Electronics giant Sony Corp. yesterday bowed to intense pressure from Quebec politicians and decided to delete video-game scenes featuring separatist terrorists engaging in bloody gunfights in a Toronto shopping mall and subway.
Syphon Filter 4: The Omega Strain included terrorists from the fictitious Quebec Liberation Front attacking Toronto with biological weapons, machine guns and grenades. The video-game player is told to "mow down" the terrorists.
"I don't want to overdramatize this, but it's hard not to feel targeted when there's a game where you shoot at Quebeckers," said Jean Dorion, head of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal.
"If there was a game where people shoot at blacks or Jews there'd be an uproar."
Mr. Dorion was an envoy in Tokyo for the Quebec government in the 1990s and had dealings with Sony officials.
"It's a responsible company, and I'm surprised they let something like this happen," he said early yesterday afternoon.
The Bloc Québécois said in a statement that the game came dangerously close to hate propaganda.
Faced with the criticism, Sony agreed early yesterday evening to cut out the parts featuring Quebec terrorists when it releases the game early next year.
"It has come to our attention that one of the game's missions, set in Toronto, includes a fantasy Quebec separatist group that may have caused offence. Recognizing the importance of corporate and social responsibility, Sony Computer Entertainment America has decided to remove any reference to this group in the final version of Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain, " Sony said in a written statement. "We deeply regret any misunderstanding this may have caused."
Sony had distributed details of the game earlier this year. But it was not until yesterday that Montreal's La Presse newspaper published the details.
Syphon Filter: Omega Strain is the fourth in a best-selling series of violent video games designed to run on Sony's popular PlayStation 2. So far, the Syphon Filter series has sold 11 million copies.
In Syphon Filter 4, the first four missions were to be set in Toronto, which had come under attack from the fictional Quebec Liberation Front.
There are 17 missions or levels in Siphon Filter 4, and they take place in locations as diverse as Chechnya, Yemen, Brazil, Uganda, Myanmar and Tokyo. Real terrorist groups have been active within the last decade in all of those centres, except for Toronto.
"We have always made sure not to reference real world terrorist groups or religions; as far as I know there are no terrorists in Quebec," John Garvin, the creative director for Syphon Filter, said in a recent interview with TotalGames.net, a gaming Web site based in the England.
Reached yesterday afternoon before Sony made its decision, Mr. Garvin was confused about the furor his game had caused in Canada, although he was aware that separatist terrorists operated in Quebec in the 1960s and '70s.
"How big is this flap? What's going on?" he asked in a telephone interview from his office in Bend, Ore. "This has turned into an international crisis that unfortunately has fallen into my lap."
The sole independence group in Quebec that resorted to violence is the long-disbanded Front de libération du Québec.
One former FLQ member, Jacques Lanctôt, snickered yesterday when told about the video game.
"I couldn't care less; they can do whatever they want at Sony," said Mr. Lanctôt, now a book publisher. "We certainly don't share the same opinions, but I'm not going to go to war against those who don't share my opinions."
Almost all former FLQ members now live away from the spotlight, working in various professions such as librarian, university professor or union executive.
The FLQ gained notoriety in 1963 by bombing symbols of the anglophone establishment in Quebec: army depots, factories, mailboxes. The movement culminated in the October, 1970, kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and the murder of provincial labour minister Pierre Laporte.
The real FLQ of the 1960s and '70s never attacked targets in Toronto or anywhere else outside Quebec.
Reached by telephone after Sony announced its decision to change the game, Mr. Garvin seemed to be in ill humour and quickly hung up the phone.
He heads one of Sony's in-house software studios in Bend, a medium-sized city of about 60,000 in central Oregon.
As with previous Syphon Filter games, the player works through various levels or missions.
The metamission for the series is to stop a global terrorist consortium from unleashing the fictional Syphon Filter virus, a biological weapon that could kill millions.
The original version of Syphon Filter 4 starts in a Toronto shopping mall, where the player came across dozens of dead people, victims of the virus. The player must then avoid some gun-toting scientists while trying to perform an autopsy on one of the bodies. Subsequent missions take place in Toronto's subway system, where the player must jump on the roof of a moving train and defuse a bomb while fighting bad guys.
The central character is named Gabe Logan, who works for a group called the Agency. The Agency's mission is to rid the world of the Syphon Filter virus.
Logan's goal and, by extension, the goal of the game's players, is to destroy the terrorist organizations who are planning to use the virus, and prevent an attack on Moscow by Chechen rebels.