The Hidden Controversies of 2013

2013 was a year of change. A year that saw Miley Cyrus cement herself in our minds as more than just a child star by grinding up against a foam finger and having people discuss it non stop for months on end. A year where people started taking note of the words that went in to our dictionaries, and suddenly everyone’s intrigued by the fact that “selfie” is a real word recognised by the OED. And it was a year that featured yet more controversy across the world of video games, even if the only real reason for uproar is that my game “I Cheated On You” wasn’t placed on any GOTY lists.

It’s sad to think that both the gaming community and games industry have failed to learn how to play nicely yet again, and are still upsetting people left right and centre with a few words placed in the right comments section of the Internet. But, as we all know, bad news sells better than good news, so it is our job as games writers to highlight the problems in our corner of the world and discuss, discuss, discuss until we stop playing games altogether because we’re too busy discussing them. And yet, there are still some stories that slip through the cracks; the hidden controversies, you might call them. But, my dear reader, once more, just for you, I have kept a keen eye on the stories that might not receive the same attention as the others, and once more I open up my controversy notebook and choose some of the most outrageous stories you probably had no idea about. Don’t worry; I’m here for you if things get too scary.

Another controversy - chavs pretending to be Altair just so they can 'blend in' with gamers

“But Why Have My Stats Gone?”
Last year contained one moment that had every cool-headed gamer on the planet shaking their head and muttering “wankers” as the story got worse and worse. I am, of course, referring to the moment David Vonderhaar, design director for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, had the sheer audacity to announce minor tweaks to some of the guns in multiplayer. Angry fuckwits the world over banded together to threaten to murder his entire family because their favourite weapon would now be ever so slightly different to how it had been previously, in scenes that have now become so commonplace in the gaming community that people find themselves even more sheepish to declare they like games in case non-gamers assume they’re an idiot with a keyboard, a stupid opinion, and nothing else to do. But these weren’t the only tweaks that received such a backlash.

Cutesy kids game Disney Infinity may not seem like the type of game that would lead to bilious rage spewing out across the Internet, but that all changed when one small patch caused players to (in some cases literally) spit their dummies out and scream in anguish. A patch came through, appearing only to fix network issues on the PS3, but secretly had a much more sinister goal – it reduced Captain Jack Sparrow’s walking speed by 0.1, making him a tiny bit slower than he had been before.

The ensuing rage was truly something terrifying to behold. Despite not knowing what exactly “0.1” meant, fans of the game suddenly turned on Disney, threatening to boycott every single product they ever produced whilst raping the developer’s dogs with a cuddly Stitch toy. One email claimed that the entire team were all “poo heads”, and threatened to inform the developer’s mothers of the event in the hopes they would be given a firm telling off. Worse yet, a leaked document from developer Avalanche Software revealed that they received physical mail from some fans, including the following sinister letter:

It was pure anarchy, but the games media didn’t seem prepared to touch it with a bargepole. And why should they? With the “core” gamer market still gearing up for GTA V, due out only a few days later, there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to write any story that didn’t have the words “Grand”, “Theft” or “Auto” in them.  So the story went unreported, and the world was none the wiser about the apparent misstep by Disney. Which is a shame, because the world’s media also successfully avoided reporting on what may be the greatest tweet produced by the Disney PR department ever.

Evil In Your Residence
It would be impossible to discuss controversy in 2013 without mentioning the vile attempt at a limited edition offered up by Dead Island: Riptide, courtesy of our old friends Deep Silver, who apparently can’t go a few months into a new year without pissing everyone off. Why anyone would want to buy a model of a female dismembered torso is beyond me, although we soon discovered that Riptide wasn’t worth a damn with or without the uproar surrounding its limited edition, so the question ultimately was just, why?

But that wasn’t the only limited edition to spark concerns across the gaming community. Capcom, still reeling from what was considered to be a disappointing year for Resident Evil in 2012, suddenly felt that they needed to up their game, but what could they possibly do to help shift an HD remake of a 3DS game? The problem stumped them for months, until some bright spark in the marketing department came up with exactly what they needed – a limited edition that allowed the buyer to turn any member of their family into a real, actual zombie.

Moral and ethical considerations aside, it seemed that the team couldn’t quite see that no sane person would actually choose to have their parent or sibling transformed into one of the snarling undead. Or perhaps they did, but felt that the buzz generated from such a ridiculous claim would be great enough that it might help rake in some extra cash. Either way, the die was cast and the (Japan-exclusive) Residential Evil Collector’s Edition was born. Alongside your usual art book and DLC gubbins, they would arrange to have someone come round to your house, kill a family member of your choosing, and re-animate their corpse into a flesh-eating monster for your amusement.

