We don't play video games for realism. We play to escape into a world where the right hat will make you better at fighting, and hiding behind a crate will quickly heal eight bullet wounds. But if a game takes place in a real country, wouldn't it be worth it for the developers to spend a few minutes skimming that country's Wikipedia page? You know, to avoid making something incredibly offensive? Something like ...
Among the many gifts the late Tom Clancy left us is the Ghost Recon franchise. It's a series of Ubisoft games in which you control a team of operators as they massacre confused enemies with an unlimited supply of overpowered gadgets. The tenth installment, Wildlands, takes place in Bolivia, and by the time you finish it, you will have killed more Bolivians than have been claimed by cancer and heart disease combined. Bolivia makes the perfect setting for a killing spree because it is a lawless, drug-filled war zone as far as the eye can see. Except for one detail: It totally isn't.
Bolivia, as you might know from geography class or general knowledge or fun facts from a bag of Brazil nuts (they're not nuts OR from Brazil!), is a country with cities and an economy and a whole population of non-warlords. For example, here's La Paz:
Shantytowns are on a whole other level down there.
However, according to Wildlands, all of Bolivia looks like this:
Fun Fact: Brazil nuts get their smoky flavor because they're harvested by gunfight!
The landscape is nothing but vast, scrub-filled mountains. It's like the entire country is trapped in a Cormac McCarthy novel, existing only as a backdrop for desperate murder and existential despair. There are bandits in every burned-out church and 80,000 percent more ammunition dumps than wildlife. The game does include some Bolivian cities, where everyone is dressed in bad hats and their economy seems based entirely around soccer balls:
"Get your soccer balls! Only one soccer ball each!"
It seems like the developers invented an entirely new country based on old cowboy movies and cartoon salsa mascots and then accidentally named it after a place that actually exists and is nothing like it. And it wasn't just a stupid little mistake; the game was so offensive to real Bolivians that the country filed a formal complaint with France (the home country of Ubisoft) over it. And they weren't only upset about how their country was portrayed as a dusty wasteland of violent soccer ball farmers. The game seems to think Bolivia is filled with Mexican cartels and socialist guerrilla rebels. Remember, Bolivia's government has a socialist president serving his third term.
Call Of Duty has always had difficulty creating villains that aren't Nazis. The Modern Warfare subseries has vague Al-Qaeda stand-ins and a Russia inexplicably able to invade the entirety of Europe, whilst Black Ops has Soviets and a Nicaraguan arms dealer who starts a revolution against America before giving up and deciding to join a rock band. Yet for COD: Ghosts, Infinity Ward outdid them all. In that game, the villains are from the "country" of South America.
"Wait, who chose the banner of the ... European Union? Guys, that flag is taken. Guys?"
In what can only be loosely described as a story, the Arabian Peninsula gets devastated by war. This gives South America a monopoly on the world's oil supply. Rather than buying skyscrapers and soccer stadiums like normal wealthy countries, the entire continent decides to unite and declare war against the USA. That's how much money they have. They have "Fuck you" money, and then on top of that they have "Kill the U.S." money.
The first problem is the idea that the countries of South America could unite under one flag just because they came into some extra cash. It's a diverse continent with centuries of history, and all the enmity that goes with that. In the past decade, we've seen Ecuadorian, Venezuelan, and Colombian troops facing off, Bolivia wanting its coastline back from Chile, and Argentina trying to start a fight with Britain over a sheep-filled rock.
And why South America would want to eliminate the USA is a mystery. Not only is America super polite, but the Federation's power comes from selling oil, and the U.S. would be their best customer. Even heroin dealers don't intentionally murder their best buyers, and the USA would be that buyer forever. It's not like we're going to invest in renewable energy to eliminate our need for foreign oil. That's a more fantastical idea than the one the game already has.
Finally, the Federation doesn't merely cripple and invade America; it also turns our best soldiers to their side with interrogation techniques robbed from the Aztecs. Which is dumb, but also maybe awesome? It's obvious the developers were throwing in every detail they could think of related to South America, and there's something almost refreshing about a story written by someone who truly believes there is no such thing as a bad idea.
The secret Aztec mind-control method is apparently "Feed him poison until he's joins us."
Reviews called out this laughable premise, with one critic stating that, "The background to Ghosts reads like a novel from the minds of domestic oil drilling supporters mixed in with some neo-conservative foreign policy, with a few sprinklings of pro-border security sentiment thrown in for good measure ... it has arguably has one of the most right-wing premises in video game history." You know who wrote that scathing review? Fox News.
