Cross Assault, Capcom's online reality show about a Street Fighter X Tekken tournament, should have been a straightforward promotional device - a dog whistle inaudible to all but fighting game fanatics.
But Capcom's PR wheeze backfired spectacularly this week. Cross Assault won't be remembered for whoever wins the $25,000 prize money tonight or the game it was trying to sell. Instead it will forever be associated with sexual harassment and gaming culture at its worst.
In case you missed it Giant Bomb's coverage has all the detail but here's a summary. Aris Bakhtanians, the coach of Team Tekken, made numerous and persistent sexist remarks to Miranda Pakozdi, the sole female member of his team. Lewd, sleazy comments about her breast size and thighs plus requests for her to take her t-shirt off and chat about how he wants to smell her. Pakozdi's contract obliged her to stay in the competition so she had little choice but to endure it. Eventually, to escape this unpleasant situation, she stopped trying to win matches and got herself knocked out of the competition.
When Bakhtanians was challenged about his behaviour he showed no remorse. "This is a community that's, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it's not the fighting game community," he explained as if it was Pakozdi's fault he was a jerk.
Quite rightly his comments sparked a firestorm. Capcom distanced itself from Bakhtanians and "addressed" the issue by reminding those taking part to behave better. The games media coverage outraged many. Some because they felt his behaviour was unacceptable, others because they believed that daring to challenge Bakhtanians' lack of decency was some politically correct conspiracy to censor them.
So, before we move on, let's get one thing straight: Bakhtanians' behaviour was vile. This is not about political correctness - it's about rudeness. He showed a complete lack of empathy for his teammate. Context matters. If friends want to talk to each other that way then fine, but this went way past a few trash talk jibes.
But his idiotic comments did shine a light on the darker side of gaming culture, a side reflected in the abuse directed at those who criticised him and the journalists who reported on the matter. It's a side of gaming that too often we pretend isn't there, but the truth is there's an undercurrent of sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in some parts of the gaming world. It's not anything more than in real life of course, but the problem with gaming is that such behaviour is rarely challenged.
Of course few people want to mix politics with their fun but sadly I don't think those of us who feel such behaviour is repulsive can continue to turn a blind eye to it. I've done it. I've found myself playing online with homophobic assholes and simply muted them. It's the easy option, silencing them without any awkward confrontation. It's the gaming equivalent of sticking fingers in my ears and shouting 'I can't hear you' over and over again. I also know I'm not the only one. Some people mute these players, others retreat to the safe warm cocoon of private matches, and many give up on online gaming altogether.
"When unchallenged these attitudes fester like cancer. When those who object don't act, those who behave this way are validated and encouraged to continue acting like pricks."
But when unchallenged these attitudes fester like cancer. When those who object don't act, those who behave this way are validated and encouraged to continue acting like pricks. In short, I and others who feel the same about this but do nothing have been ceding ground to these people and that is a big problem. You only need to look at racism in football to see where this could lead. If the industry and - above all - the players don't tackle this, it should surprise no one if gaming's image becomes tarred with bigotry in a few years' time.
I don't want that. The industry certainly wouldn't want that and - I suspect - those of you reading this wouldn't want that either. Hell, I don't even think Bakhtanians would want that.
So here's what the Cross Assault incident means for me: the next time I play online and encounter some bad-mouthed bigot, I will take him or her to task and I hope - no, I want - others will do the same.
How you challenge it doesn't matter. Maybe you'll train your firepower on them in the game, maybe you'll stop playing and start arguing, or maybe you'll rate down their reputation on Xbox Live. It doesn't matter how they react either. What matters is that you did it and in doing so reclaimed a piece of gaming for those who aren't rude arseholes. I doubt it'll be an enjoyable experience but I'm sick of seeing an entertainment medium I love being dragged down into the gutter by the behaviour of this tiny but vocal group of players.
It's not that I want to see Bakhtanians and others like him pushed out of gaming altogether but it's important that they understand where the line between banter and abuse is. Bakhtanians says he didn't mean to offend and maybe he didn't, but he clearly lacked the ability to judge where that line was. So let's correct him and all the others who behave like him by ramming home that 'this, this right here, that is the line'.