The upcoming tactical first-person shooter Ready or Not has been subject to several controversies in recent months, ranging from outrage over the game’s school shooter level to review bombing over its inclusion of an easter egg mocking John Cena’s relationship with China.
Developed by New Zealand-based developer VOID Interactive in consultation with numerous police teams around the world, Ready or Not is “set against a backdrop of political and economic instability in the United States,” and puts players “in the boots of Judge, an elite SWAT commander being tasked with defusing tense, hostile situations in a morally bankrupt city.”
The first such controversy began on December 19th when users on the /r/ReadyorNotGame subreddit began discussing whether or not the game should “have a school shooting mission in the campaign.”
While fans discussed the likely outcry of such a scenario, a representative of developer VOID Interactive reportedly responded in a now-deleted comment, “You better believe it’s gonna.”
While some users praised the developer’s bravery and “big balls,” others warned them of the inevitable negative media coverage that would pop up in the wake of such a level’s development.
Yet, before such news reports could even be written, publisher Team17 announced that they would be stepping away from Ready or Not.
“VOID Interactive and Team17 have mutually agreed that Team17 will no longer publish Ready or Not,” VOID Interactive tweeted on December 20th. “We are confident that this is the right path for the future of Ready or Not, and we thank Team17 for their partnership and wish them great success with their spectrum of games!”
In a more in-depth statement released on Christmas Eve, Void Interactive explained that they would take care to make sure that the game’s subject matter would be treated with respect.
“There is no easy way to address this issue without creating strong emotional responses from one group or another, but we will do our best,” the developer’s statement began. “I would like to start by mentioning a quote from our original company documentation that we have always believed in, continue to believe in, and that has been known to anyone who has engaged in business with our company.”
The quote, as presented by the developer, reads, “‘VOID interactive has a clear commitment to deliver high quality, impactful content that other mainstream software developers may shy away from due to cultural conventions and norms. At VOID Interactive we value the voice of our customers and partners and whilst this will not dictate our direction, we will allow it to smartly influence what we do. At its core, the game honours the work of dedicated law enforcement officers across the world and in no way intends to glorify cowardly criminal acts.'”
Continuing their original statement, the developer asserted, “We are dedicated to promoting a level of authenticity and realism in our video game, Ready or Not, that carries with it difficult subject matter. We understand that this requires a certain responsibility — to our fans and community, yes, but also to those who have been impacted by the traumatic events law enforcement all too often responds to.”
“Rest assured, our aim is to handle all of Ready or Not’s content with the level of weight and respect that it warrants,” they further elaborated. “We have recently had to remind certain team members of the required care in discussing this material now and on an on-going basis.”
Turning to the team’s intent to develop a school shooter-level, VOID then told players, “‘School’ is not just a part of the fabric of ready or not’s story, it is part of the fabric of thousands of people’s stories worldwide. It is the story of those who have died too soon at the hands of a deranged gunman, the story of family and friends waiting for a phone call that might never come, the story of the first responders who do everything they can only for it to not be enough.”
“It is a look at an uncomfortable reality that has become all too common, and we hope that we can play some small part in honoring those who have been impacted by these real world tragedies with a portrayal that does not trivialize their experiences,” they continued. “We will continue to follow our vision, we will continue to listen, and we will continue to work every day on Ready or Not.”
Despite VOID Interactive’s promise of respect, some seemed to take issue with the game regardless. In his report for the news outlet, VG247 contributor Jeremy Signor claimed that VOID Interactive’s statement did not admit to wrongdoing, opining that the developer’s “reminding team members to treat touchy subjects with care” was “the closest the statement gets to flat-out admitting someone on the team messed up.”
He also took issue with the team’s extensive consultations with law enforcement, writing, “Given that many people’s relationship with the police has grown more and more contentious, it could be argued that the entire concept of the game is fraught,” before concluding, “Add to that the additional trauma of the United States’ school shooting epidemic and you’ve got an explosive set of themes that even those treating them with the most care would likely fumble.”
In their review of the game’s Early Access build, Kotaku reporter Ethan Gach described Ready or Not as “edgy copaganda” and “a violent political fantasy with no capacity for self-interrogation,” while simultaneously taking issue with such small details as a crass sign in a strip club and the game’s lack of playable female officers.
Gach also doubted the sincerity of the developer’s words, framing VOID Interactive as having “seemingly re-committed [themselves] to adding a school shooting level.” In an attempt to fear monger, Gach also alleged that users on the game’s official Discord had “fantasized about which gear they’d use to hunt down the shooter” in the school shooter scenario.
“Ready or Not’s realism is effective enough to disturb but too shallow not to descend into farce, or worse, Blue Lives Matter cosplay with fascist overtones and alt-right dog whistles,” he ascertained.