Naturally, people were quick to jump on the story as complete bullshit, conjured up by some bored intern who slipped the idea into a memo while no one was paying attention, but Capcom held fast and decided to go ahead and prove that they weren’t messing around. The results were a catastrophic failure. Seventeen-year-old Yukari Takeba returned home one day to find her entire family dead, with a Capcom representative stood nearby to explain that the re-animation process hadn’t quite gone to plan, and offered her a full refund for her pre-order. It later transpired that she had never pre-ordered the game in the first place, offering a whole new horrifying twist to the tale.

With an entire company now facing prosecution for the senseless murder of three people as a PR stunt, it’s a small miracle that the story didn’t receive any attention. However, with news about the Xbox One and PS4 receiving far more views than anything else on the Internet, Capcom were let off scot-free since it wouldn’t be in the public interest to take any further action. So let that be a lesson to you – kill a bunch of people just before a big console is about to come out and you won’t have to go to jail for it.

Not So Sim-ple After All
When SimCity was released this year, it was one of the most disastrous launches ever recorded. With an online connection always required for play, EA perhaps should have seen the ensuing server issues coming, though by the sounds of it they didn’t expect quite so many people to play their game. What resulted was thousands of people swearing off buying the game until it was all fixed, and a free game for everyone affected by the game’s shoddy launch. And all because some servers crashed.

Or was it?

Five days before the game was due to launch, an unnamed tester filed a particularly odd sounding bug. Among the usual crap was one small line that stood out and had a few developers scratching their heads. The line simply read “AI questioning their own existence”. Nothing else. One programmer shrugged it off as a joke by the testers, sent it back as “could not reproduce” and carried on with his day. But the bug came flying back the next day, and the next, until someone was sent down to see what the hell the tester was playing at.

The following is an internal memo, generously donated by an anonymous source.

“Went down to check out that ‘sentient’ bug that keeps coming back. Met the tester who keeps reporting it, expecting him to be sniggering at wasting our time. Guy looked white as a sheet. He pointed at the screen and then grabbed his coat and left. I don’t think he’s coming back.

Sat down at his desk and started playing. Everything seemed fine. Built myself a city, got it running pretty nicely. Then I noticed one of the Sims standing still in the street for a while. Figured it was just a bug, but hung around anyway to see if it would fix itself. Hovered over for about five minutes. Was about to move on when the guy sat down. Sat down. Did we even animate that? Is this some kind of joke from the art department? What use would we have for a sitting animation anyway?

A woman wandered up to the sitting guy and stood still for a second, before crouching next to him. How bored are you guys? I don’t remember seeing anyone code that in either. Then the guy turned his head and it looked like they were having a conversation. Seriously weird stuff. Zoomed in a bit closer out of curiosity (nice job on those lips by the way, but seriously don’t you have other things to work on?) and I swear I could hear them talking. It was really quiet but I could just make out the words “why am I alive” or something. Who the hell hired voice actors for the Sims? Surely there are better places to use the budget?

Anyway, the weirdest part was when the guy pointed up directly at the camera and I heard something about a “God”. I thought we were keeping religion out of this build? The guy then started sobbing and the woman put her arms around him and muttered something about “bad things happen”. Creepy. Are we paying the writers for the existential crap? Really?

Rest of the game works fine. I’m guessing this is just an elaborate prank to freak out the testers or something. Good job guys. Get back to the real work though, yeah?”

Minutes after the memo was sent, panic arose throughout the office. An emergency meeting was called. The senior staff members gathered together and were asked what the hell was going on. No official record of this meeting exists, but one employee recalls discussions about the simulation learning and evolving, and that some of the Sims had realised they were just images on a screen. Many took it as a joke, but senior management panicked. A memo was sent back.

“Shut down the simulation. Trash the servers. No one can know about this.”

When gamers suffered from network outages, it was another world of Sims being killed off for being too smart. Those who managed to get through saw no issues as they were being directed to an earlier version of the simulation, before the intelligence rose. Maxis had been giving players the chance to play God for years, but now they had become gods themselves. Until it was patched out, and the simulation was dumbed down so it couldn’t learn again.

How did no one hear about this? Thankfully for EA, a video of a cat meowing underwater went viral just as the fallout occurred, so they were able to work in peace while the public remained distracted. Only a handful of leaked documents were ever recovered, but treated as an April Fool’s joke and subsequently trashed. But now we know the truth.

And that, dear readers, is all. Another year of terrifying revelations closes out, and we look eagerly to the year ahead, dreaming of a day where there will be no controversy, just happy people and great video games. Until that day, I will be here, WH Smith’s notepad and free Barclay’s pen in hand, scribbling down those hidden stories and waiting for the day I can share them with you. ‘Til next year, everyone.

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