Yeah. Fox News was calling this game out for its extreme ideology, and Fox News will devote hours of a broadcast to pretending to love statues in order to defend historical racists. Call Of Duty: Ghosts was more right-wing than THAT. Hell, the most recent COD game has Jon Snow and Conor MacGregor trying to kill rebels, one of whom is F1 racing champion Lewis Hamilton, and it was somehow less ridiculous.
Probably a good thing they went back to World War II.
Despite being about a white guy shooting minorities and stealing their wealth in exotic locales, the Uncharted games have portrayed the settings surprisingly well. That is, except for London.
Uncharted 3 starts with Nathan Drake meeting a well-dressed businessman in a London pub to sell his ancestor's belongings. Said pub is filled with burly, unshaven roughnecks in traditional working man attire like flat caps and hoodies. They smoke and glare and grunt specifically British words like "geezer" and "bloke." It is a shithole that would have absolutely had the lowest Yelp score in all of London if bars like it even existed there anymore.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
For starters, there's a cigarette machine and an ashtray. Smoking has been illegal in British pubs since 2007.
After a fight breaks out (during which Nate ignores signs of the upcoming apocalypse), Drake makes it outside, where he can admire the London skyline. The scene puts this pub on the southern side of the Thames -- to be more exact, somewhere around the district of Southwark.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Here's St. Paul's on the left, Tower Bridge on the right, and, uh, the Erotic Gherkin in the middle.
Here's a handy map if you'd like to visit it yourself and try to pick a bar fight.
Or catch a production of King Lear.
For those who don't have London districts memorized, this isn't some rundown Dickensian slum. This is the center of London, a stone's throw from the financial district, and as such is one of the most expensive places in the country and exceptionally multicultural. A shithole pub populated entirely by Cockneys wouldn't exist there, unless Nate accidentally wandered into some kind of Knight Rider villain cosplay convention.
To use an American analogy, this'd be the equivalent of having a Manhattan bar overlooking Time Square being filled solely with escaped Harlem zoo animals. Most people familiar with the city noticed the nonsense anachronism, and critics (from Yahtzee to, uh, Red Bull) have been pointing it out since the game was released. If you're wondering, here is what an actual pub in that area looks like:
Good Beer, Good Pubs
See? Nothing like Uncharted. There's more than one white ledge.
This pub would showcase a wide variety of cultures, with a wide variety of people and a shit-ton of tourists, and prices would be through the roof. They would be drinking fine wines and pretentious cocktails, not scowling at strangers until they punch them. If anyone from the Uncharted 3 sequence showed up, they'd be an ironic hipster or only there to scream how foreigners are ruining the place before they get arrested.
Through the gaming ages, the Street Fighter franchise has not shied away from jamming as many foreign stereotypes in as possible. You can argue that it's not hurtful to accuse Americans of shooting sonic booms, but when your Indian fighter has magic yoga stretching powers, breathes spicy curry breath, wears a necklace of human baby skulls, and decorates his fighting arenas with elephants, it starts to get a bit uncomfortable.
"My baby skulls are tight. Haters gonna hate." -- Dhalsim
Most of the stage backgrounds are the first thing a poorly educated person would think of if they had one second to describe a place. The Chinese stage is a chicken meat market crowded with bicycles. The Thailand stage is a giant Buddha statue. The Russian stage is a communist factory filled with vodka-chugging workers.
"Hammer and sickle floor is tight. Haters will be doing the hating." -- Zangief
In the latest outing in the series, Street Fighter V, the developers attempted to go back and redo the Thailand stage from Street Fighter II -- the one we mentioned was a giant Buddha statue. It's not as if Thai people have changed religions since then, so they kept the Buddhist theme. What didn't make sense is they used a song with Muslim chants for the stage's music.
Simple mistake, right? It's the wrong religious reference in a video game about fireballs and tatsumaki-senpuu-kyakus. Who cares? Well, there's kind of been ongoing separatist violence between Muslim areas in Thailand and the Buddhist government. Here's a chart you probably weren't expecting in a Street Fighter article:
Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity
And you probably weren't expecting "deep south violence" outside the U.S.
Oops. Capcom quickly pulled the stage from the game and released a statement apologizing for any offense caused. Which is fine and all, but the minds behind the series don't exactly have the greatest track record of progressive thinking. When discussing the lone female character from Street Fighter II, Chun Li, designer Yoshiki Okamoto talked about wanting to make her power bar shorter because "women are not as strong." He said that out loud. To people.
