PAX East 2012 – Borders, Bigotry, and Body Dumps: International Videogame Controversies

As videogames become an international hobby, games are increasingly running into problems of representation and localization.  FPS games like Call of Duty and Call of Juarez: The Cartel increasingly use international conflicts as their backdrop, igniting controversy in the countries they portray as well as raising questions about the portrayal of foreign people and the nature of conflict in digital space.  This panel will explore the more worrisome aspects of this trend, look at how overseas game developers have responded, and discuss possible solutions the industry can use going forward.

Find out why the Arab world loves Assassin’s Creed and Civilization, why Mexico banned GRAW 2, why The Red Cross thinks you’re a war criminal, and what hot new game the Hezbollah militants are playing.

Panelists: James Portnow [Game Designer, Website], Elisa Melendez [Voice Actor/Musician, Website], Steve Watts [Associate Editor, Twitter], Robert Rath [Novelist & Screenwiter, Twitter]

Source: Robert Rath

Editor’s Note: We were able to recover the reading list from an archive and are including it below for additional information.

Representing Foreign Conflicts in Games

Ghosts of Juarez — My own article exploring the Mexican government’s reaction to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and anticipating the fallout from Call of Juarez: The Cartel.

Extra Credits: Call of Juarez: The Cartel — The Extra Credits episode I essentially wheedled/nagged/coerced James Portnow into making on the subject.  A well-done video on what’s wrong with the game, filled with quiet rage.

Guardian Article on The Castro Assassination Mission in CoD: Black Ops — Contains quotes from the Cuban government, including the best quote in the history of videogame controversies: “What the United States government did not achieve in more than 50 years, it now tries to do virtually.”

Red Cross Report on War Crimes in Videogames

You’re a War Criminal — This article by Steve Watts not only won him a spot on “Borders, Bigotry and Body Dumps,” but is the most clear-eyed discussion of the topic I’ve found anywhere.

Representation of Foreign People in Games

Muslims in My Monitor — Writer Saladin Ahmed discusses representation of Muslims in games.  Saladin is also the author of Throne of the Crescent Moon, which I cited on the panel as an example of someone taking active part in re-framing a problematic representation of a group of people (in this case, Middle Eastern people in Fantasy).

Dangerous games people play — an opinion piece from the UAE about Middle Eastern stereotypes in games and media.

(Also see the EC episodes on Race in Games and Call of Juarez, linked above and below.)

Game Development Outside of North America, Europe, and Japan

Is the Arab World the next hot spot for gaming? — Excellent article about gaming in Yemen, and references the development of Unearthed: The Trail of Ibn Battuta.  The Reuters article it was sourced from is worth a read, and can be found here.

Argentina’s video gamers take on the world — CNN article about game development in Argentina which quotes our own panelist, James Portnow.

Hezbollah video game: War with Israel — A good example of an unhelpful response to these issues, this CNN article is about the Hezbollah propaganda game Special Force 2: The Truthful Pledge.


Extra Credits: Race in Games — The EC team tackles the difficult subject of how better to represent people in games.

A Renaissance Scholar Helps Build Virtual Rome — A profile of Italian historian Marcello Simonetta, who consulted on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

The Hotel Oasis/Burj Al Arab Video

The Hotel Oasis in Modern Warfare 3 — featured as Makarov’s hideout in the mission “Ashes to Ashes” — displays a striking resemblance to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.  It is my suspicion that the word “Dubai” is not used in the pre-mission briefing or during the mission in order to avoid the game being banned in the UAE — which is a U.S. ally in the War on Terror and prides itself on having opulent, modern buildings like the Burj Al Arab.

Situations like this will become increasingly common as videogames draw on the real world in their search for “realism.”

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