In addition to the inclusion of a school shooter level, Gach also took issue with “an easter egg in the game’s starting headquarters area [which] consists of a discarded ‘red pill’ box in a trash can with the words ‘Noggin Joggers’ on the side”, which the writer claims “some have interpreted as 4chan-speak for the N-word.”
A reference to the infamous scene in The Matrix, the concept of the “red pill” has been used to refer to someone who has ‘woken up’ to the reality of a given situation after learning a damning piece of information they hadn’t known before.
Further, despite Gach’s claim that the word ‘joggers‘ is a racist term inspired by the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the full reference is actually to the term ‘noggin joggin’, a humorous term for the act of thinking.
In another example shared by /u/lyco993, a multi-vitamin box bearing the tagline “Feels Good Man” could be seen on a table.
The user felt this was a direct reference to Pepe the Frog, the character who uttered the original line in Matt Furie’s 2005 webcomic, Boy’s Club and whose image was labeled as an alt-right dog whistle after Trump supporters, and even President Donald Trump himself, began to embrace him.
Even though, as Kotaku themselves admit, the game is full of similar sights gags – including a bottle of “Bonor Health” Vitamin D supplements from the “Whore Foods” company and a sign in a sex club reading “Anal Staircase” – VOID Interactive issued a statement on January 7th, denouncing the allegations that they supported hateful views, explaining that the offending items were placeholder assets from a contractor, and announcing that they would be replaced in the final build.
“We would like to start by saying that VOID Interactive does not support or condone any form of racism, bigotry, or alt-right views, and any such views will never be tolerated by our development team or in our community,” wrote VOID Interactive. “We have a diverse team of developers and contractors from many parts of the world and strive to create a welcoming environment for our playerbase and our people. Additionally, while our game touches on hard realities and mature topics, we have no intention for it or for any other games we may produce to be a conduit for hate. Intolerance has no place in Ready or Not.”
They continued, “Regarding the level props that have been mentioned, these are placeholder assets that were put in place to fill otherwise bare spaces and were supplied by a contractor we no longer use. These assets will be replaced as we continue to develop the game.”
As for the Red Pill box, the developer explained that the graphic asset was “a reference to the Matrix movie (Neo choosing between the red pill and blue pill). A noggin jogger is slang for an activity or challenge that messes with the mind and is commonly used as a reference to complex puzzles or brain teasers.”
“We take these allegations quite seriously, and rest assured that the development team was not aware of any hateful connotations with the aforementioned props,” the developer added. ” We appreciate the community members that have brought up this concern, and for the avoidance of doubt, we have already taken steps to remove these placeholder assets, which you will note in the game’s next update.”
In conclusion to their statement, VOID Interactive asserted, “It is worth noting that we were cautious about issuing a statement to Kotaku, given that in the past they have produced articles with misleading headlines regarding our mutual split with publisher Team17,” a reference to Kotaku’s false headline insinuation that Team17 had dropped the game rather than departing via mutual agreement.
“We are saddened to see that this has happened again, but we are looking forward to and will continue to correct the record whenever we can,” VOID Interactive said.
The final and most bizarre twist in the tale is that Ready or Not has come under specific fire from Chinese players after a sound clip of the John Cena “Bing Chilling” meme was found in the game’s “Activity Fail” voice over folder.
The phonetic Mandarin pronunciation of ‘ice cream’, Bing Chilling refers to a video made by F9 star John Cena during his promotion of the film in China, wherein he can be seen eating ice cream in a car while speaking to fans in Chinese.
The video later became a meme, and as such has become somewhat associated with the “John Xina” memes, which made a recent resurgence in the wake of the wrestler-turned-actor made a grovelling apology to Chinese fans after referring to Taiwan as an independent country during his F9 promotion tour.
In the wake of this apology, memes about Cena promoting the Chinese governments pro-communist, social credit, and anti-free speech ideals began to spread like wildfire.
As discovered by YouTuber Rimmy Jerry Beans Man, it seems some Chinese players have left negative reviews [1, 2] for Ready or Not over its inclusion of the Bing Chilling sound clip, with some ostensibly taking it as mockery of the communist country and its government ideals.
Along with pointing out to others where the offending files were, some of the reviews (based on machine translations provided by Google Translate) took time to vent how the developers had insulted them. The sound clips, assuming they are placeholders, being under the Activity Fail section of voice clips could also have been interpreted as Cena’s apology being a failure.
“The game is fun, but the production team insults China,” stated Caradriel “how to choose is up to you.”
In their review, NCC78657 wrote “No matter how high the quality of the game itself is, how disgusting the production team is to play those vulgar and vulgar behaviors full of Western arrogance and ignorance by including files that have nothing to do with the game in the game files.”
They concluded their review in English with “Shame on you for the stupid political bias.”
Other Chinese reviewers simply posted ‘Bing Chilling’ or briefly insulted the development teams.
Will Ready or Not continue to offend? Were those offended justified? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments below!
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