Thanks to this episode of Gametrailer’s ‘Pop Fiction’ series on Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I am a little more enlightened on the “controversial” subject of Ocarina of Time’s Fire Temple music.
Very interesting, this censorship malarkey. As you might know, the original Fire Temple music with its distinctive atmospheric chanting was removed and replaced by a chant-less song in later versions of Ocarina of Time. Sounds pedestrian right? But hang on, the chanting sounds suspiciously like Muslim prayer. In fact, to be specific, the chant is a killer combo of the adhan, or call to prayer, and a line from the first surah or chapter of the Qur’an, Surah al-Fatihah. Now we all know, where there are Muslims controversy can’t be far behind. But, hang on. GameTrailer’s video offers proof that the original chant was actually borrowed from a sample library, so we know Nintendo didn’t record it themselves. It appears in several other games, including one pre-dating Ocarina of Time. GT conclude that the Fire Temple music was remixed pre-release, so as to avoid potential controversy. Key word here being potential – there was no outcry.
Fast forward to today and Nintendo’s pre-emptive controversy-dodging policy is back in the news (how ironic). On the topic of Nintendo’s recent rejection of indie legend Team Meat’s new game, The Binding of Isaac, planned for 3DS release, Dan Adelman at Nintendo commented:
It kind of kills me…it kills me right now that I had to make that phone call. We carve out some categories of content we don’t allow. Religious themes is one of those topics. And so it was deemed to be in violation of that. Maybe we should revisit the entire concept guideline on religious themes. Maybe we should just get rid of that altogether.
Ouch. The reason why I mention this in relation to the Fire Temple music, is to point out a key difference between the two. Admittedly, I do not know much about The Binding of Isaac. Certainly, the title has overt religious connotations, referring to the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, and the game’s story is modeled with the story in mind. That explains why Nintendo felt that they couldn’t simply request a few cosmetic changes (“First aid cross?! Needs to go”) and release it. But there is a strong case to say that the self-censorship Nintendo exercised for Ocarina of Time is not the same as them refusing to release The Binding of Isaac on 3DS, even if they are justified in the same terms.
The difference between the two games is that Ocarina of Time was targeted at children. I don’t mean to be exclusionary here – I’m not saying that Ocarina of Time is for kids and no one else, but rather that children are included as part of the target audience. And my personal feeling too, is that Ocarina of Time straddles the tightrope of appealing to both children and adults, without exclusively appealing to one group over the other – this can be said for most of the Zelda games, and in fact probably most of Nintendo’s first party games.
The Binding of Isaac, on the other hand, while it has a cartoonish look and clearly borrows heavily from the 2D Zelda games, is clearly not child friendly. Key to all of this are the relatively recent appearance of age ratings for games, something which didn’t exist uniformly when Ocarina of Time came out in 1998. But they do now, in Europe, Australia, America and Japan, meaning that children should not have access to content aimed at older players. Nintendo should take these changes into greater consideration, given that games that address religious themes are suitable and of interest for adults, and update their policy accordingly. As the platform-holder of the 3DS and Wii U, obviously Nintendo have the right to revoke gamemakers’ rights to publish games on their systems. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, both for reasons of quality and what in cheesy-speak we might call “community cohesion” (I’m thinking of one of those notorious homebrew, racist, Neo-Nazi first-person shooters here). There is a line and Nintendo should tread carefully at certain points, I’m just not convinced that The Binding of Isaac is one of those points.
Incidentally, as a final note, I believe Nintendo was right to remove and replace the original chant-laden Fire Temple song from Ocarina of Time. It would be an insensitive move to leave it in, and its removal suggests that its original inclusion was a mistake made out of ignorance and not malicious intent. While its removal may seem faintly ridiculous to some, especially to those unfamiliar with the Islamic style of recitation, a Muslim playing Ocarina of Time would likely be jarred and possibly offended by the chant. (Double incidentally, for anyone interested, I think the chanting as it is used in the game approximates the effect of hearing the adhan in Muslim countries blaring from multiple mosques at the same time – here’s an effective example).
To those who would protest and call remixing the music “political correctness gone mad”, “censorship”, I ask you, what purpose does the chant serve? Clearly it isn’t integral to the game in any sense whatsoever, and the same result (a vaguely creepy atmosphere) can be reached easily by another means. So what is the problem? I would ask that you consider, for a moment, the perspective of a Muslim gamer when he or she comes across that chant. Even if they happen to like the effect and find it pleasant, which is debatable, surely they will question what the chant is doing in the context of a fantasy game. Now we assume that the Gorons are Muslims? It adds nothing, in fact it detracts from the overall fantasy of the game. That’s not to say that there aren’t a number of other racial and ethnic references already in Ocarina of Time, but most of them are implied. In any case I will leave that topic for a later post. Stay tuned.