Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Splinter Cell: Blacklist
 BLOG ABOUT THIS

Ubisoft was right to nix Splinter Cell: Blacklist torture

4:45 PM on 02.01.2013 // Joseph Leray

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right

This week, a Splinter Cell: Blacklist producer confirmed that the game’s controversial torture scene, used as part of Ubisoft’s E3 presentation last year, has been removed from the game.

“Definitely we are not going to see when the game’s coming out that there are torture scenes in it. That scene is not there any more,” Andrew Wilson said.

Here’s Tom Bissel, the lead writer for Gears of War: Judgment, on the subject: “We've arrived in a strange emotional clime when our popular entertainment frequently depicts torture as briskly effective rather than literally the worst thing one human being can do to another.”

And later, he calls it “a blithe, shrugging presentation of the very definition of human evil, all in the name of ‘entertainment.’”

“I’ve not really heard anyone say they loved it,” Wilson followed up. 

It’s really the reaction to the negative feedback that’s most troubling: Ubisoft is canning the scene because it upset people, not because it’s gross to portray torture as a fun, badass thing to do in a piece of entertainment.

I can only think of one other game I’ve played that features player-sanctioned torture: Cyanide’s Game of Thrones RPG from last year. It happens twice. The first time, it’s because the protagonist needs a bit of information about Robert Baratheon’s bastard son. Working for Robert’s wife, Cersei, the game’s protagonist and his half-brother track the boy down and chase him through an alley. If they catch the boy, the game moves on.

If not, the pair must dig the information out of the boy’s bodyguards. Players have two options: they can reason with an injured bodyguard, or torture him. The scene takes place through a series of dialog choices. The player doesn’t actually get to control Valarr as he shoves his fingers into a man’s stomach wound, but action is implied well enough.

Players gain access to the torture option by siding with Valarr, who's portrayed as a violent psychopath and the game's ultimate antagonist. The more peaceful option is presented by Alester, Valarr's half-brother, rightful heir to Riverspring Castle, and Game of Thrones' protagonist. The implication is clear.

The second time it happens, the torture is completely off-screen: the game fades to black as a different character, Mors, moves in to exact revenge on a group soldiers who had just finished torturing him.

I have to admit that I reacted strongly to the Blacklist scene, but not to the one in Game of Thrones: the audible crack as Fisher breaks the man’s arm made my stomach churn, and seeing Fisher jam a knife into the man’s virtual collarbone reminded me of the excruciating pain I went through when I broke my own clavicle when I was 13.

I’m not sure whether or not I chose to torture Jon Arryn’s soldiers in Game of Thrones, but I don’t remember thinking about it much, either. (It's worth noting that I couldn't find a video walkthrough of this section of the game that did choose the torture option.) 

Videogame violence as a discussion topic generally revolves around guns. Here’s the thing, though: as a society, we’ve accepted the fact that guns are fun. Skeet shooting, paintball, firing ranges, laser tag, SuperSoakers, Nerf guns, archery -- in our hearts, we know that firing projectiles at stuff is deeply engaging and gratifying. There's no getting around it.

The presence of guns, though, doesn’t exempt or recuse Blacklist’s torture scene: there’s no safe, real-world analogue to stabbing someone in the clavicle. The two types of violence can’t be lumped together or justified in the same way. We have a way of understanding how and why shooting can be fun. I can't, however, think of a context that explains how or why jamming a knife into a man's collarbone and twirling it would be.

Last October, a different Ubisoft spokesperson -- this time Blacklist producer David Footman -- had this to say about the scene: “If it makes you squeamish and uncomfortable, maybe that’s the point.”

“I always know when we’re onto something that’s really touchy and interesting when we get reactions like that,” he continued. “But the truth is it’s really happening. That’s the truth. We all know it’s really happening all over the world.”

Footman’s not wrong, but he’s also not really addressing the problem. It’s not that Splinter Cell: Blacklist includes a torture scene -- it’s that the scene isn’t optional, it’s that scene is fully interactive, it’s the ease with which Sam Fisher casually tortures another human being, it’s that the game has the gumption to introduce some preposterous “moral choice” -- you can kill the man or just knock him unconscious when you're done with him -- after walking us through a war crime.

The moral choice was to not jam a knife into a man’s clavicle and twist it around.

Remember that this demo was used to show the game off at E3, the largest videogame industry event in the county, and arguably the most important in the world. Ubisoft used a torture scene to highlight a mass-market blockbuster, to grab the attention of as many industry insiders, press, and fans as possible. Somewhere along the production chain, the people making Splinter Cell: Blacklist thought that we'd be titillated and entertained by jamming a knife into a man's collarbone and twisting it around until he tells us what Sam Fisher needs to know.

It's not "touchy and interesting"; it's crass.

There’s no doubt that games can and should be provocative, but it’s hard to see any of Blacklist’s commentary on the necessity of war: Fisher just moves on to his next objective. Our understanding of the game is a function of what Ubisoft chooses to show us: right now, the only argument Blacklist seems to make is that torture is the easiest and most effective way to handle a situation.

The torture scene wasn’t designed to make us “uncomfortable” -- it was designed to make Sam Fisher look heroic, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Footman’s right that torture is “the truth,” that it’s “really happening all over the world.” But the people that do it -- justified or not -- don’t get to keep being badass when it’s over. There’s nothing awesome or celebratory about post-traumatic stress disorder or a disturbingly high rate of veteran suicides. Blacklist includes a torture scene -- and makes players implicit in it -- without having to deal with the consequences. It’s unthinking, uncritical, and sloppy.

