Self-censorship and the Cultural Edge

Players picking up new games will have certain expectations of the content.

By drifting into niches and tabu subjects, game studios run the risk of loosing players, either because the players might not be old enough to handle the content (heavy violence or sexual themes) or because certain groups of society simply finds the content offensive (religious themes).

Tom Edwards talks of the Cultural Edge.[1]

“The tipping point at which a content element stretches the limits of the game’s intent and overall context.” – Tom Edwards

Once a game in production faces an issue of something that has a risk (or potential) to be pushing the cultural edge, Edwards says there are 4 elements to consider. Context (how this element is shown in the game), discoverability (how likely is it for the player to stumble upon this element), defensibility (can you defend your decision to include this element?), and intent (the player’s perception of your decision to include the element).
In other words, from a business point of view, there is a formula for the game designer to decide wether or not the offensive content is worth the risk of loosing peers, and thus sales.

zelda_firetemple
Zelda Ocarina of Time (1998) offended it’s many Muslim players by playing a soundtrack over a chanting from the Quran, which is very disrespectful to followers of Islam [2]
An important factor in this to consider, is the target audience of the specific game. Many games, either because of genre(last weeks post) or storyline, specifically choose more explicit content, because they know there is a market for it.
Similarly, indie game studios has the freedom to take more risks because of the lower cost and the lack of content-control from above. As a result, we often see indie games explore elements AAA studios wouldn’t necessarily risk, and personally I find this leaves indie games as some of the most interesting to play.

Clearly, this form of “censorship” isn’t a question of free speech, since it happens willingly from the studios for the sake of business.
A more interesting question is if the game industry is limiting it’s own progression by not taking risks in writing and developing. How can the media evolve and grow, if only few people are willing to explore unknown territory? And isn’t it curious how the people with the most resources and specialised team-members are the people playing it safe?

 

References:

  1. Edwards, Tom (2006) Navigating the Cultural Edge of Game Content, MultiLingual p29-31
  2. The Game Theorists (January 2014), Game Exchange – Why Zelda Ocarina of Time offended Muslims. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59LHQ1bKS-M
  3. picture1: Zelda Ocarina of Time, Fire Dungeon. Online: http://www.zeldadungeon.net/ocarina-of-time-walkthrough/fire-temple/
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