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No 3DS release for  The Binding of Isaac  due to 'questionable religious content'
No 3DS release for The Binding of Isaac due to 'questionable religious content'
February 29, 2012 | By Mike Rose

February 29, 2012 | By Mike Rose
Comments
    56 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



Newsbrief: Edmund McMillen's hit indie title The Binding of Isaac is no longer getting a Nintendo 3DS eShop release, due to "questionable religious content" in the game."

McMillen was looking to release a 3DS version of his dungeon crawler, which he recently revealed has sold over 450,000 copies on PC. However, he explained today via Twitter, "After a long internal debate Nintendo has decided not to allow The Binding of Isaac on the 3DS."

He noted that the reason was due to the game's religious connotations, and added cheekily, "Thank God Steam exists!" referring to the successful sales of the game via Valve's Steam platform.


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Comments


El Winchestro
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That sucks for nintendo

Joe Zachery
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We all know that some politicians would use this against Nintendo.

Mike Smith
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... what, for being sensitive to people of faith?

Eric Geer
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Sad, I probably would have played this on a handheld. Doesn't seem like a game I would spend time on at my PC.

Kris Graft
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It's really good though! You might be surprised.

David Holmin
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Sounds a bit strange. The Shin Megami Tensei games are released in the US, after all. But I guess it's Nintendo of America stopping this, not Nintendo in Japan.

Matthew Mouras
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And Shin Megami doesn't touch on many western religious themes.

Joe Wreschnig
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"Shin Megami doesn't touch on many western religious themes."

Are we playing the same games? In the one I played - for the DS - had me killing the angels Raphael and Mastema and cast God as a sexist fascist.

Maybe what you mean is "it doesn't bring up, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, parts of the Bible many Christians find ethically uncomfortable and don't like to be reminded of."

Matthew Mouras
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@Joe - Keyword in my statement being "themes". I find that descriptive without being verbose :)

A W
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Mortal Kombat... is that you?

David Amador
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Oh Nintendo, why? First Super Meat Boy, now this? Are you pissed at them for making SMB controls more responsive than Mario?

David Gonzales
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isn't this censorship? a game is denied because it has a plot that could potentially make religious people go wa wa wa?

Mike Smith
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Yes, this is censorship. It's called having standards and quality control.

Robert Boyd
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Sure, it's censorship. But it's Nintendo's console and they're free to allow or disallow whatever they want on it. They're under no obligation to allow any and everything to release on their system.

Joe Wreschnig
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"They're under no obligation to allow any and everything to release on their system."

This is a non-statement made every time something is censored and someone thinks it's a good idea but wants to try to show a neutral public face. Yes, they're allowed to say what they want. We're allowed to call them out on it.

Let's move past that and instead talk about how this censorship, *even though it is allowed*, helps or hurts the art and business of making games.

E Zachary Knight
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Nintendo has a long history of blocking games from being released based on many arbitrary factors. Religious references were one of those. It seems that although they have moved past sexual and violent content, they are still jittery on Religious themes. Honestly, I find this sad.

While this is censorship in action, it is not censorship legally. The game is still available, just not on the 3DS.

Joe,

While what you say is true, it doesn't change the simple fact that the 3DS is a walled garden controlled by Nintendo. They have the final say on what games and content is allowed. It would be nice for us if they were more open, but they feel it doesn't fit their brand.

Adam Bishop
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A private company can not engage in censorship. Only the government can censor.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Mike Smith
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Look, let's be clear. The game was blatantly offensive and attacked people of religious faith. Nintendo generally tries to appeal to a family oriented audience most of whom are religious. Why would you want to offend your core audience? If I were Nintendo I wouldn't carry it either.

Jonathon Yurth
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Have you played the game?

Do you have a citation for the comment about their core audience being religious?

Adam Culberson
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I am not religious but I own both nintendo consoles. Please don't paint things with such a broad paintbrush. Also, I was not offended when the game, "Left Behind", was made in which people like me would go to hell while everyone else went to magic candy land. I just didn't buy the crappy thing.

Robert Boyd
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I've played the game and I thought it was somewhat offensive.

They took a major story from the Old Testament and perverted it. Also, among other things, you can play as Cain and you can enter into pacts with the devil for power.

