[Note: I originally wrote this for my GameCritics blog back in July 2007 when it was news. Also, be warned: some of the language is extremely graphic and offensive.]
I’ve never liked political correctness. It’s clunky and vapid, and robs me of the freedom to call myself whatever I want. For instance, being disabled is as much a part of who I am as being female or Nebraskan or a gamer. Thinking of myself exclusively as a person with it is really awkward; my disability sounds like something I should distance myself from, be ashamed of. Watching everything you say because it could offend someone completely misunderstands what civil- and human rights activists are fighting for. In short, political correctness tells us, “Shh! Don’t offend the people-with-minoritiness!” without effecting real change.
That said, I do believe that people should think about the words they’re using, and why they’re using them. People use words like “retarded” or “gay” or “girly” as insults all the time, often without thinking about it. Indeed, when the localization department at Ubisoft put the phrase “Super Spastic” into the Nintendo DS game MindQuiz, I don’t think they meant any harm at all. Still, when MindQuiz was released in the UK—where the word “spastic” has historically referred to cerebral palsy—somebody complained about it, and the publisher pulled the game. What Ubisoft did isn’t particularly shocking. They made a mistake—one especially easy to make when you’re a French publisher releasing a game to an English-speaking market—and they fixed it. But I’m amazed at how angry some gamers are about it:
“I can’t stand stupid people. Apparently, not even the game could save [the woman who complained about the word ‘spastic’] from her stupid. I hate you lady.” [Source]
“Defective-pants-crapper is [sic] may be hyphenated, but it really isn’t one word.” [Source]
Some people are worried that this incident opens the floodgates for censorship in games, and stifles provocativeness in the industry. However, Ubisoft decided to pull the game of their own accord: there was no lawsuit involved, and nobody forced them to do anything. If “spastic” is such a little word, why are some people so hell-bent on defending it? As autistic advocate Joel Smith writes about “little” prejudices and people’s sometimes-vehement defense of them:
“If I ask someone to do something and they consider it trivial, I expect them to do it. It’s no big deal after all…When I complain about discrimination, even ‘small’ things, this isn’t trivial. It’s very important. And, often, underlying prejudice comes out—does the other person see me as a person worthy of respect, worthy of tiny modifications in their routine? Or is it important to maintain power–to be able to make the racist joke, to be able to call the waitress ‘dear’ or ‘honey’, or to make every employee do things exactly the same?” [Source]
Someone complained (informally) about the use of a word in a video game. The game’s publisher responded to the complaint. What’s the big deal? It’s just a little word.
Addendum: Shortly after I wrote this piece, the UK version of Mario Party 8 for the Nintendo Wii was recalled for using the same word.