The Story Behind Those Two Controversial South Park Screenshots

It's a funny thing, working as a reporter who covers the video game industry. Often, video game publishers try to treat you like you're part of their marketing arm. Sometimes they ask for some very strange things.

This morning, Ubisoft sent us a handful of screenshots from their upcoming role-playing game, South Park: The Stick of Truth. The images looked great, so we shared them with you. But someone at Ubisoft apparent;y flipped the wrong switch, because shortly after our story went live, a PR representative frantically emailed to ask us to take down the screenshot of Cartman farting fire. Later in the afternoon, they also asked gaming press to take down a second screenshot, which involved an unidentified character getting an anal probe.

"Due to a technical error," a Ubisoft repsentative said, "we mistakenly sent you two screenshots that are not approved for distribution by the ESRB for 'crude and/or offensive language,' and for 'offensive depictions or ridicule of basic bodily functions'. Can you please remove them from your gallery, and ensure they aren’t posted in the future?"

The ESRB is the Entertainment Software Rating Board — the folks responsible for all those Ts and Ms on game labels. They handle the guidelines and rules surrounding how games and game-related content are rated and distributed.

It was a strange request, the type of thing I can't imagine would make it past the desks of the notoriously controversial creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Sure enough, you may have noticed a number of game websites pull the images from their previews of the upcoming RPG.

We censored one of the images, because we thought the initial request was silly and wanted to have some fun with it. But after the second request, we told Ubisoft that we had no intention of pulling the images. Published images are published. Pulling those screenshots would have been doing a disservice to our readers — and insulting your intelligence in the process.

So we decided to dig around a little bit to figure out just what happened. We reached out to Ubisoft, but they never got back to us. Then we heard back from the ESRB.

Turns out, the ESRB never asked anyone to pull any images. According to an ESRB representative, the ratings board is perfectly OK with gaming websites hosting those screenshots. There are different guidelines for materials meant for marketing and those meant for editorial, the ESRB told us. Ubisoft was going by the guidelines meant for marketing. The ESRB has no problem with any gaming websites using those images.

In other words, those images didn't need to be pulled.


    Unless those particular "moves" are no longer in the game, then there is no reason to pull the images. Sounds to me that Ubisoft suddenly got cold feet and want to pull the images just in case some PC group out there sees the images and starts their rabble rousing.

    After specifically seeing these two images I think I found more of an interest to this game. This is what I expect from southpark, any less would be a shame.

    Questionable ethics using the ESRB as their fall guy for Internet censorship. Seems odd they wouldn't just say 'oops, we didn't mean to send them out yet, please remove them'. Using this censorship garbage automatically gets people in defensive mode....

    Ignoring the take-down request was the best thing Kotaku could do, it's the only way Ubisoft will take the incident seriously, if everyone followed their requests, they would likely just go on with business as usual, maybe someone would get a slap on the wrist for the unintended release.

    Seems very odd that they would make up a fallacy and send that to journalists (people who are expected to have at least basic investigation skills) who could very easily pull the lose threads on their cover story.

    PS Jason you're officially now a conspiracy theorist...

      here are different guidelines for materials meant for marketing and those meant for editorial, the ESRB told us. Ubisoft was going by the guidelines meant for marketing.

      Sounds to me like they just fucked up. I don't think there is any conspiracy here.

    Controversial? Whatever floats your boat I guess.

      Seriously, how old is South Park now, 15?

      How is anyone shocked that there's a flaming fart in the South Park game?

    I was somewhat shocked by the lack of a nsfw tag for those two images, but chalked it up to... well, being South Park. Nsfw is kinda implied, I guess.

    I could be wrong but I read that as the ESRB wouldn't allow that animation to be in the game so Ubisoft is trying to not show something that won't be in the game as though it were. To not false advertise

    If Ubisoft wanted them taken down due to possible legal implications that makes sense.
    Refusing to take them down after Ubisoft, who kindly supplied the images to you in the first place, have asked you to.. Well that's a great way to not have Ubisoft supply you releases anymore, nice job.

    meh, seems like a dick move to not take them down TBH, I know I'd be upset if I accidentally sent you the wrong images and you chose to flaunt them against my wishes.

    oh and I find it insulting that you think it would be insulting to remove an image from your article, I'm not so stupidly shallow that I'm going to get upset because an image in an article I read wasn't there the next day.

    how about next time you just establish whats going on and not actively try to screw people over. you refused to take down images that for all intents and purposes were to be considered in violation of the ESRB, it only turned out later to be a mistake, so kindly stop being dicks.

      " you refused to take down images that for all intents and purposes were to be considered in violation of the ESRB, it only turned out later to be a mistake, so kindly stop being dicks."

      Aside from the fact that the ESRB didn't have anything against it, and they were flat out lying to cover a mistake of their own? And forgive me, but that's one of the risks with dealing with the media. They're under no obligation to remove the images, and the act that they're lying about why they want them hidden implies that there's something afoot, even if it's just to try and keep negative drama away from the game's release.

        Well whatever the reason, still seems like a dick move on Kotaku's part not to take down the images after they were asked to. It's hardly obligation, it's just courteous professional conduct.

        I mean it's not exactly China censoring google searches of Tiananmen Square is it? It's just some images they don't want to be publicised asking for them to be taken down after providing them to the site. Not sure why they wouldn't comply with the request.

    Marketing ploy. Kotaku got played. Oh please don't post our super special leaked withdraw pictures....


    Everything is dull.

    That, OR, they were just covering their asses because someone in marketing realized how easily things get twisted into drama's in the gaming press. Ironic how them trying to protect themselves from the possibility of being unfairly chastized lead to them beign unfairly chastized.

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