But to be honest, I mostly just didn't like the gameplay. Combat is clunky and even for a roguelike, it's far too dependent on random number generators.

Joe Wreschnig
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How do you delineate between attacking people of religious faith, and making a game based on a story in the Bible that is both important to much of Judeo-Christian theology and highly offensive to modern human moral conduct?

Why is this game the former, and not the latter?

If you can't delineate, can we never distribute media about "controversial" subject matter to a mass market? People seem to have no problem handing out bibles.

Joe Wreschnig
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"They took a major story from the Old Testament and perverted it."

You mean like El Shaddai? Or maybe like Xenogears? How about almost every Shin Megami Tensei game? The story of TBoI is probably more accurate to the biblical story than any of those games are to their sources.

Robert Boyd
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El Shaddai is not from the bible, it's based on the apocrypha (non-canon works). Xenogears uses religious imagery to make it appear more important than it actually is but has little actual religious connection. And Shin Megami Tensei uses mythological and religious characters liberally but is generally respectful of the source material and is not focused on any one particular religion.

The story of Abraham is a touching one with two major takeaways.

1 - God asks Abraham to do something that he finds morally repulsive but he trusts God that things will turn out good in the end and they do.
2 - Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac is symbolic of God being willing to sacrifice his son.

Given that Abraham is one of the major prophets in both Judaism and Christianity, replacing him with an evil psychopath is bound to be offensive for a lot of people.

Jonathon Yurth
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I feel like saying they perverted the story seems a little heavy handed. Speaking specifically about the opening sequence, I do not see how it strays from the bible story much, if at all. I have only 8 hours or so into the game, so maybe things change further in. I don't know.

Robert, I'm glad you brought up the Cain aspect. I can understand why religous people would be sensitive about that aspect of the game. The odd thing, for me, is that I don't see that come up in conversations much. In my experience the conversations center around the emotions of religious people feeling like they need to defend themselves from this game attacking them and rarely, if ever, actually go into specifics. It seems the people who feel attacked aren't familiar with the content of this game, so I'm puzzled as to how they draw the conclusion they need to defend something.

In my opinion I am glad we have games like this. They are uncomfortable for people, but they make you think.

Joe Wreschnig
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"El Shaddai is not from the bible, it's based on the apocrypha (non-canon works)."

With liberal sprinkling of biblical bits. (The Book of Enoch is also not apocryphal to 100% of modern Christian churches, but I'll give you 99%.) Is this really the standard you want? Is it okay if I make a game based around the Book of Judith, because it's not in the major Protestant faiths?

"Xenogears uses religious imagery to make it appear more important than it actually is but has little actual religious connection."

pervert, v: Alter (something) from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.

Xenogears perverts the religious imagery it uses *because* it has little connection to the religion. That's part of what "perverts" means.

"And Shin Megami Tensei uses mythological and religious characters liberally but is generally respectful of the source material and is not focused on any one particular religion."

One of your complaints about TBoI was "you can enter into pacts with the devil for power" - you can do this in virtually every SMT game.

"Given that Abraham is one of the major prophets in both Judaism and Christianity, replacing him with an evil psychopath is bound to be offensive for a lot of people."

And *not* identifying Abraham as a psychopath offends people who don't believe in God. So I don't see how this gets us any closer to useful criteria.

I mean, this game is on retail store shelves. Nintendo's dumb if they think any controversy around it will do anything but fuel sales.

E Zachary Knight
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Perhaps I didn't play the game long enough, but I am struggling to be offended by it.

Sure I can see why some people would find the game offensive, but I also see how the portrayal of Isaac's mom is a commentary on the Biblical story by someone who is not religious. If you were not religious and read the story, yes it sounds crazy. However, those of a religious background can more easily recognize the spiritual significance of the story.

So while the game does express the view that the Abraham and Isaac story was the result of a fevered hallucination, It is part of the narrative the author chose to express. I can't fault him for that.

Nou Phabmixay
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I'm pretty offended that Nintendo is thought of as a family oriented platform. There's some really violent games on their systems. Or maybe killing is okay. Then I'm even more offended at the suggestion that religious families support killing.

