While the animated series may have begun its life on Comedy Central as an awkward, odd look at American youth, South Park has spent the last 17 years tackling some of the most controversial and divisive wars, political issues, and moral dilemmas of our time (not to mention giving their take on the ongoing console war). In fact, it's hard to think of a single explosive subject that series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone haven't explored with surprising wit, and weathered the ensuing storm just fine.
But with the pair's talents finally being used to shape a video game experience worthy of the series name, South Park: The Stick of Truth was faced with a reality that the show's developers rarely encounter - censorship. Fans in Europe and Australia will experience some scenes of the game differently than those in North America, and Matt Stone has explained why the shift to gaming brought harsher control, and why the team didn't let it alter their vision.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the series to find that The Stick of Truth would include some truly offensive and disturbing imagery (read our review), even if an element of interactivity has now been added to the proceedings. The writing duo took every effort to bring the same level of writing and story the show enjoys to the game, and succeeded. But for scenes involving alien probing, and a trip to an 'Unplanned Parenthood' clinic, it proved too much for censors overseas.
Speaking with The Guardian, South Park co-creator Matt Stone explained that the show is able to tackle issues that would have been off-limits even years ago - something that the success of graphic, mature TV shows in America proves. But when it came to the game, the team was forced to acknowledge that games are a different matter entirely:
"I was told that Australia has different standards. They have their own ratings system, as does Europe, so I was told that we had to submit it for ratings and they come back and tell you this will pass, this won't. Ultimately, the full version of the game is in North America, so at least that version is out there, but anywhere it's censored [in the other version], we just put in little black cards explaining what has happened.
"It's not that big a deal. It doesn't change things that much, but we weren't going to change the game downwards somewhere and just not tell anybody. You'll see how ridiculous that is."
The team, as they tend to do, found a way to turn the potential controversy or censorship into yet another joke, replacing the scenes in question with text screens explaining to European players what should have been shown in its place. In other words: getting around censorship by not showing audiences something offensive, but explaining it nonetheless (something censors found acceptable).
So for a creative team that courts controversy with abandon, and takes on nearly every moral or political issue others are afraid to even approach, does it seem foolish to have to censor a video game for large portions of the world? Stone gives his thoughts on why games elicit a different standard from some censors:
"It does feel like a double standard, a little bit. We weren't willing to change the content, but also it doesn't ruin the game — it's like 40 seconds' worth of the whole game. As long as we could make a joke out of the fact that they made us cut this, that was fine.
"There is an interactiveness that makes it different. In movies and television you can do stuff that's morally grey very easily, because you get to show consequences, you get to show reward, but in a video game there's a reason why everything is a Nazi, zombie, or alien - these are pretty clear moral choices.
"There are things that make people more uncomfortable in an interactive world, definitely. But that said, what we had in the game, we could have shown that on TV pretty easily, especially now."
Luckily, the writers managed to turn the censorship into a joke itself, but where do you fall on the issue? Do you think the interaction required in a game changes the idea of what's acceptable, or do you feel there is a double standard at work, considering what the censors allowed to stay in the game? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available now for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
Source: The Guardian