OPINION: Who Dares… loses

The new wave of motion-controlled games are characterised by very basic, human things. Dynamism and movement. Physicality. Whisper it: Sensuality. Or, more basically: Movement. Clapping. Applause.

A round of applause, however, is something Ubisoft never got when it came to new game We Dare. The cheeky/sexy/playful/fun/sinful/kinky/quirky/light-hearted party game for the Wiimote and PS3 Move. It’s rated 12 by PEGI, but is effectively a 21st Century mix of spin the bottle, Twister, and board games like Battle of the Sexes – but instead of a bottle or board game you use a games console.

The games media ignored the first press release announcing it, sent out in early January. Check the big four: IGN, Gamespot, CVG, Eurogamer. Nothing. (Even MCV missed it, although the game was present on our Wii release schedule from the off.) Only the little blogs, hungry for contentcontentanycontentplease, actually bothered to do the copy and paste due diligence turning a PR document into a news story.

That all changed when the first trailer emerged, though. A partly-awkward, but clearly targeted video depicting two pairs of consenting adults trying a bit of slap, wriggle and tickle via a We Dare session.

But again, no applause for Ubi. Instead: scorn, derision, scepticism, anger. Suggestions of dirty swingers. Elsewhere on the blogs, on Twitter, in the YouTube comments: A chorus of children squirming because a boy and a girl were being intimate. Eurgh, eurgh, mummy – that man and woman are kissing! YUCK, yuck, make them stop!

All of that inevitably spilt over into the mainstream, and not in a good way. The Sun. The Daily Mail. The Telegraph. Predictably lit up like bright red Christmas tree lights with furious smileys scrawled on them. Aghast parents. Shocked headlines. ‘Can you believe this game is rated 12?’ ‘I for one am appalled.’ Oh, and Keith sodding Vaz. Of course.

In the week and a half since, Ubisoft has been defended by PEGI, ISFE and the VSC – the bodies involved in rating the game. The publisher even added a ‘Parental Advisory’-style label to the (admittedly provocative) boxart to placate the critics.

But none of that was enough. Last night Ubisoft said it won’t release it in the UK. According to the publisher that comes down to ‘public response’.

A sorry, pathetic state of affairs indeed. Thanks a lot, The Media, you’ve excelled yourself this time.

When the We Dare ‘furore’ was manufactured by the tabloids, we checked in with Ubisoft, who understandably didn’t want to talk about a controversy it didn’t see coming and was trying to dismantle.

We also asked some retailers if it had impacted their plans to stock We Dare. One of the largest retail chains on the planet told us plainly that the media reaction was a fuss over nothing.

"This is not a controversial game," was their six-word statement, supplied to us. Says a lot.

Were all retailers so magnanimous? Potentially not. The rest said no comment, or never returned our calls. But with The Sun and its ilk playing judge, jury and executioner, telling its legions of idiot readers to hate this or vote for that, of course some were going to be wary of stocking it. Maybe the ‘public response’ dictated their buying decisions. Certainly, retail has prior form for cutting orders or changing its mind about promotions should early negative reviews dampen a release. Early negative previews? Even worse, I imagine.

But you know what? The Sun was only taking the juvenile response amongst the games media, industry commentators and childish gamers to its logical conclusion. Well done kids, well done Tweeters, well done ‘responsible journalists’. You caused a stir. You policed content before you even played it and you played moral guillotine.

Individually, you made comments and poured scorn – no harm.

But collectively, you kangaroo commitee-d this game from curio to supposed peado bait. Tabloids only followed suit, chasing down a cheap story that any of us could’ve written. ‘Go on to Mumsnet, find some angry mothers, get them on the page – job done.’

All just a week after many of you heralded a gory vicious trailer depicting the fantastical death of a child. You called that the Next Big Thing in games. But we must live in a seriously broken world if Dead Island can be put on a pedestal but We Dare must be stoned to death.

Ubi’s not blameless here – someone signed off on that trailer, and someone encouraged the viral tease in late February go from a ‘have you seen…?’ link to heavily re-tweeted video. The trailer is designed to provoke, to suggest some form of titillation, after all. There’s definitely a clear tension between the apparently harmless content in the 12 rated game, and the video promoting it. Apparently, PEGI has even ordered Ubisoft to distance to the two since, and remove the trailer.

And, the box art for the game, with its fluffy pink whore’s bedoir chair and recently-vacated underwear and shoes, doesn’t help matters.

But I don’t think the reaction to all this nevertheless uncomfortable marketing content has been warranted. It’s a an over-reaction turned into an unnecessary media sensation. An over-reaction for which the specialist press should be first to take the blame, and which the mainstream media is guilty of exploding into an issue actually unworthy of attention.

Much of the scorn comes around that 12 PEGI rating, but sensible discussions about this are hard to find. Maybe the game and its trailer exposes a flaw in the PEGI system, but no one is asking that question.

And even if the content in the game was as scandalous as the video, the 12 rating might still hold water. Amazingly, the reaction to We Dare has been that ’12’ means ‘designed for 12-year-olds and over, not adults’. But we don’t say that The King’s Speech (rated 15) is ‘designed for 15-year-olds or over, not adults’. A clear statement as any games still suffer perception issues – easily written off as toys – regardless of how mainstream they are.

Whatever: in the end, I imagine Ubisoft had no choice but to pull the plug. It played a part in the circus around the game, but didn’t necessarily have a say in bringing the big top crashing to the ground.

I don’t claim to have any insight into Ubisoft’s view here. Perhaps, when the We Dare slide popped up on the conference room screen during weekly meetings, staff slumped in their seats and sniggered, or looked away embarrassed. Maybe they took this opportunity to sweep We Dare under the rug, an unsightly game best forgotten.

But maybe not… Ubisoft has built its reputation on slightly alternative, quirky, off-beat, and commercially precise ideas. Maybe they saw We Dare, as it seems to have been ultimately intended, as a bit of fun like Just Dance or Raving Rabbids.

In the end, this sorry story proves just one thing: everyone in games needs to grow up before they can start having any fun. You, me, the media… isn’t this industry meant to be about enjoying yourself? Congratulations for stamping on someone’s attempts to make a video game about just that.

Ubisoft Dared to make something a bit different – you told them to stop. Censorship? Maybe, yeah.

So: applause? Well, We Dare critics, the only applause you’ll get from me is a weary, disappointed slow-clap.

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