I haven’t blogged in a while because I’m busy studying (yes, studying) for my OSCP certification.
But what happened over the week, was just to mind-blowingly stupid to ignore.
Here’s what happened….
A Taiwanese company released a game titled Fight of Gods, which as the name implies, has Gods fighting among themselves. But the developers didn’t ‘just’ use Greek, Roman or Norse Gods — they went a step further and used Jesus and Buddha (but not Muhammad or Allah). Gods fighting among themselves isn’t anything new in videogames or comics, who do you think Thor from the Avengers is based on, or Hercules from Disney, or just watch any Justice League episode with Wonder Woman, the real difference here is that games don’t typically use Jesus or Buddha.
Most gamers brushed off the game as a lousy game wrapped in a theatrical package, but the media picked up the story and the game garnered more publicity than was warranted. So much publicity, that the Malaysian government decided to take action, but how do you take action against a game developer in Taiwan?
Well if you can’t have the goose, you can have the gander.
You see, gamers these days download games from online stores, the most famous of which is the Steam Store. It’s like the KLCC, MidValley and Sunway Pyramid of online games — and it was in this store that Fight of Gods was sold, for a mere RM11 per download. (early bird price, of course!)
And the government in its almighty wisdom, decided to go-ahead block the entire store, not just one game from the store, or even one category — it blocked the entire store, which caused the infamous #potongsteam hashtag on twitter. For my non-Malaysian readers, potong means cut in malay, so the hash-tag just meant cut steam. But ‘steam’ is also slang for erection, and #potongsteam roughly translates to losing an erection (nice play on words!)
Steam (the company, not the erection) promptly removed the Game from the Malaysian store, and ban was quickly lifted, granting Malaysians access to their games again. Phew!
To be fair to the government, it was merely responding to calls from local leaders from all religions, including the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). Whose deputy president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan explicitly asked for the ban.
So that’s what happened, so let’s dissect the issues one at a time, and like the mosquito in the nudist colony, it’s tough to figure out where to start.
The government has a long-standing tradition of over-reaction, it has blocked medium just because SarawakReport used it, and contemplated blocking youtube. So blocking entire platforms, because of specific content is actually quite normal for our friends in the MCMC. I personally believe the government would want to block facebook and twitter, but realize the political a backlash would be too big to handle.
A full platform block, like blocking steam, penalizes both gamers and game developers, who have nothing to do with Fight of Gods. It has too much collateral damage.
But the over-reaction does more than just that — #potongsteam wouldn’t have been a hashtag if the government had just reacted like normal human beings. The over-reaction creates more publicity for a game, publicity which benefits no one else, except the creators.
In essence, the over-reaction causes the exact opposite effect that the government intended, this happens so much on the internet, there’s actually a term for this — the Streisand effect.
The effectiveness of the ban
I’m not based in Malaysia anymore, so I’m unsure how the government blocked steam, but if it used it’s typical DNS blockers — those are easily bypassed.
So easy, I expect most Malaysians have already bypassed this already.
In fact, I think, most Malaysian gamers, probably disabled the bypass, just to take a snapshot of ban, and post some snarky comment on twitter. Only to resume bypassing the ban shortly afterwards.
The more the government uses this crappy banning mechanism, the less people it’ll effect.
So…not just over-reaction, it was an ineffective over-reaction.
But it would be irresponsible of me if we didn’t confront the actual issue at hand — should the government ban games just because it offends people?
So, before I proceed, here’s a disclaimer, I’m a Christian, and I’m no Troll. But just because I’m Christian doesn’t mean I have a right to ask for a ban of everything offensive to Christianity.
Ok, let’s go.
Which do you think is more offensive to Christians and Buddhist? A game that has Jesus and Buddha dueling it out with violent (yet unrealistic) fight moves, or a game that encourages you to have sex with a prostitute (to gain health points) and then kill her to get your money back?
One is an unknown game selling at RM11 with fewer downloads than I have socks, and the other is Grand Theft Auto, a game with 30 million downloads and cost nearly RM200.
So do we get to ban Grand Theft Auto as well? and the 100’s of other violent, misogynistic but still fun games out there?
How about The DaVinci Code, a book that purports to be historically accurate and basically runs down Christianity for being a man-made religion hell-bent on destroying the children of Mary Magdalene? If some Muslims can claim to be offended by Hannah Yeoh’s book, the certainly Christians have a good case with the DaVinci Code.
Should we ban popular books and movies too? Just because it offends some particular group?
If we’re happy for the government to ban games because it offends us, why can’t the government ban events because it offends some other people? Oh, like I don’t know, an event called Jerusalem Jubilee in Melaka, or god-forbid the better beer festivals.
Christians just asked to ban the sale of a game that might have been sold to non-Christians. What basis for complain then would we have when the Muslims of PAS ask for the banning of the better beer festival? Draft for me, a specific law, that allows for the banning of Fight of Gods, but not the banning of the better beer festival — go ahead, I dare you!
In today’s ultra sensitive world, with micro-aggressions and trivially upset people, there’s a long list of things that offend people, certainly we can’t have the government banning something just because if offends. Logic dictates we raise the bar a bit higher than offensive content before we ban something.
But even putting aside all of that, what did the ban actually do?
Well maybe the 50+ Malaysians that would have downloaded the game now can no longer do so. What else? Nothing.
The game still exists, it still offends you, it’s still out there for download (if you block Mid-Valley people will just get their games from the pasar malam).
And even if gamers downloaded the game, how does a private citizen, playing a game in their home offend you?
I worry that part of the applause we gave the government for banning this game, is going to come back and bite us in the ass, because we just let the government set precedent on what banning content online looks like — and the next time the use their banning powers, it might not be as pleasant