Last night I saw a video game trailer that disturbed me. So much so that I went to sleep thinking about it, woke up still thinking about it and then came into work this morning feeling compelled to write about it. That trailer wasn’t for the gory Evil Within 2 or the terrifying Resident Evil 7: Gold Edition, nope, it was the latest trailer for South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
This past Friday, Ubisoft released the above “Game is Gold” trailer in which a gay fish attempts to guide his brown-skinned (and questionably designed) mother towards the gates of heaven as she rides a farting unicorn through a series of Flappy Bird inspired contraptions. Many have criticized the trailer for being racist and/or homophobic and while I agree with both of those sentiments, that’s actually not the reason why this trailer bothers me so much.
South Park has always been offensive. The series famously pulls no punches when it comes to sensitive issues such as race, religion, human rights, sexual preferences, politics and almost everything in-between. This generally works out well in the end because more often than not there is a method to South Park’s apparent madness. While their storylines and characters may flounder on the wrong side of decency, there is usually an underlining message or whisper of social commentary that in hindsight makes all of the juvenile hijinks appear to be more clever than crass.
With the Game is Gold trailer, this is not the case.
Series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are willing to cross almost every line imaginable in order to entertain and (sometimes) educate. But it’s evident that their only intentions when conjuring up this section of the game was to ‘hurt’ and ‘offend’. They wanted to publicly shame and embarrass one person in particular while millions of gamers laugh at their expense. That person is Kanye West.
Here’s a bit of backstory for the uninitiated…
In 2009, for reasons that still remain unclear, South Park decided that Kanye West likes eating Fishsticks. This apparently makes him a Gay Fish because, you know, “fish sticks” sounds like “fish dicks”… It wasn’t a particularly funny gag back then and it certainly isn’t any funnier now.
Two years before this episode aired, Kanye’s mother Dr. Donda West sadly passed away and Kanye West has not been the same since. In the past decade, Kanye has never stopped paying tributes to his mother whether it’s through songs, companies, charitable efforts, tweets or a host of other ventures. Despite his shortcomings, it is abundantly clear that Kanye West loves his mother and is still greatly mourning her loss. In a 2015 interview with GQ, Kanye opted not to talk about his mother as he felt it would “bring [him] to tears”. That was almost 10 years after her death. The following year, Kanye expressed his desire to release an iPhone game in honor of the late Donda West. This seemed to be a project that he felt infectiously passionate about. Speaking to bloggers and members of the press Kanye said; “The idea of the game is my mom traveling through the gates of heaven” (sound familiar?) and a concept trailer was released shortly after depicting his vision:
However, as the excellent “Blood, Sweat and Pixels” made clear, video game development is anything but easy! Development of his game has been met with several setbacks which have led to numerous delays and an overall sense of uncertainty around the project. In a recent interview, a representative for the game said “We’ve continually worked on the project, through various stages of development, production, prototyping, re-development, more prototyping, then more production, before and after E3 2016. Kanye is an artist whose creative process takes time, and he is lucky to be doing work in a medium that naturally lends itself to an elongated, constantly evolving creative processes. He is steadily continuing work on the game, and will deliver more updated visuals and progress as they grow ready”.
Unfortunately for Kanye West, a group of insensitive assholes over at South Park Studios and Ubisoft San Francisco have taken it upon themselves to create and release the game on his behalf. The end result is deeply deplorable. Kanye’s vision of honoring his mother will now forever be associated with a jigaboo fish riding a farting unicorn. At the end of the trailer, “Kanye’s Mother” tells her son not to worry as he will be joining her in heaven soon. This ‘joke’ coupled with the fact that Kanye was recently hospitalized and said to be on suicide watch only amplifies how low South Park and Ubisift SF are willing to go.
Unsurprising I’ve seen a few people online jump to the game’s defense. They attempt to justify the crude content by saying “Making fun of Kanye West is a South Park tradition” or “South Park is known for pushing buttons, that’s just what they do!”, and while I have several thoughts on this, a NeoGaf poster has perfectly summed them up for me:
You know how we can tell [this is] mean-spirited? Because there is so much more material to pull from in order to make fun of Kanye. His shoes, the near-disastrous launch of Pablo, his horrible clothing line, his marriage to a Kardashian, Taylor Swift, his outbursts, the list keeps going…
It’s a bit contradictory to say “they shouldn’t insult Kanye about that, they should insult him about this” but it’s absolutely true. There is no shortage of material that the creators could have used to poke fun at Kanye but instead, they decided to take the “dead mother” route. This type of behavior should not be tolerated and we as gamers should not have to participate in this cruel “joke” in order to enjoy the rest of the game.
And Oh, Ubisoft… Shame on them too! While we can expect this level of childishness from the creators of South Park and maybe a few game developers, the higher-ups at Ubisoft (the people who should know better!) really should have stepped in here to say, “Guys, this really is NOT cool. Instead, they knew how terrible this entire thing was and decided to use it as viral marketing. I guess it worked too because here we are now, all talking about it. It’s a sad fact but controversy sells.
Matt and Trey talking about Kanye's game pic.twitter.com/88zToxPLdC
— Rob (@Precyse) June 16, 2016
That has been South Park’s M.O. for 20 years now and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. This latest stunt has completely diminished any excitement that I once had for The Fractured But Whole and despite my love for both The Stick of Truth and the cartoon series, I have now canceled my pre-order. There are lines that just shouldn’t be crossed and dishonoring the memory of a deceased family member is one of them. Not only did South Park and Ubisoft cross this line, they ventured so far beyond it that I’m not sure if they even know where the line is anymore.