Robert Boyd
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And see, developers are perfectly free to take religious stories and present them from an atheist point of view. However, they shouldn't be surprised when such an approach offends some people. And if those people you offend includes a platform holder, that can cost you a lot of money.

Joe Wreschnig
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I think Nintendo needs McMillen and game makers like him more than he needs people like Nintendo. What this incident tells me is that Nintendo still doesn't realize it.

Nou Phabmixay
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Lets see if Sony works out this "game drought" problem.

Todd Masten
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This just sold a ton of copies on alternate platforms.

Joe Wreschnig
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So I assume this means Darksiders won't be showing up on the Wii U after all.

What's that? Nintendo only shits on indies? If you've got a lot of money or a team you can make a game about whatever you want? Oh, okay.

Robert Boyd
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Comparing Darksiders and Binding of Isaac is apples and oranges.

One's a big blockbuster take on the end of the world.

The other has the big villain as a deeply religious psychopath who abuses children.

The main difference is in intentions. If anything, Binding of Isaac is TRYING to be offensive to religious individuals. Which is all fine if that's what they wanted but if you're trying to be edgy and offensive, don't come complaining when some people complain.

Nintendo does have a long history of anti-indie sentiment though. To be honest, I'm a little surprised they got to submit the game for approval in the first place.

Kyle Redd
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"If anything, Binding of Isaac is TRYING to be offensive to religious individuals."

No, Binding of Isaac is trying to be *satirical* (not offensive) of religious *doctrine* (not individuals). Nothing in the game is directed at any living person either alone or as part of a group; it is only satirizing a single story in a book full of them.

If games are ever going to be taken seriously by those outside the industry, then games are going to have to start branching away from "save the world" stories to more nuanced content like Isaac's.

Or, I guess we could just leave all of those games on the PC. Fine with me, actually.

Joe Wreschnig
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Robert, I still don't understand your standard for "trying to be offensive." I understand that you are offended. I am certain that there are Charismatic groups that would be offended by Darksiders.

There are certainly ways a game can try to be offensive. If the game starts by saying, in an authorial voice, "people of religious conviction are all idiots and smell bad" that's trying to be offensive.

But what TBoI does is portray fictional people who have religious convictions in a negative light. It uses Biblical elements, some canonical and some not, to tell a story similar to one in the Bible. This can force the player to confront perhaps unpleasant truths, opinions, and lies about their beliefs - and this can lead to offense. The author can use it express opinions that will certainly be controversial like "I think Abraham is a psychopath." But there's a difference between something leading to offense, and something that is trying to be offensive.

Matthew Mouras
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Robert doesn't have to be offended by the game to hold the opinions that he has. I am not offended by the game in the least, but share his sentiments.

Developer made the decision to create the theme they did, Nintendo decided not to allow it. There are important differences between Darksiders and The Binding of Isaac specifically, notwithstanding the scope of the projects.

Markus Schaefer
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The people defending Nintendo's decision seem to have a hefty double standard. Religious sensibilities are given special protection while nonbelievers generally have to accept being cast as deeply flawed persons with a direct ticket to damnation.

Robert Boyd
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Non-believers are damned is not the message of many religions (including my own).

Jason Withrow
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There is a major difference between being offended by someone creating a pro-faith game versus being offended by someone creating an anti-faith game.

Tom Baird
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Granted, I've not 100% checked everywhere in game, but I don't think this is an anti-faith game.It does a retelling of a biblical tale, from the stand-point of someone non-religious. If the voice is not assumed to be a higher being, then there aren't a lot of options, other than the person hearing voices telling them to kill their child is outright crazy. Just because it's not how you imagined the tale to have been acted out, doesn't mean it's offensive to tell it that way.

If this offends you, you are offended much to easily. I would understand if the claim was "This doesn't mesh with my understanding with the story", or "This runs counter to my beliefs", but "This offends me" is ridiculous.

Jason Withrow
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@Alex T: I'm not sure what there is to explain. If I said "Thing A is great!" that's pro-Thing A. If I said "Thing A is bad!" that's anti-Thing A. Would atheists get offended if someone created a pro-bible game? No, they likely wouldn't care, and haven't. Would atheists be offended if someone created an effective anti-atheist game? Some of them would. That's the point.

