Electronics giant Sony has sparked a major row over animal cruelty and the ethics of the computer industry by using a freshly slaughtered goat to promote a violent video game.
The corpse of the decapitated animal was the centrepiece of a party to celebrate the launch of the God Of War II game for the company’s PlayStation 2 console.
Guests at the event were even invited to reach inside the goat’s still-warm carcass to eat offal from its stomach.
Sickening images of the party have appeared in the company’s official PlayStation magazine – but after being contacted by The Mail on Sunday, Sony issued an apology for the gruesome stunt and promised to recall the entire print run.
Critics condemned the entertainment giant, which produces scores of Hollywood blockbusters each year, for its "blood lust" and said the grotesque "sacrifice" highlighted increasing concerns over the content of video games and the lengths to which the industry will go to exploit youngsters.
At the event, guests competed to see who could eat the most offal – procured elsewhere and intended to resemble the goat’s intestines – from its stomach.
They also threw knives at targets and pulled live snakes from a pit with their bare hands.
Topless girls added to the louche atmosphere by dipping grapes into guests’ mouths, while a male model portraying Kratos, the game’s warrior hero, handed out garlands.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said it was "outrageous" that the animal’s death had been used "to sell a few computer games".
A spokesman said: "We are always opposed to any senseless killing of an animal and this sounds like a gruesome death. We condemn Sony’s actions. It is stupid and completely unjustified."
The party features across two pages of the latest edition of the company’s PlayStation magazine, which was due to hit newsstands on Tuesday but has already been sent to subscribers.
We have reproduced the spread – headlined Sony’s Greek Orgy – here, but have pixellated the image to spare readers the sight of the goat’s decapitated head hanging by a thread of tissue from its corpse, with blood dripping to the floor.
But the magazine’s readers were shown the picture in its full horror.
The article, based on a Sony Press release, shows more vivid pictures from the event under headlines such as Topless Girls! and Flesh Eating?
It asks readers how far they would go to get hold of Sony’s next-generation console, the PlayStation 3.
"How about eating still warm intestines uncoiled from the carcass of a freshly slaughtered goat? At the party to celebrate God Of War II’s European release, members of the Press were invited to do just that . . ."
In God Of War II, which is so violent it has been given an 18 certificate, players follow Kratos into battle against a series of fearsome characters from Greek mythology.
Sony describes it as "an adult-rated, fast-paced bloodbath – and enormous fun to boot", adding that it is "bigger, better and as brutal as ever".
One reviewer said the title featured "the most brutal, visceral combat of any action game".
Former Minister Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East and a long-time campaigner against violent computer games, branded the stunt "distasteful and irresponsible".
He said: "The slaughter of animals is not something that should be done to advertise a product.
"Sony as a global entertainment company has a social responsibility. At this event it failed in that responsibility.
"I think people should think very carefully before bringing games like this into their homes.
"I would understand if customers wanted to boycott other Sony products such as their televisions because of this controversy."
Sony, based in Japan and run by Welshman Sir Howard Stringer, is one of the largest media organisations in the world, boasting global revenues of £40billion from electronics, video games, music, television programmes and feature films – including Spider-Man 3 and Casino Royale.
It is regarded, along with Coca-Cola, Nike and Mercedes-Benz, as one of the world’s most valuable brands.
The company, which released the game in the UK on Friday, admitted that the stunt had been a mistake. In a statement it said: "Sony does not condone or sanction any inappropriate behaviour by its staff or sub-contracted staff.
"It has come to our attention that at the God Of War II launch showcase, an element of the event was of an unsuitable nature.
"We are conducting an internal inquiry into aspects of the event in order to learn from the occurrence and put into place measures to ensure that this does not happen again."
The party was held last month in Athens in homage to the game’s Greek mythology themes. Revellers partied against the floodlit backdrop of the Parthenon.
The Sony spokesman said the animal had not been slaughtered for the event but had been bought from a local butcher by the Greek company hired to stage the event.
What purported to be warm intestines was actually warm offal.
He said Sony’s UK office had been shocked to see the report in the official PlayStation magazine, which the company licenses to publishing house Future. Sony is this weekend recalling the entire 80,000 print run of the magazine.
The offending article will be removed because of the "sensitivity of the general public over issues of animal welfare".
The firm refused to say how the goat died. It is unusual for animals in modern Greece to be killed by having their throats cut, let alone by being decapitated.
It is not the first time Sony has been involved in controversy over its games. In 2004, the PlayStation 2 game Manhunt was banned by High Street stores in the UK after it was linked to the murder of a 14-year-old Leicester boy.
Last September the relatives of a family massacred by a New Mexico teenager addicted to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City launched a £317 million lawsuit against the entertainment company.
And in November, Europe’s justice commissioner Franco Frattini was so shocked by the "obscene cruelty and brutality" of Sony’s Rule Of Rose PlayStation game that he wrote to all EU governments urging tighter controls on the "dreadful game".