End of the Year Awards

The Biggest Gaming Controversy of 2015

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Controversy is, unironically, a controversial topic. Without wanting to be cliché (he says and then proceeds to be cliché), the dictionary defines controversy  as a “prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention.” However, when someone utters the word controversy, the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is “argument” or even “fight.” It’s a negative word, a pejorative.

Video games have been filled with controversy over the years – this game causes violent behavior, that game’s a negative stereotype, women are underrepresented, this isn’t even a “game”…the list goes on and on. For my part, however, I think controversy is a good thing. Not in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that it gets us talking about our medium, hashing things out – sometimes as a community united, sometimes as a community divided – and otherwise propelling video games forward as a medium of art and entertainment.

For Biggest Controversy of 2015, we’re not necessarily looking at things that got us angry (though there will undoubtedly be plenty of that) or the shady things that someone or some company did (probably plenty of that too…), but also things that divided the community in a more civil way, things that got us talking or discussing. And in most cases, civil discussion is good.

But, y’know, there’ll be plenty of the other stuff to get angry about too. But remember, just because we nominate something and just because you may disagree with us (or someone in the comments may disagree with you) doesn’t mean we can’t get along. Be civil…and be sure to nominate your biggest gaming controversies of 2015 in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter (@Official_OnlySP).

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Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – I’ve said this a lot this month (and this probably won’t be the last time), but this has been a good year for gaming in general. We’ve had some indisputably great titles and, in general, very little to get angry about. But there have been a few things. The various terrible PC ports this year have created a rift between PC gamers, who feel cheated by developers putting so much time and effort into the console versions of their games while disregarding their own arguably much stronger platform, and console gamers, who are using those terrible ports as an excuse to call PC gaming inferior. And of course who can forget Konami’s reported treatment of their employees and even Hideo Kojima, one of their most luminary creators? I’m sure my colleagues will talk about those more in detail below.

I want to focus on something I see as a positive controversy, however: Kotaku’s revealing of the Bethesda and Ubisoft’s blacklist of their site. Now, whichever side you fall on this argument, I think there’s a fair point to be made. More importantly, however, it really has shined some light on video game journalism (hell, MSNBC picked up the story and interviewed Stephen Totilo about it) and made us think about what video games journalism should be. Are we entertainment journalists, here largely to hype up products for the consumer? Or are we here to smash open doors and shine a light on every aspect of the industry, whether developers want us to or not?

I know which side I fall on…but at the same time, as a mainstream journalist in my day job, I can see the other side quite clearly. On the one hand, we’re here to report on products for consumption. We’re here to tell you, the reader, what’s fun and what you should be looking forward to. And to do that, we need to have a good working relationship with developers and often times we fall prey to the same hype that we report on. And at the same time, the things we report on are products for consumption. Shouldn’t a company have a right to sell them and hype them however they want? Their marketing should be their business and sneaking information under the table to reveal projects ahead of their time is questionable.

But on the other hand, video games are a business…and any business has shady practices. We should never be afraid to give companies a black eye for doing something shady or unethical, for mistreating their employees or their customers, and, yes, for releasing an inferior or exploitative product. We shouldn’t be afraid to judge and review things fairly and we shouldn’t run the risk of getting a blacklist for a bad review or daring to question a company’s business practices.

My own, personal opinion is that Kotaku was not blacklisted for any of those reasons and may have gone a little too far with what they revealed (I personally think what they did in both cases in question is the worst kind of invasive paparazzi journalism)…but this is one of the best kinds of controversies: the kind that reasonable minds may disagree on.

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Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – For me the biggest controversy in video games has got to be the way Konami has done Hideo Kojima. It all started with Konami’s announced restructuring in March, an announcement that left many with the impression that they were getting out of the core game business completely. As the birthplace of Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Silent Hill, the news was almost as big as Sega’s exit from consoles in 2001. About the same time, rumors began to circulate that Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear, was leaving the company.

This was particularly surprising because Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was due out later in the year and a demo for Silent Hills, Silent Hill P.T. was released in August 2014. Silent Hills was being developed with Guillermo Del Toro and was to star The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus.

By April 2015, the word was out; Silent Hills had been cancelled and by the end of the month, the Silent Hill P.T. demo had been pulled from the PlayStation store.

Besides making sure Hideo Kojima’s name wasn’t on the cover of Metal Gear Solid V, Konami largely stayed out of the news. That was, until December 2015. At The Game Awards, Metal Gear Solid V was nominated for four different awards, and won two, including “Best Action/Adventure.” After the award was announced and accepted by Keifer Sutherland, the host, Geoff Knightley announced that Hideo Kojima was unfortunately not able to accept the award in person. Knightley went on to say that Konami had expressly forbidden the game creator from attending the awards show, and ignoring their demand would violate his existing employment contract with the company.

While we now know that Hideo Kojima is still with Konami, it really sounds like it might be better if he wasn’t.

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Andrea Giargiari, Feature Writer (@AndreaUtau) – The video game industry and its surrounding community always seems to have some controversy floating around. Video games are still fighting to be seen as a full and diverse medium rather than just a children’s pastime, and this causes a lot of friction in virtually every direction. Many of our controversies stem from growing pains as a result of this process, be it the struggle to create a more inclusive community or the fight to justify the industry’s value to older, more dismissive generations and smug politicians looking for a scapegoat. Sometimes, we create our own controversies when someone somewhere confuses journalistic integrity with, for example, corporate espionage. It is a strange and wondrous time to be a gamer.

The somewhat unfortunate thing about video game journalism is that, by its very nature, it is in many ways a form of third-party marketing for the products we report on. However, sometimes investigative journalism has a very important role to play. We’re talking about when a company’s secrecy goes beyond simply choosing when to reveal their next game; when the practices of a company become harmful to its workers, and by extension, to the community. By this measurement, the most important controversy of this year has been Konami’s employment practices, encompassing both the bizarre treatment of beloved developer Hideo Kojima, as well as the rumors of a straight-up Orwellian work environment reported on by Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei). It must be made abundantly clear to Konami that the oppressive treatment of their employees is not a game to us, and so long as the consumers are united, we can make or break them. And for once, the gaming community seems pretty damn united.

It is precisely how we as a community react to and ultimately handle these conflicts that will make or break the legitimacy of the industry in the eyes of the world around us. We as journalists, as well as the community as a whole, need to decide which causes we will focus our energy toward wisely and maturely, because the rest of the world is far too eager to dismiss us as children should we give them the opportunity to.

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Kayvon Ghoreshi, News Writer (@kayvonghoreshi) – For me, the biggest controversy of the year is one that is still going on. Earlier this year, SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, was given the authority to strike by 96% of video game voice actors in the hopes of getting a better contract. The main benefits the actors are seeking are royalties for games that are successful (sell over 2 million copies), stunt pay for “vocally stressful recording sessions,” stunt coordinators for motion capture, and more transparency about what projects they are working on. While there is still no strike as the union hopes to negotiate with developers, it is still a real possibility if an agreement is not reached soon.

This created an interesting discussion among the community about the role of voice actors in video games. Some people felt that games have gotten to a point where big name voice actors are just like big name film actors and deserve to share in the success of the game. Others felt that their role was not as important and that asking for royalties was a bit of an overreach considering developers and programmers, who arguably contribute more to the success of a game, generally don’t receive any.

I don’t have a particular stance on what voice actors do and do not deserve, but I do know that I’d much rather live in a world where my favorite games have characters voiced by people like Nolan North, Troy Baker, and other people who are great at what they do. Going into 2016, this is a controversy worth keeping an eye on, especially if a new bargaining agreement fails to come to fruition.

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Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – Not to jump in on the Konami hate train, but I don’t think any controversy has been bigger than the Kojima/Konami fiasco that has occurred this year. I won’t go into heavy detail like my colleagues above have, but when something like that gets called out during the middle of The Video Game Awards, I’d say that’s pretty big. We still don’t know all the details behind the feud, but it’s really amazing to see a company pretty much trash the guy that made them what they are today.

Maybe on the other side of the world they’re a lot more popular, but here in the West, most people wouldn’t have any idea what games Konami put out if it wasn’t for the Metal Gear Solid series.

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Gareth Newnham, News and Reviews Writer – This year has had its fair share of controversy, from Nintendo revealing that were going to release mobile games, to Rise of the Tomb Raider’s timed exclusivity. There was plenty in 2015 that made me scratch my head and thrust my palm firmly against my face.

For me though this year’s biggest controversy wasn’t Konami treating Kojima awfully, considering Konami’s track record for completely disrespecting any creative talent ever associated with them. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

Neither was it Kotaku throwing a temper tantrum because they flunked game’s journalism 101 and two pubs decided they were going to hold the site to account in the same way they would any other. Still not my favourite talking point of the year either. Like Konami, Kotaku, and their parent company Gawker have a long history of getting caught doing unethical or simply stupid things, and trying to use the fact that they’re supposed to be the press as some kind of magic shield. This, like Konami acting exactly in a manner that they’re notorious for, didn’t strike me as that controversial so much as simply depressing.

For me, the most controversial thing that happened this year was Peter Dinklage being replaced by Nolan North in Destiny. It wasn’t so much the act but what it represents in the grander scheme of things that left me a little unsettled. You see, thanks to Destiny’s online-only nature, Dinklebot has been completely scrubbed from the game. There simply is no way to play the game Dinklage’s dulcet tones anymore. We’re all stuck listening to North’s obnoxiously chipper C3PO impersonation.

It’s unsettling to me because it means we now live in an age, gaming wise where we can’t be certain that a part of a game will remain the same. This is a double edged sword, Sometimes things are improved, like Destiny’s leveling system. Other times, they’re not. I personally don’t like North’s performance. It does show you the power of voice acting though, and how that can impact characters that otherwise show no real emotion or range. Ghost was a blank slate. While Dinklage’s take on ghost was as a fed up guardian, that sarcastic tone and terse nature gave the character the air of a fed up servant, North’s take was completely different, as I said turning ghost into something far more chipper, and happy, and bloody annoying.

But the fact remains that the relationship between your Guardian and Ghost has been forever altered, the way those two characters function together has been retconned in under a year, and it makes you wonder what else could be changed as a result of the whims of fans, or other external forces.  As gaming begins to strive for maturity and to be seen as a serious narrative form, it troubles me that such an intimate part of the experience, and with it the way the story was told, has been altered through a combination of fan pressure and time constraints. Though I don’t blame Bungie for doing what they did, calling in one of gaming’s most prominent voice actors to replace a somewhat controversial performance in the first place was not a bad call per se, but like EA changing the ending of Mass Effect 3, it does undermine the artistic integrity of the medium.

 

Reid Gacke
Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

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