Videogame consumption may be on the rise in Canada, but it hasn’t been a good week for the educational gaming sector. Amidst public outrage, TV Ontario has been forced to remove Pipe Trouble, a browser-based educational game, from its website.
According to TV Ontario, Pipe Trouble was designed to teach Canadians about the pipeline debate in British Columbia. The game asks players to build their own pipeline using a finite amount of resources. The challenge is to make a pipeline that is both profitable, but also environmentally-friendly.
Based on the choices that players make, several different scenarios can play out, including one in which pipelines appear to be destroyed by bombs. The footage of the pipe bombings is included in the game’s trailer, which circulated online last week.
According to some critics, the gameplay of Pipe Trouble is too politically charged, violent, and unethical. Over the past few days, several Canadian politicians have responded to the controversy, including Alison Redford, the Alberta Premier.
“It’s disappointing to see a taxpayer-funded game and organization depict the blowing up of pipelines,” she said in a statement. “It’s exactly opposite of Canada’s interests given all of Canada benefits from a strong and diverse energy sector.”
Newly-minted Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also weighed in on the situation. “I’m satisfied that TVO has taken this very seriously,” she said this week. “They need to look at the nature of it and make some decisions about whether it can be used again or whether it’s something that really is inappropriate and should be removed.”
Earlier this week, the producers behind Pipe Trouble responded to the controversy in a statement. Bombing the pipelines, says a spokesperson from Pop Sandbox Productions, is only one possible outcome of the game and is not the focus of the storyline.
While much of the game’s criticism has focused on its cartoonish or satirical tone, Pipe Trouble’s defenders maintain that this stylistic choice was not intended to offend players.
This type of controversy over a videogame isn’t limited to Canada. Recently, several other titles have been making the news for touching on sensitive issues. In January, Apple reportedly took a game which focused on the civil war in Syria off the market. Sweatshop HD, another politically-charged game, was removed from the App Store earlier this month.
Even though Pipe Trouble was designed to accompany a TV Ontario documentary, the themes closely resemble the 2008 and 2009 pipeline bombings in British Columbia. In the end, it seems that some educational games simply hit too close to home.
In response to the media firestorm, TVO recently appointed two independent experts to review Pipe Trouble “in the context of TVO’s Programming Standards.” A full report will be released to the Board of Directors next month.