And it wasn't even the last of the Street Fighter religious controversy. For the Rio stage, they wanted to use the iconic Cristo Redentor statue that overlooks the city. You probably know it -- it's a 100-foot-tall Jesus.
"125 feet, but haters gonna hate." -- Jesus
Jesus might belong to everyone, but this statue of him is copyrighted by the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, and they didn't want him in such a violent game. (Although the statue did appear appear in Civilization VI, a game in which you can eradicate entire nations with nuclear weapons.) So what did Street Fighter replace Jesus with?
It's ... it's like a soccer trophy, maybe?
You probably haven't heard of the Nintendo DS game Spanish For Everyone, which is absolutely for the best. It's more or less what it sounds like, except it's not so much for everyone. It seems designed exclusively for people who want to speak Spanish to threaten to deport their gardener.
The goal of the game is to teach the user Spanish, but it gets too caught up in cringeworthy material to accomplish that. It also doesn't help that it isn't fun and sucks. The game starts with your character (a white kid) sharing his Nintendo DS with a Mexican child. You can watch the entirety of the sequence here:
The other child runs off with your DS, which means the first Mexican character you're introduced to is a thief. Not a great start. To its credit, the game mentions that the kid maybe forgot to return your property. However, if the makers of the game wanted this to come across as a simple misunderstanding, why is the kid's father evilly staring out from the shadows of his limousine?
"And steal the white child's property! Steal his jobs!!! Ha ha! Ha ha ha!!!"
Next, a cop car follows the limo. It's important to make this clear: The only Mexican characters we've been introduced to so far are a boy who steals your DS and a sinister man in a limo being trailed by the police.
"Get him, officer! He took my DS! And my jobs!!!"
Later, your aunt takes you to Mexico and just kind of abandons you in front of a building with a random Spanish word on its entry arch: FIESTA. Nearby is a Minotaur in the back of a truck. Good enough for the aunt -- have fun, young unattended boy!
"Fi ... ess ... ta! What's that mean, Minotaur!? Also, have you seen my aunt? Or my DS? I'm worried I might die here!"
As your truly ill-advised adventure continues, you hitch a ride in the back of the truck. It's hard to believe a driver would be okay with something this close to kidnapping, but he takes you to the next city, which is nothing but a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Every window is broken and all the trees are dead. You meet a man who looks like Steven Seagal named Tio Juan. Which is maybe a pun? All we know is that no video game protagonist has ever encountered a more certain death than the little boy in Spanish For Everyone.
"Soplones obtienen suturas."
Finally, you end up tracking down your "friend" and get your DS back. It was a long and dangerous journey for a toy that costs about $50 used. Along the way, you learn that Mexico and its people are lawless but helpful, which is a troubling lesson to teach a child learning Spanish via video games.
And while we're here ...
Call Of Juarez: The Cartel takes place in a topsy-turvy world in which Americans want a war with Mexico, but their president doesn't. Then the Juarez Cartel blows up the DEA and the government launches an investigation. And one of the early leads is that the Cartel is involved in sex trafficking. It's pretty much the plot of Spanish For Everyone, but rated M.
You are sent on a mission to an LA brothel, where you rough up some prostitutes to get information and chase down the villain. After a savage beating, he reveals that the cartel has been kidnapping young women, injecting them with cocktails of various drugs, and storing them in warehouses to be shipped off to Mexico.
"Hola, Tio Juan! What are you doing here?"
The mission is a success, and you save several American women from being deported as contraband-filled Mexican sex slaves! Yay! Except ... every single thing about this scenario is backward.
As mentioned on Extra Credits, sex slavers don't, or very rarely, hijack women from America to smuggle across the Mexican border. The exact opposite is what law enforcement fights against every day -- women from Mexico and elsewhere are trafficked across the border to work in brothels in the U.S. The game somehow took a reprehensible problem and got every detail about it wrong because they thought it would make the target audience care about it more. ("Cartels stealing our women!?!?") It'd be like making a news channel that spreads the narrative that white Christians are being racially oppressed. It's stupid, sure, but it also makes the real problem harder to deal with.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Mike Bedard likes video games, especially if they're filled with Pokemons. If you follow him on Twitter, he'll be your friend. When he's not writing, Sam Hurley co-hosts the funniest movie review podcast you've never heard, available now on iTunes, SoundCloud and, Stitcher, He also tweets unrequited appreciation at his fave celebs here.
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