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LittleBigPlanet delayed due to potentially offensive content

LittleBigPlanet, one of this fall's most highly anticipated PlayStation 3 games, recently suffered a setback forcing the game's planned Tuesday release to be pushed to next week.

A post on the official PlayStation blog stated the following:

"During the review process prior to the release of LittleBigPlanet, it has been brought to our attention that one of the background music tracks licensed from a record label for use in the game contains two expressions that can be found in the Qur'an. We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologize for any offense that this may have caused.  We will begin shipping LittleBigPlanet to retail in North America the week of October 27th. Sorry for the delay, and rest assured, we are doing everything we can to get LittleBigPlanet to you as soon as possible."

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The "immediate action" mentioned in the post likely refers to the development of a game update that will block the original song and replace it with another. It seems unlikely that Sony would recall and destroy the hundreds of thousands of game discs that have already been manufactured and shipped to stores around the world.

But the means by which Sony fixes this supposed problem are of little interest to me. I'm much more curious to know why it required fixing in the first place.

Game blog Kotaku recently posted a letter sent to Sony from the Arabic gaming site that supposedly acted as the impetus for the Japanese gaming giant's decision. It identifies and translates the Qur'an phrases found in the song ("Every soul shall have the taste of death" and "All that is on earth will perish"), before going on to state, "We Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Qur'an deeply offending."

Sony's motive to acquiesce is, obviously, to ensure that they stay on the good side of the millions of Muslims who play their games. It's a fair business decision.

It is also, however, a blow to free creative expression, and a major setback for those who would have games be considered a form of art.

Disallowing certain words and phrases entry into popular games is essentially censorship. And while censorship can at times be justified-such as when it is used as a barricade to hatred and bigotry-no one has yet suggested that the Qur'an phrases found in the LittleBigPlanet track were co-opted in order to antagonize or ridicule.

Publishers are the recipients of an endless stream of complaint letters that disapprove of all manner of game content, ranging from violence to homosexuality, and they come from a wide variety of protestors, including churches, parent lobbying groups, teachers, lawyers, and politicians. Typically, the only time a game maker takes action on these complaints is when the ESRB threatens to stamp their game with a rating higher than the age of its perceived core audience.

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By holding up the release of one of the PlayStation 3's most important games to remove two lines of text that would have no impact on the game's age rating, Sony is essentially stating that they accept one particular religion as a higher level of authority than any other form of petitioner.

Moreover, they are sending a clear message to all game designers that in their creative planning they must take into account and avoid the taboos of a particular group of people. This stifles the artistic process, and could eventually prevent game makers from communicating important, relevant ideas.

But hey, at least Sony will sell a few more copies of LittleBigPlanet in the interim.

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