Plugged In

The biggest video game controversies of 2011

Plugged In

For a pastime primarily concerned with having fun, video games sure know how to push the wrong buttons. And while 2011 was relatively tame — no Grand Theft Auto title was released, for instance, though we did see a new Mortal Kombat — there were still plenty of reasons to get mad about games this year.

From an unprecedented security breach to mobile-gaming mudslinging, here are the topics that kept us talking.

Sony mishandles biggest hack in history

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The hacking of the PlayStation Network was bad. The theft of personal information from over 100 million accounts was very bad.

But most shocking of all was Sony's downright lousy handling of the break-in.

Denials, delays and a defensive nature by the company didn't earn it any friends. And CEO Sir Howard Stringer's prolonged silence on the matter was even worse.  Rather than being open with its users, the company went into a by-the-book defensive mode that's outdated in this age, teaching every publisher that got hacked in the inevitable copycat attacks how not to handle the situation.

Even Sony's formal apology seemed stilted and little more than part of the script. Consumers saw right through it, growing increasingly upset with not only the fact that their personal info was apparently up for grabs, but that Sony wasn't being forthright about any of it. It wasn't until SCEA president Jack Tretton took the stage at E3 and gave a heartfelt, unscripted apology that it felt like the company was finally eager to make amends.

Traffic to the network has since gone back to normal -- even surpassing pre-hack levels -- but the bitter taste in PSN users' mouths about how Sony handled the situation still lingers.

Check out the Most Controversial Games Ever

Nintendo dismisses apps

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It's hardly a secret that there's no love lost between Nintendo and Apple, but no one expected mild-mannered Nintendo president Satoru Iwata to so ferociously attack the App Store when he walked onto the stage in March at the Game Developers Conference.

After a fairly benign keynote, he began discussing his fear that the explosion in cheap and free apps has devalued game development and could eventually put the industry at risk.

"Game development is drowning," he said. "Until now, there has always been the ability to make a living [making games]. Will that still be the case moving forward?"

Iwata slammed Apple and Android phone makers, saying the quality of the games on their system was immaterial to them and quantity was all that mattered. Making this all the more uncomfortable was the fact that at that precise moment, Apple was across the street introducing the iPad 2.

Apple may have the last laugh, though. Since March, the 3DS has sold an estimated 1.65 million units in the U.S. Apple sold nearly that many iPad 2s in the system's first weekend -- at a price much higher than the 3DS.

GameStop cuts Deus Ex coupons

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Finding a coupon in a brand new game isn't surprising. Finding out that a retailer is removing those coupons for fear of promoting a rival, however, most certainly is.

Such was the case during the August launch of the critically-acclaimed Deus Ex: Human Revolution. New PC copies of the game came packaged with a coupon granting a free digital copy via the OnLive cloud gaming service. That was great news for gamers -- but apparently not for retail giant GameStop, who felt so uneasy allowing their customers to walk away with a free coupon for a rival service that they opened up new copies of the game and removed the coupons prior to selling them (and without mentioning it to customers.)

Gamers were outraged. But while GameStop fessed up, they were hardly conciliatory, opting to stop carrying the PC version of the game entirely.

The silver lining to this fiasco? Eventually GameStop would come around and offer customers affected by the incident an olive branch in the form of a $50 gift card.

Video games reach the Supreme Court — and win

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After being the punching bag for politicians and self-appointed paragons of virtue for nearly two decades, the gaming industry finally received indisputable legal air cover in 2011 when the Supreme Court declared video games were protected forms of free speech.

"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection," said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing the majority opinion. "Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium."

The ruling didn't waffle. It was as clear a defense of the gaming industry as has ever been written, effectively slamming the door on any sort of legislation that would threaten to muzzle or restrict the industry.

To do so, wrote Scalia, would also put at risk other media forms, such as cheap novels and magazines, TV shows and Saturday morning cartoons.

The ruling stopped short of declaring video games a form of art, but that categorization was taken care of a few months earlier, when the Smithsonian American Art Museum announced plans to host an exhibit focused solely on games.

The Nintendo 3DS ruins young eyes…or does it?

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Most of the world associates Nintendo with safe gaming. But just a few months before the company's March releases of the 3DS handheld, that kid-friendly vision suddenly became blurred.

Nintendo issued a statement warning that the system's 3D tech could potentially harm the still-developing eyes of children under 6, raising a slew of questions about both the 3DS and the technology in general.  Unfortunately, they failed to give specifics, instead blanketing the 3DS system box with somewhat vague and entirely scary warnings.

Parents were concerned and confused, especially when optometrists and eye specialists publically disagreed with Nintendo, citing a lack of research and little medical data to back up the scare. In fact, they claimed, 3D tech can be good for kids as it can help identify certain eye disorders that would otherwise go undiagnosed.

So why the ruckus? Most likely Nintendo was just covering its legal bases, but considering the system's sluggish sales, it's clear the controversy didn't help their bottom line one bit.

Duke Nukem Forever's misogynistic multiplayer and PR scandal

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Where Duke Nukem goes, controversy follows. And for good reason — the square headed, politically-incorrect action star is hopped up on enough testosterone to put the NFL to shame.

The same goes for Duke's latest game, the unfortunate Duke Nukem Forever. Fourteen years in the making, the crass shooter was bound to ruffle feathers. So when word came down that the game would include a "Capture the Babe" multiplayer mode in which players would slap a woman's behind to 'calm her down,' more than a few folks were a little peeved.

That wasn't the end of Duke's controversy, however. The game was released to rough reviews, which didn't sit well with The Redner Group, the PR firm tasked to handle its promotion on behalf of publisher 2K Games. Company founder Jim Redner took to Twitter to rebuke the terrible scores, threatening to blacklist journalists who didn't care for the game. The result? A firestorm of angry retorts, a few public apologies, and the end of the working relationship between The Redner Group and 2K Games.

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