The upcoming Gears 5 will not feature any on-screen depictions or references to smoking, according to the developers at The Coalition. But the precise sequence of events leading to that decision is apparently up for some debate.
The smoke-free story gained attention over the weekend with a report in Variety that linked the decision to a pressure campaign from the anti-smoking advocates at the Truth Initiative. According to Variety, The Coalition decided to remove the smoking references after Truth reached out to Turner Broadcasting, which featured Gears 5 as part of an invitational tournament filmed during its ELeague esports over the weekend.
That sequence seems plausible, especially considering that Truth is a presenting sponsor of the tournament, which is officially titled “Eleague Gears Summer Series Invitational powered by Truth.” And Truth has a long history of pressuring media companies to remove smoking references from their products, a move that recently led to changes in Netflix’s youth-focused programming.
But The Coalition Studio Head Rod Fergusson said Truth is claiming a victory that it actually had no hand in. “Just to clarify, I’ve always been anti-smoking and have pushed back on having it in Gears since day 1,” Fergusson tweeted in response to coverage of the story late Friday. “There was no smoking to remove from Gears 4 or 5 because there never was any smoking to begin with. And as long as I’m in control, there never will be. Sorry for the confusion.”
“My dad smoked,” Fergusson added by way of further explanation in a follow-up tweet. “He died of a heart attack at age 38. I was 4.”
Before The Coalition took over with Gears of War 4, the series featured a handful of prominent tobacco references under the auspices of then-developer Epic Games. COG Michael Barrick, for instance, is rarely shown without a trademark cigar dangling from his lips.
The Gears of War series, which has always been rated M for Mature by the ESRB, is well-known for featuring significant amounts of violence and gore that might make on-screen smoking seem like a minor issue. But Turner Senior VP Seth Ladetsky noted to Variety that removing tobacco references doesn’t have nearly as much impact on the nature of the game as removing or toning down the violence would. “As you remove these images, it does have an impact,” he said regarding the imagery’s influence on real-world smokers.
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