Controversies surrounding Left 4 Dead 2
The 2009 video game Left 4 Dead 2, published by Valve Corporation and developed by Valve Corporation and Turtle Rock Studios for various platforms, has been a central issue in a number of critical discussions and controversy regarding its timing and its graphic and mature content.
The weekend following the game's announcement at the 2009 E3 Convention, some Left 4 Dead players called for a boycott of Left 4 Dead 2 and formed the Steam community group called "L4D2 Boycott (NO-L4D2)" which grew to over 10,000 members by the end of that weekend, and reached more than 37,000 about a month later. In addition to a lack of further Left 4 Dead content, they were concerned with the characters, visuals, and music shown in the E3 demonstration video, feeling these were inappropriate to the first game's aesthetics, and that the release of the sequel so soon after the first game would fracture the community.
In response to these complaints, Valve marketer Doug Lombardi stated that the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 at E3 should not be taken to indicate that Valve would no longer support the first game. He asked the community to "trust [them] a little bit," and told them that while their team was eager to get new material to players of Left 4 Dead, they determined that a sequel would be the best option for several reasons: the demand for new campaigns, enemies and weapons could not be met as a simple DLC; both Faliszek and project lead Tom Leonard found that too much of the content relied on each other, making it very difficult to release incremental patches in the same style as Team Fortress 2; the development team liked the idea of rolling up the content into a sequel to be released a year after Left 4 Dead's release. Faliszek stated that Newell was skeptical of the idea when the team brought the sequel forward, but still allowed the project to go through.
In September 2009, Valve flew two of the boycott group leaders to Valve, in order to playtest Left 4 Dead 2; the boycotters felt that the sequel was well done. This event, through a series of correspondences made in jest, shortly led to Valve's Gabe Newell and designer Erik Johnson flying to Australia to visit "Joe W-A", a Left 4 Dead modder. Newell jokingly reported that Valve was "boycotting" Joe's new mod for the game when Joe asked when he would be flown to Valve in the same manner as the Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters, but whimsically offered that if Joe was to pay to fly him to the country, he would take a look at it. Joe was able to raise the required funds, $3000, through donations through his website, though ultimately Newell paid for the trip himself, with Joe's collected donations going to the Child's Play charity.
On October 14, 2009, the boycott groups' leaders announced that they had ended their boycott and were shutting down the 40,000-plus group because Valve was retaining their promise of additional content and fixes for Left 4 Dead, such as the recent release of the "Crash Course" campaign. The leaders also believed that the group itself, losing its purpose, was now being used just to bad-mouth Valve and other players. In a video interview posted on October 29, 2009, Gabe Newell said, "for people who joined the Boycott Group on Steam ... they're actually pre-ordering the product at a higher rate than Left 4 Dead 1 owners who weren't in the Boycott".
John Walker of UK-based gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun has theorized that the controversy surrounding Left 4 Dead 2 is due to higher expectations for Valve, due to the perception of its status as an industry leader.
Valve was forced to alter its original cover art for the game by the ESRB; the original image depicted the series' iconic hand with its little finger, ring finger and the thumb torn off, which would thus have the index finger and middle finger remaining. It was deemed too explicit, but to appease the ESRB, Valve changed the image so that the fingers were merely bent back instead, but the company was still able to include the torn-off thumb in all regions except for Japan and Germany, where it had to be censored.
The cover was further changed for release in the United Kingdom, as the two-finger sign with the back of the hand faced toward the viewer is considered an insult; the UK cover features the hand facing the opposite direction to avoid this.
Willie Jefferson of the Houston Chronicle, after seeing initial promotional material for the game, considered that several of the infected "appear to be African-Americans" implying a racist approach to the game, and also noted that "setting the game in a city that was a scene of dead, bloated bodies floating by" some years after the impact of Hurricane Katrina was "a bad call". Faliszek, commenting on Jefferson's claims, considered the supposition to be "utter insanity", and commented that the infected are a mix of all races, and that the game's version of New Orleans is "not a brick-for-brick representation" of the city and were not trying to make any statement about it with the game. A writer for Kotaku considered that "Jefferson's seemed to me to be picking a fight where none exists." Others noted that the appearance of African-American infected simply reflected the racial diversity of New Orleans.
Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification in Australia by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). It failed to gain a MA15+ rating, the highest possible rating for video games at the time, thus preventing the sale of the game within the country. In its report, the OFLC cited the reason for refusing classification as "The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons aged under 18 to play." However, a small number of members of the OFLC board believed the game could merit the MA15+ rating which was used to publish the first Left 4 Dead. It was expected that changes could be made to the game to allow the game to be classified as MA15+ and thus sold in Australia. Both Lombardi and Newell were "surprised" by the classification refusal. Valve appealed the OFLC's decision about a week after being notified of the ruling, comparing the sequel to its predecessor, which had been classified as MA15+, and the mature ratings the sequel had received from similar rating organizations around the world. However, as the appeal process, expected to end on October 22, was close to the planned release date, Valve submitted a modified version of the game for classification addressing the concerns the OFLC has stated. This version, which no longer contained images of "decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies", was classified as MA15+ by the OFLC, thus allowing for the game's release in Australia, though Valve and Electronic Arts still hoped to have their preferred, unmodified version classified by the OFLC for release. The appeal of the decision to deny classification to the unedited version of the game was conducted by the independent Classification Review Board, and resulted in the previous ruling to deny classification being sustained. The Classification Review Board cited "insufficient delineation between the depiction of zombie characters and the human figures" as one of the key factors in its classification refusal.
Left 4 Dead 2's classification refusal, as well as for other recent games such as Fallout 3 (has since been rerated MA15+ having the same version as other countries) and Aliens vs. Predator (has since appealed and rerated MA15+ uncut), has reignited debate over the current prohibition of sale and exhibition of video games for mature audiences. In mid-December 2009, the Australian government sought public opinion on the adult classification rating for video games, despite statements by South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson believing the issue to only affect a minority of the country's citizens. Following Atkinson's decision to leave the Attorneys General to be replaced by John Rau, who is reportedly in favour of an R18+ rating, Valve have revealed that, should the bill be passed, they plan to release an uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 for PC in Australia.
In order to achieve the highest possible rating given by Germany's Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (Freigegeben ab 18 Jahren gemäß § 14 JuSchG, meaning 18+), Valve had to heavily censor the game's violent content similar to the Australian version. However, the international (and thus uncensored) version was indexed by the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien on December 1, 2009 in order to prevent sellers from advertising or selling it to minors. On February 15, 2010, the Amtsgericht Tiergarten confiscated all European PC versions for violation of § 131 StGB (representation of violence), meaning they may not be sold; however, it is still legal to import (with the risk that the game is confiscated by customs) and own the game. The court said that the game trivializes violence due to its high killing rate and explicit graphical representation of mutilation. They also sensed a strong cynical attitude behind the game's concept. To make up for the censorship, German players receive exclusive weapons ported from Counter-Strike: Source, these include the H&K MP5, Accuracy International AWM, SIG 552, Steyr Scout and a combat knife.
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