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Watch out! The racist zombies are coming!

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: Last week we discussed some comments that were recently made by Strauss Zelnick in the wake of Mafia 3’s less than impressive reception. While it’s remiss to recognise that some games can raise the bar when it comes to themes, stories and characters, the combination of the three can become irrelevant if the game is sold in a state that makes experiencing them impossible, if not extremely difficult. This week I wanted to continue down this topic of ‘damage control’ but by focusing on something different that was said (but not really said) by Xbox.

With the festive season fast-approaching, Xbox sent a Dead Rising 4-themed email with the subject line, “NNNNGGHHHAAAA” – you know, the sound a zombie would make as it slowly creeps forward, eagerly anticipating your delicious brains. For some though, it wasn’t quite as innocent, suggesting instead that it sounded like a racial slur. As soon as this backlash started to arise, Xbox was forced to apologise, with Major Nelson releasing a tweet, “Today we sent a DR4 email where a zombie roar was interpreted by many as a racial slur. We apologise and promise to do better next time.”

To kick things off this week I wanted to get your thoughts on the above. What did you think about the original email, the backlash and then the response from Microsoft?

Andy: OK, the world has officially gone stupid. That’s my response. Really I can’t say it any better than that. I mean, I can say it in more words and everything, but that will be the gist of what I say. I guess the zombies on ‘The Walking Dead’ are a bunch of racist bigots then right? I mean if someone who is deaf sees the closed caption of what’s going on that’s all they are going to see right? A bunch of racial slurs thrown around by a bunch of dead people. Because that’s the lesson here, forget about the crazy brutality of Dead Rising. Forget about the fact that you make mini weapons of mass destruction and dismember thousands of zombies in the goriest fashion. Let’s instead focus on four letters, that don’t even make a word. Let’s look under every corner we can to try and be offended by something.

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To me this isn’t just about a video game company, this is about the direction the world is going and it’s getting ridiculous. Pretty soon we are all going to be walking around in bubble wrap with headphones that filter out all the “bad words” and just let us know how good we are. It’s like how every youth sports team in a tournament gets a trophy just for showing up. The real world doesn’t work that way. The world doesn’t stop, nor should it stop, when someone says something that hurt your feelings or you took the wrong way and got offended. You don’t deserve an apology from everyone who you think slighted you. The world, and any company in the world, doesn’t owe you anything. If you are “offended” by something move on, scroll past it, ignore it, delete it and don’t do business with the company. There are so many other options than trying to be the big social justice warrior and fight for the little guy.

There are two things that irritate me the most about this. One, people are trying way, way too hard to be offended by things. Literally, every, single, thing that happens now someone, somewhere is offended by it. Just stop it. Second, why is it that every time something like this happens, there is a mob of people who are pseudo-offended, there are also people who demand compensation? Literally, they demand stuff for free because they were in the group that was of so deeply offended. Case in point there were people saying that Microsoft should give them a copy of Dead Rising 4 as an apology because of how hurt they were by the email. Talk about hypocrisy at its finest.

If you were one of those that was truly offended by the email, go to this YouTube video of sound effects and tell me how you would spell the sound at the six second mark. I’m no linguist but that’s damn close to how I would spell it. I’m pumping the brakes on my little soap box moment here. Before I go full on rant, let me toss this back to you. What’s your take on this whole thing? Is it another internet moment where it’s much ado about nothing? Or is it possible that the people who were offended have a legitimate gripe?

Nicholas: What I love about this whole situation is that the group complaining kind-of have a point. What I mean is, yes, that subject line is literally one letter away from spelling a racial slur. What I also love about this whole situation though is that there were people who were, I don’t know, bored perhaps, to see that email, put two and two together and raise a legitimate complaint that resulted in one of the company’s most popular figureheads issuing an apology. When I say “love” I really mean that it boggles my mind.

For me, and I’ll put this to you for comment as well, the entire situation doesn’t so much raise the question on whether the email was offensive or in poor taste, but it makes me wonder about those people who went out of their way to make this a deal. We’re talking about onomatopoeia surrounding zombies in a video game, and somehow people have been successful in turning it into a racial issue. I’m not sure whether it’s amazing, idiotic or a combination of the two, but it’s definitely one of them.

So to answer your questions, yes, it’s 100% a case of creating mountains out of molehills. I know it’s easy for someone to play the “you’re just a pair of white males” card and suggest we can’t comment, but really, to suggest that Xbox have inadvertently spread racial slur or that it should cause offense is so absurd. I understand it’s not on others to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be offended by, but come-on, those who are, are clearly looking for an excuse.

The point you’ve raised about people asking for compensation (a new game, no less) is an interesting one, but before I touch on it I wanted to flip back to you. Firstly, what do you think of what I’ve said above, and secondly, what do you think is the true motivation behind this ‘outrage’ to begin with, specifically asking you to pay attention to my first sentence of this paragraph.