@Tom Baird: Trying to say someone has no right to be offended by something that offended them is being disrespectful to their feelings. If you feel Binding of Isaac made a good point, which I do, that doesn't change the fact that people will be offended by that point. Being offended is a feeling, and it's a useful feeling at times. You can't order someone not to be offended any more than you could order them to not be happy or sad.

Tom Baird
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@Jason
True, they can be offended. A better way to put it is that just because certain people find it offensive is no reason to ban or limit the message. It should not be insulting, but as-is much of the arguments for Nintendo is that it's an unflattering retelling of a biblical story. So What? How many war games contain unflattering portrayals of people in the Middle East? Or unflattering Russian stereotypes? If you are offended you can (and maybe should)debate the message, but being offended because it's counter to your beliefs in no way signifies that the message should be blocked. If that were the case, we'd still be the center of the universe, in our 5000 year old earth. Being offended and actually debating is healthy, being offended and blocking is not.

You are right, you can be offended, but no-one should do anything about it.

Joe Wreschnig
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"Nobody would get offended at an anti-atheist game."

I'm offended by an awful lot of things in games. I'm offended by racism, sexism, homophobia, bad art direction, laggy controls, loading screens, and yes, games that offer rewards for baseless acts of faith, of which there are plenty. But it's very rare I find a game that's *meant* to offend me, rather than presenting a view the author holds in good faith, which I happen to find offensive. (In some cases, especially sexism and racism, the author isn't even aware they're pushing a particular view.)

Offense to a work of art can be a legitimate reaction. The question at hand is how much control does the store owner or the device maker have over the methods available for product creation.

Markus Schaefer
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@Robert Boyd:
I never said that it was the message of ALL religions.

Leon T
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I doubt this is a big loss to team meat or nintendo. I didn't like the game too much anyway. The eshop is already off to a great start without this game.

Leon T
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I doubt this is a big loss to team meat or nintendo. I didn't like the game too much anyway. The eshop is already off to a great start without this game.

Brett Williams
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Nintendo is free to do what they want on their closed system. That's how closed systems work, and it is also why PC gaming will never die and consoles will never fully embrace the internet. The internet and the PC are founded on the principals of being open.

I don't think anyone really loses here. Nintendo keeps their good name, and people can still enjoy the game through other channels.

Nintendo doesn't have to like anyones games and they don't have to allow anyone to put games on their system.

However, my concern about this is that it doesn't cast Nintendo's idea that they are willing to embrace and target a more adult demographic. From everything they have been talking about in the recent press with the developments of the Wii U is that they want to change their target demographic to support the male 18 to 35 audience and bring more games to their consoles rated higher in the spectrum.

This is one of those games that is not targeted at children. It is for designed for adults that can understand the messages and can remain mature about them. The message Nintendo is sending here is that while they want to support these things with Wii U, they aren't sure internally how to do that and they won't start with their other platforms.

This leads me to believe they want to hit the ground running with the Wii U by opening their arms to this content in a short period of time exclusively to that platform. I don't think that point is a sell, I think that's a detriment to their goals of changing their demographic.

But then again that's just my point of view. I'll buy a Wii U and fire rockets into corpses and cause them to explode into pieces of flesh, and then wonder if Isaac would be such a bad game for them to support...

Leon T
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"
the developments of the Wii U is that they want to change their target demographic to support the male 18 to 35 audience and bring more games to their consoles rated higher in the spectrum."


Nintendo can have the next GTA, Resident Evil, COD, Battlefield, Dead Space, Bioshock, and Ninja Gaiden as year long exclusives when the Wii U launches and they still would be seen a family company that mainly makes games for kids and families.

The reason for that is that Nintendo's software (New Super Mario Bros. Mii) will still be the most popular software on Nintendo's hardware. Nintendo needs to make their own GTA, Binding of issac, or Battlefield if they really want to speak to that demographic.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joe Wreschnig
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I think if we had equitable representation of Native Americans in videogames, it would be acceptable to make a game where some Native Americans eat people. As the only representation, no, that's not acceptable. On the other hand I'm not sure I would attack a platform holder for allowing a game about it - rather the developer for making it in the first place.

