Rant: Square Enix’s Removed Hitman App Hints at Larger Problems at Publisher

hitman app

It’s been an odd year for gaming in terms of the role of “good taste,” as well as the role of women in the medium. While there’s still plenty of room to grow in each regard, the good news is that now more than ever bad behavior is being called out, and change is slowly coming to a medium that’s had to grow up a lot more quickly than others in the past. And so that brings us to today’s latest crime against good taste and equality: Square Enix’s Hitman-themed Facebook app.

According to a post on Joystiq, Square Enix launched the app to promote Hitman Absolution, and allowed Facebook users to “target” their friends using pre-written identifiers, putting a “hit” out on them for various pre-written reasons. What pre-written identifiers? Things like “her small tits,” “her muffin top,” his or her “ginger hair,” or “his small penis,” to name a few. Ho-ho! How hilarious. Small tits and muffin tops—yup, that’s how you identify someone you want to kill! Great job, Square Enix. An excellent example of mature and creative thinking.

The app was designed to only send “hit” messages to friends of those using the app, so it’s not like you could, say, send one of these videos to strangers. But the outcry against the app was loud enough that Square Enix had the good sense to pull the plug shortly after its launch today.

The company issued the following statement to explain what happened, taking responsibility for the botched app:

“Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends. Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends. We were wide of the mark with the app and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we’ve now done. We’re sorry for any offence caused by this.”

Missed the mark—yup. Now, if this were an isolated incident, that’d be one thing. Marketing people screw up, ideas grow out of hand, tastes are hard to determine…there are lots of things that can go wrong and lead to a boneheaded move like this. But this is far from the first time we’ve heard of Square Enix pushing the boundaries of objectionable content or ideas. Excuse me while I get back up on my soapbox…

Earlier this year, the head of Crystal Dynamics—developer of the Square Enix-published Tomb Raider game—put his foot right in his mouth when it came to explaining how gamers would come to identify with the rebooted version of Lara Croft. Apparently this would be accomplished through an “attempted rape” scene in the game. Then there was the infamous “nun-trailer” for Hitman: Absolution itself. Apparently the outcry against the game’s trailer was so loud that the level it was based on was actually altered.

I understand that it’s good to push the envelope, and sometimes it’s great fun to offend and try to test the limits of good taste. But at a certain point, you have to stop and really consider what you’re doing and why. Yes, the Hitman series is based on killing people, so it’s not exactly a family-friendly franchise to begin with. But you would think that the growing list of incidents from this year alone would be enough to make the PR people at Square Enix start to slow their roll a little when it comes to what they’re putting in their games, and how they’re promoting them.

Let me just say for the record: this is all my opinion, not necessarily that of anyone else. I’ve said my piece. Now you say yours. What do you think of this latest “controversy”? Is it enough to get up in arms about? Or should people (like me) just calm down and remember, “it’s just a game”?

Via Joystiq

  1. I don’t really get the outcry against the Hitman trailer, especially given how brutal Hitman is as a series. If dudes can have their faces wrecked on screen, why can’t women? I guess for it to be totally equal Agent 47 would have to be fighting in a banana hammock but that negative reaction to violence against women feels like a double standard. Violence against anyone is bad, so why is it OK to enjoy it if it’s only man on man?

    As far as this Facebook campaign — terrible, terrible idea. Cyberbullying is even a hot topic today too, who thought this was a good idea?

    • I agree with you that the “nun trailer” thing was overblown to a certain extent, but I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t see where critics were coming from. It sends up some red flags, but it pushes the envelope, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.

      However, now speaking contextually, the nun trailer combined with the Tomb Raider thing, and now this, reveals a company that seems very out of touch, and very wrong-headed in the way they’re approaching consumers in this media. It’s making waves, it’s turning heads, but it’s also lowering the conversation. The three incidents combined, to me, show that Square Enix may need to have a serious re-evaluation of what they do, how they do it, and who they’re trying to speak to with all of this.

    • In agreement with Lawrence on this one, regarding the nun trailer specifically. I couldn’t understand the outrage over the Nun trailer, especially since it wasn’t anything close to pushing the limits of what we’ve seen in this industry’s cultural boundaries. We’re all about pushing gender equality these days, why is this a topic of such heated debate?