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Andy: That’s a great question especially in today’s day and age. I tossed it around in my head and came up with an answer. I’ll actually quote Heath Ledger’s Joker, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” I really truly can’t think of any other reason why so many people have become self-proclaimed “social justice warriors” and make mountains out of nothing. I mean that’s really what the majority of these issues amount to. Creating artificial controversies, and making sure as many people as possible know how wrong the company is for creating such a hateful display or marketing, insensitive comments, or any number of things that can cause grave harm to those who may not be in their safe place and are triggered by such hurtful things.

But why stop there? I mean both Sony and Microsoft are clearly racist too. They both started off with overpriced black consoles then the moved to white consoles. That’s pretty racist isn’t it? Minecraft, even though it’s a best seller, discriminates against curves. Curves are shapes too, they have feelings just like squares do. Heck, curves have been discriminated against all the way back to Tetris! Let’s not stop there, what about the chickens. Think about the number of chickens that are kicked, shot, tossed, burned and whatever else you can think of in game. That’s animal cruelty isn’t it? Even virtual chickens need to be treated fairly.

I remember when I was a kid my grandma told me the age old adage of, “pick your battles wisely”. You don’t need to run around trying to put out every little fire every time. There are things out there that just don’t need energy to be thrown at them because they aren’t a big deal. That lesson seems to be lost on many people right now. But the sheer amount of hypocrisy amazes me. What I mean is the very people who are offended by a noise a zombie makes have no qualms about bashing that zombies face in. They have no problem about shooting someone in the face, stealing a car, robbing a bank or any other number of things we do in video games. In this day and age we are so overly politically correct we have neutered creative marketing because we don’t want to offend anyone. I remember the little pushback there was from a Kmart ad a couple years ago. A very small group complained, but there was an outpouring of people who thought it was hilarious.

What do you think about the hypocrisy in this whole thing though? How can people be completely OK with doing those things in the game, but then turn around and be offended by a jumble of letters? How can people be so offended by marketing approaches, but yet Cards Against Humanity can sell boatloads of decks and boosters? It’s just mind boggling stupid that I don’t even have any more words to describe it.

Nicholas: See, you mentioned that some people just want to see the world burn, but I don’t think that’s exactly right. There are people out there who want to cause havoc for the purpose of wreaking havoc. They’re your usual trolls who will make a comment just to insight a response and just to see what happens. Those aren’t the people I think we’re speaking about this week. Instead, what I feel we have are people who do feel like they’re discriminated or oppressed, or who genuinely feel like they’re duty is to protect those who are. That said, here’s the rub – they only do it because they’ve never allowed people to challenge them.

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What I’m referring to is this. Those people who tweeted (because who doesn’t love a good dose of slacktivism) to Xbox that they were guilty of sending out a racial slur probably told their friends and they got a nice round of applause for it. They got a few retweets, a few likes and a good comments about how they’re really standing up against the clear social injustice. But that’s just it, no-one probably argued against it because they either choose to ignore it or they actively mute it out. The kind of person who goes out of their way to complain publically about a racial slur in an email (which, let’s remind ourselves, wasn’t one) probably hasn’t been told by their best friend to calm down and focus their attention elsewhere. I think this is the reason we have this apparent issue with ‘social justice warriors’ now because there’s no dialogue – it’s just groups reaffirming what they believe with no chance for retort.

For me, this is the bigger issue than the blatant hypocrisy that you mentioned. Absolutely, it makes no sense that someone would be fine with grotesque violence yet they’d be up in arms because they decided to play word-shuffle and turn a sound into something racist. I do love that you mentioned Cards Against Humanity. For me, it comes across as the game people use as an excuse to make ‘offensive jokes’ because they spent their time online painting a perfect picture of themselves.

I wanted to get your opinions though of what I’ve just said. No doubt there’s hypocrisy with these groups online, but do you think the bigger problem is that there’s no challenging of thoughts when someone says something stupid and nonsensical? If so, why has this been allowed to happen?

Andy: Man, as much as it pains me to say this, there is definitely some truth to that. It probably started with a trickle and has slowly morphed into what it is today. I wish I could pinpoint when it started to happen, but I can’t. My guess is though it started with something trivial, pretty much like this latest Dead Rising example. Where a company released an ad, a tweet or made some comment in an interview and someone – somewhere was offended by it and shit their pants trying to make a stink over it. Whichever company was responsible probably thought about upsetting a few customers and that it would be easier to apologize, admit that the statement could have been offensive to someone, somewhere and called it a day.

Once people see the success of “standing up to the man” it starts to apply to every situation. Then more and more people jump on board and now you have the social justice warriors who think everything has to be overly politically correct and to hell with anyone who thinks differently. That’s the problem though, that group who seeks out everything that could be construed as offensive (and let’s be honest, things that shouldn’t be construed as offensive) doesn’t take into account anyone else.  It’s all about them, all the time. If they can somehow find it offensive then that’s all that matters. The company who they are going after is big and evil and should know better. The company should pay for sensitivity training for its employees, donate thousands of dollars to some charity or another, compensate those who were so hurt by it and publicly admit they were wrong.