That Ubisoft ultimately decided to cut the scene suggests, to me, a lack of confidence in their Toronto studio's ability to engage meaningfully with the subject.

So, what’s the sticking point for Blacklist? Is it the interactivity? Is it the modern, real-world context of two decades-long wars and a national debate about whether or not water-boarding counts as “torture”? (Spoiler: it does.) I’m not sure.

It’s a lot easier to compartmentalize a villain torturing someone in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy game like Game of Thrones -- it’s just part of what happens in that world. I’m not so sure we want our heroes celebrating it in this world, though.



Joseph Leray, Former Features Contributor
 Follow Blog + disclosure Tips
Joseph Leray is a long-time features contributor, reviewer, and (self-styled) editor-at-large for Destructoid. He lives in Nashville with a menagerie of pets and a Final Fantasy IX obsession. more   |   staff directory





 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
Splinter Cell: Blacklist


  Aug 13

A refresher on all of Splinter Cell: Blacklist's assets

How about, instead, a war on terror cliches?


  Apr 10

Splinter Cell Blacklist confirmed for Wii U, for realsies

Hopefully we'll get some cool GamePad functionality


  Mar 21

Splinter Cell: Blacklist video shows off more gameplay

Hey, it's the flying thing from Black Ops II


View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:



Please contact Crave Online, thanks!


The sexiest Senran Kagura character has been found!!

Room to Share: Why More People Playing Games Is a Good Thing

OVERWATCH SONG - This World Needs Heroes

Cblogs of 2/8/2016 + Face Petting in FE is a TERRIBLE Mechanic

Calendula: Is this the start of the cynical "meta" games?

Testing the new blog editor update

With The Sudden Outbreak of Resident Evil Remasters...

(Fire)Watch Out!: Moving past our sensitivity for spoilers

Shouldn't gaming be more than a digital tableau?

Avengers Academy is a diseased freemium abscess on the taint of mobile gaming

 Add your impressions

 Quickposts
Status updates from C-bloggers

Shinta avatarShinta
Bosman and Huber running a Nintendo channel show, and playing games with Treehouse during E3? I'd be down for that.
EdgyDude avatarEdgyDude
I just found out Phoenix Wright is getting an anime this year. Color me surprised and very interested.
Operative20 avatarOperative20
I really want to continue my RE playthrough but this FUCKIN JAVA PROGRAM JUST WON'T WORK WHY AM I SUCH A FAILURE
SayWord avatarSayWord
Life is Strange Spoilers: I am about to start Episode 5 but noticed Uzumaki inspiration right away. Beginning scene with the town and lighthouse, tons of Spirals including the projections in the "End of the World Party". Anyone else notice this?
JPF720 avatarJPF720
Is it just me or with only one month and a week 2016 has been hit with some considerable losses, but in terms of severity and scope? From musicians and athletes to freaking websites...Let's keep riding this storm of sadness guys.
Parismio avatarParismio
Cam you believe that hot dog's with cheese in them exist? That is the grossest monstrosity to ever grace the market. The cheese belongs on top of the dog people! All over it!
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
Looks like I have a new job doing deliveries which is 50% sitting on my ass in the passenger seat. $12/hr. I wonder if I can do monster hunting during that 50%...
ObliqueZombie avatarObliqueZombie
Holy cow, Final Fantasy VII was actually REALLY good! The PS4/PC "cheats" really helped my enjoyment. Check out my Cblog for extended thought, and what do you think of FFVII with a 2016 outlook?
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
I regret nothing and I regret everything.
Steel Squirrel avatarSteel Squirrel
Hope my Flash Sale sense is correct this week. I was hoping for more than a Ubisoft sale. Also, is it just me, or does it seem like Ubisoft games are on sale every damn week?
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
So far my blog has done quite well. Why not be cool, and read my delectable blog, then furiously fap it like its going out of style, as all of the cool people do? Give into peer pressure today, its what everybody is doing!!! Fap enough, maybe a waifu?
Rico the Penguin avatarRico the Penguin
The Localization team for Rune Factory 4 gets my seal of approval. It isn't every day that a dragon calls me a dumbass. 10/10
t0ss avatart0ss
Overwatch beta today!
trippytip avatartrippytip
Homework really sucks guys. I haven't played Yakuza 4 in weeks. I don't wanna totally drop it again ;_; *goes back to reading nonsense*
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
Just started Pillars of Eternity and I'm elated I can play as a treeman druid! Which brings me one step closer to a game that lets me play as an Ent. Besides that walking tree simulator and WoW, are there any decent games where you can play as an Ent?
SpielerDad avatarSpielerDad
Wampas are real and have been spotted in Spain. http://nypost.com/2016/02/09/yeti-captured-on-video-at-ski-resort-in-spain/
Larxinostic avatarLarxinostic
Overnight, I dreamed Destructoid existed as an old-timey collectibles shop. Quickposts graced the shelves as paintings, available for purchase; the number of faps on a post directly equaled its price. Video games and VG accessories also were up for sale.
Scrustle avatarScrustle
Usually I'm not comfortable showing stuff off like this, but this is something I've been working on for college work, and it's the first thing I feel like is at least halfway worth showing.
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
I don't understand how my wife's students could hate her if she ordered this for the classroom's Scholastic service.
weslikestacos avatarweslikestacos
My band's debut album is #31 on the iTunes country charts! Sorry for this shameless plug, but I'm pretty pleased about this!
more quickposts


Contest!


Seriously

Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme


Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo



Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -