Episode 79: A Fight over Gamers First Amendment Rights
If you think the characters in Deadwood use a lot of profanity, then you haven’t experienced Halo 2 online yet!
That’s right, while Jack Thompson and his ilk are ready to condemn video games for their violence, sex, and criminal behavior, Nintendo and Sony are secretly doing their part to stamp out profanity, racism, homophobia, and sexism. Both companies have (quietly) announced that they would be addressing the concerns of bad language, but its how they’ve decided to combat this new terror that has some people a tad concerned.
If you haven’t played games online lately chances are you don’t know what the fuss is about, but believe me when I tell you that it often seems like you’re playing with and against the cast of HBO’s Deadwood. It’s common to have a simple game of Halo 2 turn into immature name calling, racial slurs, and other hateful comments. There are times where you have to wonder if the people are being serious, or if they’re all trying out for some strange Andrew Dice Clay sound-a-like contest.
I suppose it's something like this Nintendo is desperately trying to avoid!
Citing “safety reasons” as their main concern, Nintendo has decided that their first party titles will have no voice communication what so ever. Nintendo doesn’t mind if you play games with your friends online ... they just don’t want you to trash talk each other while doing it! "We need to be entirely confident that there can be no untoward activity," says a Nintendo product manager, “pure gameplay.”
Of course, it’s not like Sony’s portable allows you to talk to each other while playing games. So far the PSP has a handful of online titles, but
Sometimes Nintendo makes it seem like they cannot connect with adult gamers!
Maybe this isn't what they meant by "safety reasons!"
Obviously gamers will be able to write comments back and forth using the Nintendo DS’ touch screen abilities, but it’s the microphone that gets the least amount of love on that system. Just about every game on the DS uses the touch screen, yet the microphone is only used as a gimmick ... or not at all. If ever there was a reason for a built in microphone it’s to allow you to chat with your friends online, that way you won’t have to scribble out comments while in the middle of an exciting Mario Kart battle.
Sony, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a problem with allowing people to talk to each other online. Just about all of their online titles (with the exception of their earliest efforts) have offered some form of microphone support, which certainly helped sell thousands (if not millions) of third party USB headsets. But just because you can say whatever you want to the person on your team in SOCOM 3, it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying their hardest to get rid of what they deem to be offensive language.
By making President Bush a “bad word,” it would appear as Sony has taken a political side!
This is the type of thing Sony (and other companies) have been toying with for years, so it should come as no surprise that they are doing whatever they can to improve on the “vulgarity filter” idea. But so far these kinds of filters have proven to be problematic
The answer is not less control, it's more
For example, the program might censor the word “basement” simply because the word “semen” can be found if you look at the word long enough (a common practice in Phantasy Star Online). Sony’s own SOCOM 1 and 2 had similar problems, words like “unless,” “neutral,” “twisted,” and even “President Bush” all came out looking like nothing more than numbers and symbols thanks to Sony’s “vulgarity filter.”
Playing games online is a lot like going outside, you’re going to find a lot of friendly faces on your journey, but there are also going to meet up with your fair share of people that offend your sense of humanity. Thankfully with most of today’s online games you are able to mute (and report) just about anybody that calls you names, uses racial slurs, or does anything to offend you. It’s not a perfect solution to the problem, but it does allow you to talk to friendly voices in peace, which is better than not being able to talk at all.
It's always fun to have people around to play with, but sometimes your friends can't be in the same room!
Perhaps the answer lies not in restricting everybody, but offering more options and controls. Perhaps it’s time to let parents choose the type of online experience their kid has (possibly by having a lock on the voice chat, which but can still get online otherwise), or how about easier control over who we can and can’t hear. It seems like there are solutions to the problem that don’t involve going all the way to the extreme and banning voice communication for everybody. It doesn’t matter what company you are, the answer comes in the way of giving us gamers choices, not making up our minds for us. -Cyril Lachel