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Dead Island code slip-up on Steam casts spotlight on unexpectedly offensive character ability

Gather ’round, children. I’m going to tell you a story. Once upon a time (earlier this week), Deep Silver released a game from Techland called Dead Island. The open-world first-person zombie brawler arrived along with the rest of the games this week, only there was a slight problem with the Steam release on PCs: somehow, an unfinished dev build of the game slipped into the mix instead of the final release, essentially putting a for-internal-eyes-only collection of code out into the wilds.

Not good.

While that alone is news enough, things start to get a little weird here. PC gamers immediately tore into the unfinished code to look for whatever it is PC-folk look for when they do such things. This time, however, they found Internet hysteria gold: an unused unlockable skill for the playable character Purna called “Feminist Whore.”

You can probably see where this is going. Downhill, fast. Noted games reporter Tracey John quickly fired back with a response that reasons through the responses of some Steam commenters who don’t see an issue and try to argue why. I don’t disagree with her. This is a horribly embarrassing turn of events for Techland, considering that what we’re ultimately talking about is a stray bit of code that should never have left the studio in the first place. But it’s there, it’s in the public now, and it needs to be addressed.

Techland responded swiftly with statements to a number of other outlets. The response Tracey received is, to me, the most informative:

“It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturaly [sic] has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed. What is left is a part of an obscure debug function. This is merely an explanation but by no means an excuse. In the end that code was made a part of the product and signed with our company name.

“We deeply regret that fact and we apologize to all our customers or anyone who might have been offended by that inappropriate expression. The person responsible for this unfortunate situation will face professional consequences for violating the professional standards and beliefs Techland stands for.”

Both Tracey’s post and Techland’s statement are correct responses. Let’s try to keep things in perspective though. If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you know that it can often be a haven for inappropriate talk of all kinds. There’s a certain feeling of safety in offices populated by a tight-knit group of people, an idea that what happens there, stays there (within reason, naturally).

I think it’s lousy that this got out into the wild and I think that the guilty programmer is probably feeling like a sizable ass right now. I don’t think Techland necessarily deserves to be condemned here, however, and I think most of the rational reporting around this incident — Tracey’s included — makes that same point pretty clear. Just keep all of this in mind before you try climbing up onto a high horse in the name of protecting feminists everywhere. There are battles that are worth fighting; a minor and entirely accidental incident like this one, while certainly bad for business, is nonetheless not one of them.

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