      As for the Facebook app, I understand how it could have been a neat marketing/supplemental experience to keep people locked into the game, but the “recognizable by” attribute sections are way off course. People seemed heavily focused on pointing out JUST the offensive women-focused comments, but since they decided to create offensive comments for both genders, I’m ok with hating it as a whole.

      Here’s to hoping Square Enix learns from this experience. I’m a little more inclined to be easy on them, given that since the industry’s standards tend to blur and change, but it’s certainly an experience that’ll snap you back into reality. At least I hope so, for SE’s sake.

    • It’s not necessarily 47′s treatment of the women so much as their presentation – the women are dressed in super-revealing, creepily fetishized nun costumes. It’s almost as though the women existed solely to simultaneously fulfill some bizarre fantasy of violence and sex. The mix of sexuality and brutality – combined with the almost BDSM themed costumes – all contributed into creating a picture of sexual violence that I know many of my female friends were deeply disturbed by.

      That said, I really love Hitman: Absolution and I thought the way they handled the nuns was much better – still creepy, but they were at least placed in a position of leadership and cruelty wherein their murder would be justified for the sake of the plot.

  2. If half the people that bitch about all this type of crap would invest their efforts into a REAL issue the world would be a 1% better place.

    • Yeah, lord knows that a popular culture saturated with violence against women isn’t a REAL issue… *megafacepalm*

      • …or cyberbullying, for that matter.

      • It isn’t a REAL issue though, sure it’s a popular culture but it isn’t saturated with violence against women. Know why? Because these are VIDEO GAMES, it’s not real, video games are and have always been a place where the laws of morality and physics are cast asside to make way for anything you can immagine, so they are entertaining and fun. It doesn’t matter how much they negatively portray a woman in a video game because it has NO NEGATIVE AFFECT ON REAL WOMEN. A woman has never been killed, raped, or beaten because of something that happened in a game, PERIOD. Sure, maybe there are better ways some of these things could have been portrayed in games, but at the end of the day its still just a harmless game. Anyone that gets offended or mad or whatever is just immature, it time they realise the world keeps spinning and it’s not orbiting around them. You don’t see PETA bitching at Farcry 3 because you can blow up fiddler crabs with IEDs. *M M M M MONSTER FACEPALM*

      • Esmeralda Portillo

        “You don’t see PETA bitching at Farcry 3 because you can blow up fiddler crabs with IEDs.” Not Far Cry, but PETA did get mad at Pokemon:

        http://features.peta.org/pokemon-black-and-white-parody/

        The main argument against this Hitman FB campaign is the form of cyber bullying Square Enix was okay with, all in the name of their game because, like you, they saw it as just a game. For the LOLZ. Just because “video games are not real” doesn’t mean that certain prospects of video games and the culture itself shouldn’t be addressed. There are reasons certain traits are prominent in games, having to do with stereotypes and society misconceptions. It goes much deeper than, “it’s just a game!”, and if you don’t see that, then you’re not seeing the underlying concerns.

      • Alright, I understand what you guys are saying about “if we don’t address the issue then we are basically saying its okay to continue doing these things.” But I still can’t understand some of the reactions you see too it so often, it seems like people sometimes take it way to far like the game reached out and raped them or something. Even when I put myself in the place of the “victim” it just doesn’t bother me. I mean, I’ve never been a girl, or a ginger, or a nun, but if it was a 22 year old white male in those positions I still wouldn’t care. Maybe thats just who I am, I don’t really get offended by much so it’s hard for me to see it from the perspective of the offended. I will say though, I respect that there are many people out there that care enough about the matters to take the time to try and make a difference, because apathy and indifference will never change anything. I mean no disrespect to anyone here, keep fightin the good fight.

      • It’s important to take a hard look at the messages and ideas transmitted by our major forms of media, be it a movie, a TV show, a song, or a video game. Being offended can sure seem like a waste of time, especially since it rarely goes beyond that. But the more content-creators hear that what they’re doing or saying in their chosen form of media is reinforcing values or ideas that we, as a culture, decide are harmful, that’s a win.