This game isn't "attacking religious people" - as far as I know it never comes out and says "hey if you're religious you're a idiot fuck you." It shows a person of strong faith in a negative light (by modern standards). I think we have plenty of positive representations of both mothers and people of faith in videogames. We should be wary of works that attack people, but we should also differentiate between that and putting something in a place beyond criticism. Nothing is beyond criticism.

Joe Wreschnig
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From a consumer and developer perspective, this is the danger of increased vertical integration in game distribution.

Culturally, we (= North Americans / Europeans) consider stores to be more ideologically neutral than product makers. Libraries are more ideologically neutral than authors. My grocery store sells cigarettes; I think people who make cigarettes are evil, but I don't think my grocery store is evil for selling them.

In the eShop Nintendo has integrated their business as a publisher, distributor, and retailer. Developers who want to get their product onto the shop need to accept the first two to get the third.

Like I said, I can buy this game on store shelves. I can buy the bible. I can buy music that I find offensive, and music I like that others find offensive. Even when I can't find the item in a particular store I'm usually not forbidden from acquiring it some other way. Apple doesn't sell pornography, but there's no restrictions on watching pornography on my iPhone. I can play music from iTunes on my Android phone. I can play WMG CDs on a Sony CD player.

It's only in the software market we've found this kind of control "acceptable". If Nintendo doesn't sell this game, there's no way I can play it on my 3DS. This includes PC games, where Valve similarly acts as developer, publisher, distributor, payment processor, and DRM gatekeeper. (And includes Apple, who have adopted a policy very unlike their iTunes / iBooks one for software distribution.) We're progressing towards a world in which most of our "things" are software. How do we counter this?

Certainly not by standing around going "well, I guess it's legal for Nintendo to do this. After all it's not really *censorship* unless they're a government."

George Blott
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too bad for the 3ds. Binding of Isaac is a great game.

Josh Foreman
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@Joe Wreschnig: "as far as I know it never comes out and says "hey if you're religious you're a idiot fuck you.""

No, I don't think it "comes out and says" that. But I think it is the obvious message. Johnathan Swift and Dante never came out and said "Hey conservative aristocracy, you're idiots! Fuck you!" But their work accomplished communicating that message far better than if they had simply said it that way. I think it's silly to make a distinction between the foundation for a person's faith and the faith itself. Obviously criticizing the foundation is the same thing as criticizing the faith. "It's stupid to believe X." when speaking to one who believes X, is the same as saying "You are stupid." This isn't complicated.

Personally I agree with strong critiques of Biblical stories. I enjoy open debate about them and the issues that arise from doing so. I think people of all beliefs should be open to vigorous debate about what they believe and why. But when it comes to making business decisions it seems pretty obvious to me that I wouldn't want products associated with my platform to say "You're stupid" to my customers.

David Gonzales
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regardless if nintendo has the right to say no to this game its still censorship because of the reason for not allowing it.
and for nintendo trying to stay in the image of FAMILY entertainment, please explain resident evil, dead space, manhunt, etc. far as i can tell those games should be waaaay more offensive than a game that satires a religious story, get over yourselves, there was a game called " left behind " shouldn't i have been offended by a game that says non believers go to hell? no, i just simply didnt buy the game, i didnt go out and say " THIS GAME OFFENDS ME! D:< "
you only find it offensive because you dont like the portrayal of YOUR religious stories so what? we have to be careful around your religious beliefs? what makes you so god damn special? i didnt see anyone bitch about the god of war series that portrays all the greek gods in some way or another didnt see complaints about that, what about games that depict wars between heaven and hell, like bayanetta, plenty of games for the past 10 years depicted some kind of religious elements, but it just seems like this particular game is offensive because you want a reason to be offended and say " nintendo was right to deny this game" like i said get over yourself, this game from what ive seen seems like an original type story of the childs perspective of a situation that ive seen plenty of times in the bible
( but exaggerated with the child defeating monsters)
i think your offended because it shows whats in your religious book and you might feel kinda awkward that its being shown to the general public and your afraid youd have to explain and be like " nuh uh nuh uh thats not what happened, its out of context!" , since ive read many times of god telling a follower to kill their child to prove their loyalty. wasn't just in one bible story, dont act like your religion is nothing but sunshine and rainbows. the game is not offensive you just want it to be.


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