tweets specifically. While both of these news posts were well-written and covered the topic well, it was a bit frustrating to realize that they didn't make it clear that I had not in any way asked for Infinity Ward to remove the video. This meant my Sunday was a flood of hate mail/hate-Tweets from people who seem to believe that I single-handedly crawled into the bowels of YouTube and removed the video myself.
An excellent post on The Brainy Gamer about the video sums up the situation from Infinity Ward's point of view: "Infinity Ward (owned by Activision) is plugging into a real and widespread cultural pushback occurring among young American men. It's cool at the moment to be an insensitive jerk. Empathy and understanding are out. Tough guys with smirks on their faces are in. Infinity Ward knows this because it's their business to know. " He's absolutely right. However that insensitive jerk thing isn't me, so if I'm being oversensitive just by stating my opinion, then so be it. I'd rather be honest about thinking something is stupid than hold back out of fear that some random Xbox Live idiots will be angry with me.
To his own credit, Robert Bowling provided the following explanation for the video in an e-mail to me:
"There is a production group that is working on a new series that is part live action and part taking place 'inside' Modern Warfare 2. The project, while containing Modern Warfare 2 assets and partially being created in-game for certain scenes, is actually unrelated to Infinity Ward or the game directly. Most importantly, this video was not intended as an official trailer or advertisement for the game, hence no branding, logos, or even mention of the game. A confusion I take blame for as it WAS posted on the Official Infinity Ward YouTube which made it seem that way. However, I endorsed the video via my Twitter and therefore endorse the content of the video, so any criticism justly rests on me for that and why I pulled the video."This specific clip, which isn't part of the upcoming series, but was more of a proof of concept for the in-game portion of the series that they sent over for us to check out. The premise was hilarious, Cole Hamels speaks out against random grenades, and how they're a cheap tactic. Something a lot of players in our community can appreciate. The concept was hilarious, which is why I decided to share it with our fans and community via Twitter. Regretfully, by doing so, it came off as an endorsement of derogatory statements which was not the intent of the video or my intentions in sharing it."
So I posted an opinion on a developer-endorsed video without expecting or necessarily wanting any action to be taken, that opinion was a minor part of the video being taken down, and then I got credited with it and a bunch of people think I demanded it get taken down. The web of social media becomes more intricate and difficult to unravel every day.
But despite the stream of vitriol from some people, I've also had some genuinely positive interactions come from all of this. Several people who disagree with my opinion on the video actually took the time to ask me about it instead of just hurling insults. I went back and forth with one cool guy on Twitter until we agreed to disagree but had come to a mutual respect for each other. Likewise, a Game Informer community member sent me a private message on the site and gave me the chance to explain my point of view rather than just writing me off. And, yes, my interactions with Robert Bowling both on and off Twitter have been very pleasant.
For as much confusion as modern-day technology-infused interactions can cause, there's clearly also a lot of room for real connection. If we can all step back from calling each other unnecessary names and spamming grenades for a moment, at least.
Closing note: For what it's worth, I am still planning to buy Modern Warfare 2. I've managed to mostly avoid spoilers for the game and look forward to experiencing it for myself. The online part? Eh...we'll see.
Thanks for being so clear and concise about this. I think it's important, and I think Bowling made a good decision to remove the video. It's this hateful element that keeps me from wanting to play online. I can accept that I'm terrible at competitive multiplayer, but there's a certain collection of words that I won't stand for, and they seem to be the ones that come out first on XBL.
After watching the video, I would say that they did a poor job of getting the commentary of their audience across. I definitely think that the word choices were poor, mainly because they did a bad job writing the thing. Honestly this game is too huge to get away with this. Everyone will play it. Its like Mario.
Phil, you should probably have done this as a news post. Interesting read. Just sayin'.
Now, my own personal views on the issue? Yes, stuff like this can be rather annoying. As a confident 16-year old male, I have enough arrogance to say that I am much more mature than most all males in my current grade. So to hear '***' be substituted for moron and 'gay' and 'retarded' be substituted for stupid as adjectives in lexicon around my school is rather discouraging. I almost wanna say, "Is it that hard to substitute those somewhat disparaging terms out and not use them out of context, if at all.?" However, that's not feasible. As noted on the Twitter feed of Arthur Gies (of Rebel FM fame), I noticed that someone said he came as an elitist Sanfran *** for having enough gall to point out such substitutions. It really is pretty sad to see that we have become that desensitized to such things because they've become so recognizable.
Infinity Ward didn't mean anything buy it, I'm sure of that. The problem lies not with them, but with their community where such things will be heard on a consistent basis come November 10. I do care, but at this point it really is just strange to point these things out because they're so common and it's weird that people like you or Arthur have to be ostracized for doing so.
