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