        Sure, when I play GTAIII and murder people left and right, I’m taking out my frustrations in a safe space. That’s fine. But at the same time, it’s not being marketed as “Frustration relieving murder-simulator.” It’s a game that’s out in the culture, supposedly a reflection or commentary on our society. One of the great things about Rockstar’s games is that they’re growing more sophisticated in the way that it critiques certain aspects of our culture, and the ways they parody or comment on popular forms of entertainment (crime movies, westerns, or video games themselves).

        But ignoring content that either explicitly or implicitly reinforces stereotypes as a matter of course–like the idea that women should be targeted for death because of “ginger hair,” or “muffin tops,” or, God forbid, “small tits”–then we’re implicitly condoning those kinds of ideas, and saying that we accept them, whether we come out and say that or not.

        To wrap up, if we as gamers want to be taken seriously–if we want games to be regarded as just as legitimate as film or even fine arts–we need to make sure we DISCUSS what this all means. I’m not even saying that there isn’t room for games like Hitman or GTA. There’s room for everything in this medium and this industry. But ignoring content that raises questions does everyone who loves the medium a disservice. It makes us look uncritical, unintelligent, and ignorant. We need to shine a light on what we do and figure out what it means. We’re long past the days of saying, “it’s just a game, who cares.”

      • Well, you say that, but you have to keep in mind that people continue to rape and beat women because behaviour is necessarily a product of upbringing and culture. As well-intentioned it is to hope that people stop fixating on “harmless games”, cultural ailments continue to exist because their culture entitles them to – and the only way to truly get rid of those ailments is to correct all walks of culture. Video games are a part of a media culture wherein the portrayal of violence against and abuse of women goes largely unspoken against – how can women possibly feel secure in this kind of subculture?

  3. I wonder why the atrocious garbage Hollywood has been putting out recently isn’t getting this much trouble… “J. I. Jane” had an entire scene dedicated to beating the crap out of Demi Moore. The gaming community (NOT THE DEVS OR PUBS) needs to grow up. If this is too much to ask, then take your rants to the music/movie industries as well. Christ…

    • So your argument is: if we don’t complain about movies doing this, we shouldn’t complain about video games? That’s silly, and also untrue, as I’m sure there was/still are outcries for many incidents like this in that industry but you didn’t hear about it because you’re either not as involved in those communities or the communities themselves are not as vocal (and as easy to access) than video game media. Also, the fact that this is an issue that was addressed means that the gaming community IS growing up. The Hitman app was childish.

      • First, hell yes. The App they released was messed up, even by Hollywood standards. I don’t know how anyone at SE thought that was a good idea. Second, I know there are worse complains in the movie industry. However, I think that the video game industry is too strict. Rape in Tomb Raider?! The prick was being an a**, but there wasn’t any rape scene. The nun issue with Hitman? THEY WERE ASSASSINS! In a nutshell, my problem is that people take small things, and blow it WAY out of proportion. I’m glad the gaming community is so passionate with the industry. It was inspiring to watch Bioware react to the public with ME3, or SE respond to Final Fantasy 13 criticism. I just don’t want devs to be freaked out and chop up or edit their work out of fear of a blowout. I still praise MW2 specifically because they were brave enough to put “No Russian” into the final product. Stay passionate, but don’t force devs to change their creative vision. That’s my point.

      • Esmeralda Portillo

        The rape scene fiasco was elevated by what the PR agent said afterwards, “What happens is her best friend gets kidnapped, she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island. They try to rape her. She’s literally turned into a cornered animal.” The trailer did insinuate a sexual advance, and then the PR head confirmed that’s what was happening.

        http://kotaku.com/5917400/youll-want-to-protect-the-new-less-curvy-lara-croft

        They’ve since stopped referring to that scene as attempted rape, but the damage was done.

        I actually agree with you on the nun trailer, I wasn’t bothered by it. I saw it for what it was in relation to the context of the game: Hitman is about assassinations, and the nuns happen to be enemies who dress as such. He kills men in the same manner, so female assassins will be treated the same way. Them being scantily clad for no reason was a little off-putting, as it seemed like a dumb grab at sex appeal, but other than that I didn’t understand the outcry. Like Lawrence mentioned above, it was a bit of double standard.

        If developers and publishers want to push the envelope, they should be allowed to. But they should also be mindful of what is just plain unacceptable versus controversial.

      • Couldn’t agree more. ++1

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