This kind of "tomfoolery" and such stuff (that's me sounding like my father) is exactly what keeps me off of the Internet most of the time as of late and generally out of online communities. My opinions lie in the same ballpark as you Phil, but dude, we almost just have to give up. There's one reason why I refuse to read Internet comments and it's cause of things like this. It doesn't so much bother me as it does disappoint me that we've gotten to this point.
Oh wait, I was supposed to talk about the video? Damnit, hope at least some of what I said is valid though. :) Remember Internetz, people have opinionz.
Very good article.
I think IW didn't really mean it but they also didn't really revise it either, so it could have been avoided if it was looked over but still.
Loved the article and glad to hear people voice their opinions.
By Infinity Ward painting the picture that all games think and talk this way just pushes the medium back. This is the crap that ends up smeared all over main stream media and ends up as a political debate.
LOL!!!! the guy stuck with the grenades was like "OMG im gonna die!!!!"
I personally didn't see the big deal. Granted, its was derogatory remark, but words do evolve. The dictionary defines gay as: happy, homosexual, or stupid. And lets not forget that *** are cigarettes, and faggots are bundles of sticks. We live in a lewd and insensitive age, and people need to ignore it. I'm sure it wasn't meant as hate speech, and it was a joke. We should all move past it.
I agree with Steven Anderson; however, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and they found it offensive. We should all respect that
ignore this comment. read the amazing article. NOW.
My opinion: Look, these sorts of people exist. some of them thrive on this attention, and flipping out like this is only going to empower them. just ignore the homophobic morons and move on. We're better than that.
Censorship, GI? Really? It is clearly not used in a cruel or hateful manner. And you could have at least given me 4 **** to show the proper amount of letters.
Man, I suppose it's really hard to check your email without getting hate mail. I can't believe that those MW2 fanboys set you up like that! This is definitely more motivation for me NOT to try multiplayer. I was actually thinking about it for a bit, but after reading about how hasty the majority of the fans are to place blame, I think I'll pass.
It's a shame when the game's own community chases away potential newcomers. The same thing happened with ODST as well; the arrogant side of the fans often bashed those with good opinions, and so a good amount of people were shoo'd away from it. Don't believe me? Check the Xbox.com forums and then ask again. I can't recall the amount of rude fanboys that were there, but it was well over the amount who trolled for the heck of it.
Wow. I wish I'd had the presence of mind earlier today to say all of this.
@Steven -- I think the way our curse filter on the site currently works is that it automatically sets any curse words to three asterisks. Not sure if there's any plans to change that, but I had the problem crop up in my blog post too. :p
Very well written, you clarify your position and make some great points.
It's nice hearing what Bowling had to say about it, and how it wasn't really an official ad for the game. He's a good man to step up to the plate and take responsibility for endorsing it.
Hope you're feeling better.
Well written indeed. I wonder why such language was ever deemed commonplace and "acceptable" in online gaming. I don't hear it much since I don't play online too often, but I wonder why people feel the need to resort to put downs and racial/gender/sexual slurs while playing online.
I'm no saint; I cuss as much as the next guy, but I'll never intentionally try to put someone down. Perhaps the difference is because I play online occasionally just for fun, while many play competitively. Still, the competitive spirit and trying to maintain a sort of alpha status within a game community is no excuse for all the insults and slurs that get thrown out there.
That's part of the reason I don't play online much, I don't want to listen to that garbage, and I shouldn't have to sift through all the players in a given match to find out which ones I need to mute and which ones actually act in a fairly civil manner.
Good to see you take a stand Phil. I really believe its actions such as yours that will hold companies like Infinity Ward responsible for their momentary lack of judgment. It's one thing for those (one can only hope) few who choose to express their feelings in such an ignorant and belligerent manner. It's another when a company who develops and markets games for people, part of whom are in said group, helps perpetuate those types of negative connotations. The influence from such actions runs deep...
Great post Phil.
Honestly, I thought the concept of the video was great, and come to think about it. I didn't realize the acronym at all when I watched it, I was too busy laughing at the stickies that blew up Cole Hamels. I actually thought there was nothing wrong with it until I heard about the controversy and IW pulling it.
Good read on your opinion. Do I think the video was the worst thing IW could do? No, not at all. If you're just a regular gamer looking for a good laugh, I would watch it. But if you're going to turn it into a homophobia thing, then it's ridiculous. When people do that it is quite irritating.
Just going to throw it out there though, it may be possible IW threw this out there so people forgot about the other bits of controversy, I doubt it, but hey there is a chance of that.