Question

Imagine you’re a MMO dev working on a project in, oh, say, five years from now.

Just how hard will you have to work at not offending a single soul with what you include, what you don’t, what your filters will catch and what they let slip?  How will it even be possible to create boundaries for the community that won’t be labeled as “hateful” or “exclusive” without throwing the doors open to allow a free-for-all that will most certainly offend quite a lot of folks?

How much of the real world will you absolutely have to include as not to stir the firestorm of controversy that blows up when players realize they can’t say X, or have their character be [sexual orientation/religion/political affiliation] in an IP that usually doesn’t deal with that sort of thing?  What guidelines will you set forth for your CMs to keep a lid on the insanity without stepping on the toes of political correctness?

Because I honestly think it’ll be impossible.

13 thoughts on “Question

  1. Regis April 30, 2009 / 5:12 pm

    Pretty impossible, yeah. Nevertheless, I will be there, ready with pocorn in hand when it happens. I will- oh look, gay drama!

  2. Jennifer April 30, 2009 / 5:25 pm

    Game designers can exclude whatever group they want, but when they start throwing hissy fits over players participating in discussions about the exclusion of that group . . . that’s when the controversy really starts. It’s unfair to call game designers sexist or anti-gay or racist or whatever on the basis of their game IP. Those labels are earned, however, if the same designers will not allow players to criticize the exclusions they make or are unwilling/unable to rationally defend the exclusions.

  3. Athekkhar April 30, 2009 / 6:22 pm

    its would be impossible, just like it is in real life. Personally I think there should be no exclusion of gender/religeon/politics/sexualitiy in online games. We meet people everyday who are of a different persuation to us and the world hasn’t descended into chaos, why should it be any different in MMO’s?

  4. Werit April 30, 2009 / 6:32 pm

    Games are a business and the forums are an extension of that business, so they can limit it to whatever topics they want. The customer always has the right to cancel and let the company know why (if not by the forums, than by phone/mail).

  5. spinks April 30, 2009 / 6:43 pm

    No, it’s really freaking easy to produce quality work for a diverse audience. You just have to TRY. If you’d ever worked in an environment where you had to work alongside lots of people from all around the world of different ages, genders, religions, colours, etc, you’d figure it out pretty fast.

    Sorry, this is a real hot button for me. Actually, I’m not sorry, but I’ll avoid actually swearing on someone else’s blog 🙂

  6. Snafzg April 30, 2009 / 8:36 pm

    Uhhhh, if people feel the need to express their race, religion, or orientation in a game or forum, go for it. But the moment Developers are pressured to give us the option to roll a Homosexual Jedi or Catholic Greenskin in the character creation system, I think we’ve gone a way too far.

    There is also a responsibility to moderate all such discussions in game and in the forum when the conversation goes sour. Having intelligent discussion is one thing, but these topics rarely stay on track given the Internet ****wad Theory.

    Most official forums lack “General Discussion” sections for this very reason. Stay on topic about the game and go someone else if you want to talk about the weather. The Intenet is full of places for people to fit in.

  7. Snafzg April 30, 2009 / 8:36 pm

    somewhere!

  8. Jennifer April 30, 2009 / 10:42 pm

    I get what you’re saying Snafzg, but does the fact that orientation/race/religion is not specified in character creation mean that I’m selecting to play a heterosexual agnostic human? Homosexual gamers worry about that, and I understand their concerns.

    I prefer to personally determine my character’s orientation based on my roleplaying decisions with the game. But if some games don’t allow that, e.g. Age of Conan forcing the affections of female NPCs onto female PCs where male NPCs are uninterested in female PCs at best and hostile to them at worst, then I think things become a little skewed.

    I’m not asking you specifically, instead I am posing this question to the community at large: what would you think of a game in which homosexuality was the norm for all characters? Your character is a male and the game presents him with a number of homosexually-influenced aspects: quests in which the male quest giver is searching for his long lost (male) love, male NPCs who hit on your character and subtly offer him sexual favors (as in AoC), and a story arc in which your character and another male character (rescued from captivity in a dungeon of some kind) grow closer over a period of time and ultimately ride off into the sunset together. Would you (the collective “you”, as in anyone reading this) feel comfortable playing such a game? Would you wonder why you were constantly bombarded by homosexual overtones?

    I imagine the above scenario is very similar to what homosexual gamers feel when they play mainstream RPGs and MMOs. I can see why those gamers might want an experience that offers them a chance to identify with the game’s presentation of love and relationships.

  9. BVD May 1, 2009 / 11:10 am

    I’m all for equality.

    Every time I lead a warband in WAR I warn my WB’mates that I’m going to sexually harass them, regardless of gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, religion or race (c’mere you big sexy Orc!).

    In WAR I also smash face without regard to gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, religion or race. Though lately, if I ran into a Mythic-employed developer playing WAR, they’d be the first to receive a good ol’ smash face.

    So I guess I am prejudiced based on employment…

  10. foolsage May 1, 2009 / 11:38 am

    @ Spinks: I completely agree. It’s honestly not that difficult to avoid showing intolerance, and to appeal to diversity. It just requires awareness of the core issue and a willingness to put in a little effort. You can avoid bias by either not presenting any options that favour one view, or by presenting options that favour each view. If the game has no romance or sexual innuendo, no sexism is likely to exist. If the game has romance or sexual innuendo, it’s honestly trivial to make it non-gender-specific and again avoid sexism.

    @ Jennifer: Good point. It’s an insidious form of bias to present options that are appropriate to only one mindset. If e.g. a fantasy game allowed people to play healers, but they had to wear prayer shawls, keep the Shabbat, follow Kashrut dietary restrictions, wear a yarmulke, grow a full beard, and could only be male aged 40+, would this make some players uncomfortable?

  11. Snafzg May 1, 2009 / 12:27 pm

    I seriously think this is being blow out of proportion. Unless the lore calls for it one way or another, why not just keep race, religion, and orientation out of the game at the design level?

    If people want to bring it into the game, that’s their choice. Jennifer’s quest example is fair, but why deal with that kind of stuff at all? You just set yourself up for controversy.

    I want to go on a quest to save my gay lover about as much as I want to go on a quest to save my hetero life partner – and that interest is about zero.

    Perhaps leaving things more open to interpretation is the safest way to go moving forward. Of course, giving players choice is another viable option.

    >Do you wish to save this strapping lad?
    >Sure, why not…
    >Great job. Do you wish to have a picnic with said lad?
    >Uh, not really. Next!

    That said, I don’t really think we need to meet some kind of political correctness quota in all future MMOs.

  12. Snafzg May 1, 2009 / 12:27 pm

    To clarify the first sentence, I mean leave all that stuff out at a reality-based level. Devs have been creating imaginary races and religions in these games for years.

  13. foolsage May 1, 2009 / 12:59 pm

    @ Snafzg: Sure, leaving out references to RL sex, politics, and religion issues works fine. If your only political and religious references are to fictional constructs, there’s no offense to be taken. The same would be true of fictional sexual constructs as well, incidentally… if e.g. all characters are of a race of hermaphrodites, or belong to species with 3 or more sexes, then there’s no meaningful relationship to real life sexual issues and people won’t have cause to be offended.

    I don’t agree that MMOs are free of the need for tolerance though. Intolerance is and will remain a hot topic and there’s no excuse for building it into games. Either leave the subjects out entirely or embrace diversity.

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