The “L” Word (and the “N” word, “J” word, “S” word, “H” word…)

Posted: June 21, 2006 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts, The Gaming Industry

There's a great discussion taking place over at the Fires of Heaven forums (ironically enough) where the proliferation of racist, sexist, offensive language being spewn forth throughout World of Warcraft's chat channels has reached a bit of a breakpoint for a lot of players.  This statement is all the more impressive when you start to consider that a great many of the players doing the complaining aren't exactly shy of offensive language themselves.  In other words, do you realize exactly how much crap you have to pile on to finally offend a stable mucker?  

Now, as a primarily Everquest 2 player, it's a bit of a old saw to point out the infamous "b-net mentality" of World of Warcraft.  It's hardly a roleplaying paradise, and anyone who's spent more time logged in than queued up, understands how mind blowing the public channels can be anywhere near an Auction House. 

Really though, what's the big deal, right?  What is it about offensive language that drives the majority of players absolutely bonkers.  How many petitions are filed daily on offensive language in MMO's?  How many reports?  How much Gamemaster time is spent having to deal with it?

In a way, it's a reflection of "least common denominator" design.  At least, that's the easy argument to make – blame it on "lazy designers" or "money grubbing producers".  Though the characterizations really aren't fair, the general underlying thought here probably has at least a grain of truth to it.  Obviously game designers have to keep their eye on the ball – and that ball is the subscriber base. 

Now, I'm not going to get into social mores or the decline of western civilization here.  I don't want to get into issues of liability or legality, either.  What I want to stick to is success or failure of an MMO, and how language affects that.

For the many of the same reasons most producers of blockbuster movies do their best to avoid MPAA ratings which could be considered to be too harsh or really too restrictive, producers of games are going to do their best to avoid potentially restrictive ESRB ratings.  More to the point, you don't want to alienate the majority of your playerbase by allowing them to be verbally assaulted or offended. 

We're not talking about private games being played on private home PC's here.  Oh sure, we might think that's what we're talking about…but we're not.  We're discussing games played on massive, linked server farms which are owned by game studios or publishers which allow us to interact with huge chunks of the public.  MMO's are anything but private in that general regard. 

That's a lot of anonymous strangers bumping into each other right there.  Bumping leads to friction and friction leads to conflict and unfortunately, most people either don't know how to effectively deal with conflict…or they just don't care enough to put forth the effort while largely anonymous. 

Now, here's the where MMO designers and publishers are really faced with a choice:  Anarchy or Enforcement?  Sure, there's different shades of each, but realistically, that's the choice.  To enforce, or not to enforce – that is the question here. 

Most companies opt to enforce – well, on paper they opt for this.  Some companies are simply better at it than others.  Companies like SOE seem to be fairly hard nosed on the subject of enforcement.  Blizzard…doesn't.  And honestly, who can blame them right?  I can imagine Blizzard producers going home and swimming in olympic sized golden baths filled with piles of rare currency.  After all, 5 million players can't be wrong, right?  Right? 

Frankly, it's hard to argue with success.  Oh sure, it's not my cuppa Joe…but that isn't to say that it isn't right up the alley for some 4.999 million other Joes, right?  Some people just prefer their coffee black, and other people seem to prefer their coffee #$%& n*****.  I say tomato, you say mother $%&# j*****! Just one big happy, right?



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