Violence may still be rife in the world of videogames, but when it comes to religion, caution remains the watchword in the big bucks business.
Sony’s decision this month to delay one of the most anticipated games in the history of PlayStation, LittleBigPlanet, to avoid offending Muslims, is the latest sign that videogame-makers are playing prudence when it comes to religion.
LittleBigPlanet, which has received rave reviews, is finally being released next week after a fortnight-long delay because of concerns that a track in the background music might be found offensive.
As copies began to be shipped off to distributors, game developers woke up to the potential for trouble following a post on a Sony public Internet forum stating that a song by Mali artist Toumani Diabate included two expressions from the Koran that could cause offence.
The forum user, who identified himself as “yasser”, said “Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending (sic).”
Responding on the game’s website, Sony said: “We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologise for any offence this may have caused.”
A Sony spokeswoman in Paris told AFP the song had been replaced by an instrumental track by Diabate. “The game has not been changed,” said Emmanuelle Renon. “We did not want polemics.”
But the incident was not the first.
In 2003, Microsoft cancelled the European release of its combat game Kakuto Chojin for its first Xbox for the same reasons — a music track containing quotes from the Koran. The game was also withdrawn from shelves in Japan and the United States and has since remained unavailable.
More recently, Japanese games editor Capcom modified the sound-track to adventure game Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure ahead of its 2008 release for Nintendo’s Wii.
This followed a complaint from the US Council on American-Islamic Relations over the use of a background sound featuring Islamic prayer “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as tribal islanders in the game prayed around a totem.
And last year, the Anglican church kicked up a fuss over a building in a Sony game that it said looked like the Anglican cathedral in Manchester, northern England, even prompting then prime minister Tony Blair to kick in and comment.
The church featured as the scene of a violent shootout in Resistance: Fall of Man.
Sony apologised but refused to cave in to the church’s demand to remove the game from store shelves.
The head of the digital leisure section of the European Audiovisual and Telecommunications Institute said the recent and repeated concerns over religious controversy were due to the huge growth in the popularity of videogames.
“If gaming was still as small as it used to be, there wouldn’t be this sort of phenomenon,” said Laurent Michaud. “Now games have a bigger and bigger place in society. They have become a cultural industry like film or music.
“Things that used to shock people at the cinema now shock in a game. This is a sign that everyone is sitting up and watching what happens in the world of videogames.”