I want to be perfectly clear here, I am not talking about colossal errors in judgment where a company does something that the vast majority of people find offensive. I’m talking about those instances where an extremely small group of people work overtime to try and spin something so it’s offensive to them. Those people need to find something better to do with their time. Get out from behind the keyboard and go outside. Stop scrolling through Twitter to see if they can be offended. I still remember as a kid and mom telling me, “sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” What the hell happened to that saying? It seems like people’s problem-solving skills have deteriorated so much that their only solution is to kick and scream and throw a temper tantrum until someone tells them it’s OK. The problem with that is just like you said, no one challenges them so they will always get their way.

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This isn’t an American issue, nor is it an Australian issue, this is going on everywhere. I don’t think we need to talk about how we got to this point because we are already this deep in it. So my question to you is how to we get it back closer to the middle where we can still be respectful, but where marketers can still have their fun and show off their creativity? Is it as simple as having a counter-group that when the other group cries offensive the other group comes in and tells them why it’s not? Even then we are getting back to the classic schoolyard type of behaviour. So where do we go from here?

Nicholas: It ultimately depends on one thing – money. If we look at the two examples we’ve spoken about so far, Xbox and Target, the reason for the company to apologise is most likely driven by the impact their actions have on their sales. The entire point of these marketing plans is to generate buzz and interest in their products, but if things go awry and have the potential to hurt those sales, then they’re in a situation where they need to ‘apologise’. It’s not because the company necessarily believed in it, but because to not do so would do the very opposite of what the advertisement was intended for in the first place.

The only way this culture (might) change is if enough companies decide to not care about the impact to sales and stick by their guns. I remember that Play-Asia, an online gaming store made some questionable tweets a while back, and despite the uproar they didn’t apologise and kept by it. Some people left and some people stayed, but impact on sales aside, they didn’t care. It’s this sort of mentality that companies and groups should adopt if we genuinely want to see change. In the case of Xbox, there shouldn’t have been an apology. There’s no harm in Xbox acknowledging that some people put two and two together to come to an incorrect conclusion, but to say that they “will do better” admits fault when there shouldn’t be. They’ve made themselves guilty of a crime they didn’t commit.

In your opinion, are companies forced into a corner when situations like this arise? As much as people like you and I hate seeing corporations cower to the absurd demands of a few, when they’re in it for profit and any negative press can lead to a loss of sales (particularly as we approach the festive season), can we blame them for reacting as they do? When I talk about more companies taking a stand and not pandering to these groups, is it just not possible when so much could be on the line?

As we wrap this week’s article up, how would you like to see these organisations respond? Is it taking that small step and not apologising and seeing if it catches on, or like you’ve said, are we simply in too deep? Is there just a possibility that this current internet culture is the latest fad, and we’ll see it be a footnote in the history books in a few years’ time?

Andy: Whew, you touched on a bunch of stuff there. Let me see if I can reply to most of it and make sense doing so. I love your statement about Xbox shouldn’t have apologized because they have essentially made themselves guilty off the hop by saying that. That’s a great way of putting it and I think more companies need to be aware of that mantra and start to take a stand against it. You also talked about companies essentially being behind the 8-ball in that if they don’t apologize and admit wrong they would lose sales. That begs the question, are those people who are complaining about this email… are they people that would have legitimately bought Dead Rising 4 in the first place? My guess is, not a chance. I’m guessing that the people that complained about it, who were so deeply offended by a string of innocuous letters, are not the target audience of the game in the first place.

In order for things to change, sooner rather than later, I think two things need to happen. First, the people who aren’t offended by every little thing need to voice their opinion more. When the vocal minority exalt these grave injustices, the silent majority need to give voice to the reasons it’s not offensive. Not a mean or insulting way, but checking off the reality boxes and saying why it’s not. Explain how the other group is twisting things and move on. Let the companies who are being attacked know that there is more than one voice in this. Secondly, the companies that are being backed into a corner need to pull a page out of Play-Asia’s handbook and just say “You know what, we are standing behind this.” End of story, it’s not a discussion. Just matter of fact and move on.

You closed out your response with something I want to take a little further. You talked about this being a fad and will it be gone in a few years’ time. That I’m not sure about, but one thing I am sure about is, it doesn’t matter if it’s gone in a years’ time, two years or even five years. Because we are currently in a society of victims. Many people want to be offended, sickened, disgusted, or hurt by any number of things. What that means is last week it was an email from Microsoft, this week there will be a new target, and the week after that, and the week after that. Meaning, a company really doesn’t have to be on the defensive long. They just have to wait until another company does the next horrendously offensive thing. The social justice warriors have ADHD and cannot focus their scorn on one thing for too long. So in that sense, I do think it will be erased from our minds and from public scorn. It will just be replaced by something else, and then something else after that. Sooner or later people will realize that the world, shockingly enough, does not revolve around them and that there are a whole lot of people in the world that don’t give a damn about what you think. Funny how that works isn’t it?

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.