Does Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says “that’s OK” or “whoa, don’t go there!” It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some “content debugging” would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.
Sony isn’t the only company to trip over religious sensitivities. Microsoft had to withdraw its Xbox fighter game Kakuto Chojin; Back Alley Brutal in 2003 because of Koran verses chanted in the background. Back in 1998, Muslims accused Nike of sacrilege for selling sneakers bearing a logo showing the word “air” written in fiery letters that looked like the Arabic word “Allah.” Nike ended up withdrawing the shoes, giving sensitivity training to employees and building playgrounds at several mosques in Virginia.
Muslims haven’t been the only ones complaining. A French jeans poster showing women imitating Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Leonardo da Vinci painting, “The Last Supper”, was banned in France and Italy after Catholics there complained. A leading anti-Semitism watchdog howled last spring when a South Korean cosmetics company advertised a skin lotion with a picture of a young woman sporting what appears to be a Nazi officer’s hat.
Not all protests work. Sony refused to withdraw another PS3 game, Resistance: Fall of Man, despite legal threats from the Church of England against shoot-’em-up scenes in a virtual representation of Manchester Cathedral. The company argued the game was fantasy sci-fi and that historical buildings were often used in fiction. In the end, it issued an apology last year but did not withdraw or change the game. And the publicity seems to have boosted sales…
What’s interesting here is that these are products that marketing departments presumably signed off on. They’re not organisations printing potentially provocative material, such as the Prophet Mohammad cartoons or The Jewel of Medina, as a statement on freedom of speech. These companies want to sell their products and either don’t see the possible offence or think the provocation can help sales.