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The Stanley Parable's Noncontroversial Controversy - Destructoid

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I'm a guy who likes to write about videogames. Sometimes in funny ways and sometimes in artsy ways. You'll just have to read my blogs to find out the difference between the two!

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Look, I get it, the reasoning for those images being changed in The Stanley Parable is a bit silly. I haven't played the game myself, and I hope to change that when I have a little bit more spare change, but I get why the impulse is to be critical of this bit of news.

What I don't get are the cries of censorship, the homogenization of gaming, and the corruption of the developer's artistic vision. There is no shortage of arguably stupid controversies about 'isms in gaming, but that doesn't mean each new controversy is related to all the others. Not all authors are the same, and there are differences in the parties crying foul in each instance. If we look at the facts in this specific instance, there are numerous reasons why this particular controversy shouldn't be all that controversial to begin with.

What happened here wasn't a controversy: it was a discussion. Whether you agree with the outcome or not, it's undeniable that this is a far cry from how these hot button stories usually play out.



Let's compare and contrast this particular news story to some of the biggest controversies of the past year:

Borderlands 2 and racism: Mike Sacco leads a public charge against writer Anthony Burch on twitter, saying Tiny Tina, a major character in the Borderlands 2 story, "has got to go" because of her "verbal blackface." Anthony Burch defended his decision to write Tina the way he did, but upon further badgering he began to consider changing the way Tina was written if gamers felt her dialogue was truly problematic. Enough speak out in support of his Burch's writing that he does not make any significant changes. 

Dragon's Crown and sexism: Kotaku writer Jason Schreier makes a front page post calling George Kamitani a "14 year old boy" and calls his work "cheap." After passively aggressively making jabs at one another, they eventually speak directly to one another and apologize, but by this point the controversy has already scattered throughout the gaming community and the internet.

The Stanley Parable's offensive image: Fiction writer Oliver Campbell finds a section of The Stanley Parable offensive, so he privately sends a message to developer Davey Wreden about his feelings. Wreden and Campbell have a discussion about retaining the integrity of the joke while removing what Campbell found offensive, and eventually they agree upon a way to change this section while keeping both parties happy. They come to a satisfactory conclusion, Wreden admits that he was not attached to the visual gag to begin with, and Campbell says Wreden was pleasant to speak to.


(Source: The Rough Sketch)

The Stanley Parable did not change because of controversy. Rather, there is controversy because The Stanley Parable changed. Both parties spoke to each other privately and directly, and at no point was a political correctness task force at work to strong-arm their agenda. What was done here was voluntary and - as mentioned by the author in this Reddit thread - was similar to how content in the game was changed as a result of playtester feedback. The experience of the game (and allegedly the joke in question) remains intact, and the most that any gaming news site has done to the issue is report the result.

I know emotions are likely high on this issue due to its similarity with other controversies like I've listed above, but we can't treat all of these issues as if the same circumstances are at play. If we look at the facts regarding this story and don't just skim the headlines, then it becomes apparent that this story is a completely different beast all together.



I'd like to also point out that "artistic vision" is not quite the sacred ground that some seem to treat it as. This may come to a surprise to some, but even the best authors do not make perfection with every word they write. The best authors will not defend every written word as exactly the way they wanted from the moment they conceived of a story. Wreden explicitly says that the joke of these two images falls into this latter category for him, noting "I'm not exactly married to the gag, it doesn't make or break anything about that particular section." Had Wreden's artistic vision been for that scene to be exactly the way it was originally portrayed, then logically he would have defended it. After all, as many like to point out, you could count the number of players who found this scene offensive on one hand. He could have just as easily chosen to ask players in some kind of public forum about the joke to gauge interest if he was really unsure about a decision, and surely he would have garnered enough support to keep the scene as is if that were the case.

Wreden goes on about this issue more extensively in the Reddit thread I linked to before, so I won't regurgitate the arguments that he makes so eloquently himself. For those who need a tl;dr, he does not feel his artistic vision has been compromised in any way, and there is plenty of content some might find offensive in game that he has no intent to change. But really, no artist has an absolute "artistic vision" down to every last detail. Putting out content and choosing to modify it in response to criticism is a regular part of the creative process. 



As a personal example, I've had parts of my own fiction critiqued in ways that I get upset about, and yes, sometimes there are accusations of misogyny or other similar issues that I obviously never intended. Yet more often than not, I wind up reanalyzing what was being critiqued in the first place, find a way to change it while keeping myself happy, and I usually wind up with content that I actually enjoy more than I did before. This is what friends, editors, and playtesters are for, and in this particular story, Campbell was acting more like an editor than someone who just wanted to feel offended. Maybe he shouldn't have felt offended. Maybe he has no right to. But if nothing else, he voiced his concerns in a responsible manner instead of going right for the media or a public forum to pressure Wreden to change the game. If more controversies begun and ended as this one did, then maybe we all wouldn't be so sensitive over controversies to begin with.

And if you're offended by the change Wreden has made, then clearly there is precedent for you to try to voice your concerns to him in a responsible fashion.



I'm not telling you how to feel regarding this situation, but I ask that you look at the facts. Gaming news outlets get so overrun by emotions that it can be hard to think straight, and as a result the truth often gets lost in a storm of anger and sensationalism. If you still feel outrage having grasped the full story for what it is, then by no means am I saying you're wrong. In fact, as I said in the beginning, I agree that the call to change the image seems a bit silly to me. 

All I ask is for you to be fully informed before embarking on a crusade, because there's too much in the gaming industry that's worth being angry over. Conversely, there's so many videogames that are worth being excited over, and I'm sure we all would love to feel a little more positivity around here. This controversy is only controversial because gamers are deciding it's controversial, as both the author and those who were offended seem to be perfectly happy with the outcome. Do as you will and feel as you will, but the moral of this parable is to pick your battles carefully.
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