In what seems to have sparked a great deal of religious debate in the Call of Duty community is the sudden, unexpected removal of the Favela map from the rotation for Modern Warfare 2 by Infinity Ward and Activision. The explanation of the temporary removal of the map is to change some of the art assets that have attached a quote attributed to Muhammad.
The map in question is known as “Favella,” and depicts a run-down shantytown in Rio de Janiro—the controversy stems over some artwork hanging in one of the bathrooms that apparently contains an image of a tree but beneath it is displayed a quote from the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The quote, written in Arabic, reads: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”
The objection is not over the quote itself; but instead as to it being displayed in a bathroom, a place considered dirty by proponents of orthodox Islam.
Many religions contain customs and language that mark certain places and things (or people) as unclean and this is often used as a form of social control that denies these people/objects participation in religious rituals or honors. It is not unexpected that a bathroom would be considered an “unclean” place. As a result of it uncleanliness the presence of any reference to or quote from the Prophet Muhammad is considered disrespectful.
Gaming blog Kotaku contacted Activision for an explanation and received a message back:
We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.
We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.
Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.
As mentioned, they intend to keep the map offline until all the assets can be fixed; after that is completed the map will return with the offending content removed.
An overtly loud way to fix what could be a relatively minor issue
No doubt, this act by Activision is to show their sensitivity towards the expectations of a demographic of gamers who play their games. It seems highly likely that a notable population of their gamers happen to live in Middle Eastern countries (where Islam is dominant) and that no small number of Muslims in the UK and US also play Call of Duty games.
However, it’s also not impossible for them to contact those who complained to them and explain that it might take some time (a few weeks) to get the assets changed and then quietly publish new textures as part of a patch. The presence of this accidentally offensive picture and quote in a bathroom would have been quietly brushed away and mentioned in passing in a patch notes.
People not offended by the presence of this image (because they didn’t know) would continue to not care.
We’ve have seen this sort of thing highlighted before when City of Heroes was expanding into Germany and they had a group of villains who looked a lot like the Nazis and held the name “The 5th Column.” They were overtaken by a different villain group called “The Council” with a slightly different aesthetic (but similar powers and position in the narrative) and were eventually replaced in order to smooth over potential German sensibilities. Especially because in Germany, Nazi paraphernalia and imagery is strictly illegal.
Instead, Activision had made the very loud point of removing an extremely popular map, creating a great deal of attention to the fact that they’re fixing it, that Muslims complained, and that they’re doing something about it. By doing this the publisher is shining a bright light not just on their own loyalty to “multiculturalism” but they’re also spotlighting the complaints that have abbreviated the game experience for players.
As a result, it has generated a flare up of animosity from non-Muslims toward Muslims due in part to increasing news of violence and bad behavior by Muslim groups in reaction to perceived insults to their religion. Fortunately, none of this happened in relation to this image in the bathroom of a map in a video game.
The vanishing map itself has drawn great deal of criticism—no small amount of it directed at the Muslim complaints—and although it is temporary, this has become a sticking point in conversations arising from its removal.