LOS ANGELES — Despite the best efforts of Microsoft’s army of marketers and publicists preparing for the E3 game show, Monday was a little rocky for the company.
First there were audio glitches during the Xbox One demo that were so bad Electronic Arts nearly walked off the stage while presenting “Battlefield 4,” one of the biggest games in the event.
Then Sony dramatically undercut the price of the Xbox One and mocked Microsoft’s new restrictions on used-game sales, drawing a cheer from game fans that continued to reverberate Tuesday. Here’s one of the slides being shown during its press event by Jack Tretton, head of its U.S. games business:
Then some media outlets pounced on the reaction among some Twitter users who were offended by the banter during one of Microsoft’s game demos Monday. By the midday today there was a national story brewing about Microsoft’s presentation, fueled by the click-baiting phrase “Microsoft rape joke.”
During a demonstration of the new fighting game “Killer Instinct,” a male producer with Microsoft studio Rare competed with a woman on the stage, who started out by complaining about the unfair odds, having to play a producer.
The game features over-the-top fighting violence — players madly punch buttons to punch, kick and attack opponents. Microsoft began the demo by announcing that a classic game controller called a “Fight Stick” will be released with the game.
At one point during the demo, as the producer virtually pulverized his opponent, she said, “I can’t even block correctly and you’re too fast.”
The producer responded with a comment that some in the audience found offensive and implying sexual violence:
“Just let it happen – it will be over soon,” he said.
A CBS online story today included four tweets from people who were put off by the comment, including three who called it a “rape joke.”
The story went further, adding excerpts of the on-stage banter referencing the Fight Stick.
I didn’t hear the comment and didn’t notice or hear any particular audience reaction. Reviewing the video, the line seems to be in poor taste, given sensitivity to the game industry’s misogynistic tendencies. But characterizing it as a “Microsoft rape joke” is inflammatory.
The topic of objectifying women is on the mind of journalists at E3, especially since a raunchy event at the spring Game Developers Conference in San Francisco drew attention. Perhaps the Microsoft flap will prompt thoughtful discussion, if it moves beyond click bait.
Meanwhile, it has become the most-read story at CBSnews.com today, with more than 58,000 page views, and other online outlets posted their own stories on the “Microsoft rape joke.”
Microsoft today issued a statement, attributed to Vice President Phil Spencer, apologizing for the “inappropriate” comment:
“Yesterday, during the Xbox E3 briefing, one of our employees made an off-the-cuff and inappropriate comment while demo-ing ‘Killer Instinct’ with another employee. This comment was offensive and we apologize. At Microsoft, being open and respectful with others is central to our code of conduct and our values. Bullying and harassment of any kind is not condoned and is taken very seriously. We remain committed to make gaming fun for everyone, and in that effort, we must lead by example.”
Decide for yourself — here’s the demo in a video posted by GameSpot, which is owned by CBS: