Why banning off-topic speech from games is necessary

I’ve always said that offtopic speech should be banned from games. Back in my WoW days I’ve banned offtopic (IRL, casual) chat from guild chat. It breaks immersion and wastes people time who want to play.

However most people dismissed it as “harmless fun” that should be tolerated. Now, when everything is politicized, this became a necessity. Why? Because game companies are forced to moderate “hate speech”. If you know anything about today’s politics, well, everything is hate speech that leftist don’t like. Including statements from Obama or Pelosi from 8 years ago. People can lose their job for an “attack helicopter” joke or quoting settled science.

Unfortunately we can’t take the opposite point, “totally free speech”, or any kind of communication channel would be spammed by memes, ASCII images, RMT spam and literally TOrbrbrbrbBrbrbrBrBrBRBBRBRBRBRbRBRBRbRB.

If we agree that chat must be moderated, we enter a slippery slope where one’s political views can decide who can speak and who cannot. It’s not at all OK for any sub-culture to dominate a formally politics-indifferent hobby. Shooting demons shouldn’t be available only to Hillary or Trump voters. As I’ve already mentioned, there are multiple evidences of people being censored for completely moderate views.

The Kingdom Come: Deliverance “scandal” have shown that there is a strong market for right-wing games, so left-wingers can’t hope to dominate the speech in games, any attempt to do so would simply lead to splitting the market to halves: one for liberals and one for conservatives, both being extremes of their sides. This would necessarily mean that all games would lose half of their prospective players – unless someone would come up with the bizarre idea of a Hillary server and a Trump server.

I see only one way out: banning all off-topic speech completely. If your sentence isn’t about the game, it shouldn’t be in the game. This would create an apolitical and non-offensive atmosphere. A sterile one, I admit, but definitely better than politically censored gaming communities.

This is trivial to enforce as non-game related chat is obvious (while “hate speech” is not). It can probably be handled by bots in most cases, sent to learn on the database of offtopic things told in games. After all, people won’t randomly start to talk about quantum physics in games, more likely about recently released films. After a proper automatic solution is found, it can be deployed to all games as a licensed method.

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

20 thoughts on “Why banning off-topic speech from games is necessary”

  1. How would your solution address people being offended by roleplaying? For example, someone staying in character, but roleplaying as a racist elf, misogynist orc, fascist dwarf, etc.

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  2. There’s no need to have the same moderation policy for everyone. We’re well past the point where individuals can train their own software moderators for text. For audible speech one simply needs a block function. Optionally permanently mute the speaker if they get blocked too often.

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  3. IRL but how to talk schedule?

    “ok weekend shifts for me is anybody on on monday morning?” is that too much IRL?

    your guild your rules. your household where blasphemy against your imaginary friend is forbidden? ok, your turf your rules and my decision to honour your request or leave. at that level I don’t care and don’t see a slippery slope.

    sure if you start to systematically filter out and impose stuff this gets very slippery. this gets to the core very fast. compelled speech, banning, blocking, white,grey,black listing. Or those soon to be chinese IRL mmo “social rating system” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System

    If your sentence isn’t about the game, it shouldn’t be in the game.
    I can RP identity politics in any game lore.
    as you RPed the first couple wow posts as greedy goblin. how do you define and handle “wrong think”. ones freedom fighter is the others terrorist. I don’t have a good solution for this either. just give more listing, blocking mechanics. My inner geek would like to see some rating and technical stuff to categorise potential troll … but my rational freespeech mind tells me to just block on a individual level without exposing such rating to others.

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  4. In the example you linked with the text “forced to moderate”, the company in question (Ubisoft) was absolutely _not_ forced to moderate. They chose to moderate. Actually, to be more precise, they added a way for users to report other users for using language forbidden by the company’s Ts&Cs., and said they will do something about frequent offenders.

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  5. @gevlon I do not understand your answer. This is not a guild you can kick people out of. This is the entire game. It seems to me that determining what conversation is game related and what is not is far from a trivial task, and people who are easily offended will be offended by people who talk about thing related to the game, yet still finding ways to be purposely offensive. As a game developer, I do not understand how you would be laughing at anyone here. And I think you underestimate the lengths trolls will go to to “technically” comply with speech requirements and still be as offensive as possible.

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  6. @Eatenbyagrue: “offtopic” is more easily defined and understood than “hate speech” and much less political. Will the “easily offended” and the purposeful trolls will exist? Yes. But they are a tiny minority. Most people just want to play without the occasional “ill kill ur family u nigger faggot”.

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  7. Chat in multiplayer fps games is counterproductive. Why blizzard or EA worries about it instead of just blocking it and replacing with a Hearthstone system boggles me. MMO’s already have permission settings dialed in so you can be as solo or social as you like.

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  8. @Gevlon

    “Yes. But they are a tiny minority.”

    Except for that every insult, hateful comment, troll or whatever, you run the risk of rebuttal statements where an offended party feels it is necessary to rebuke the comment. Now you have more than just a minority. If someone insults another player, and there can be no rebuttal without fear of facing the same banhammer themselves, you have a system that is still toxic at its core.

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  9. @NoGuff: absolutely not. Most game companies already ban people who accuse others with cheating in public, even when it’s true. If you are headshotted from behind a wall, the expected action is reporting using the proper feature instead of raging.

    So yes, if someone calls you a “nigger faggot”, you should report the offender and not contribute to the toxicity by replying them. Those who can’t let a troll pass by without flaming are just as harmful to the other players (and the game) as the troll himself and should be banned.

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  10. The problem with your thought process is that speech is more than just words in a chat message. It could include questionable Clan names, Player names…etc….where does it end? When I last played CoD, someone was whining about losing…another player called him a “special snowflake” because he was openly whining about losing. These and other types of conversations happen every single day in online multiplayer games. The slippery slope with this, is that political correctness rears its ugly head, and what is permissable to be said today, can become taboo tomorrow. And the same level of toxicity is still there.

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  11. Lol, Kingdom come is NOT a game that attracts right wingers. It already was highly anticipated. That is just your narrative, which is not even backed with any useful data.
    “Hate speech” is well defined and is NOT any opinion that may hurt lefty snowflakes. Remember all these tears and right wing outrage when this happened?
    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2017/05/30/kathy_griffin_apologizes_after_trump_beheading_photo.html

    Do you remember this?
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/12/trump-like-julius-caesar-assassinated-in-new-york-play-delta-bank-of-america-pull-funding/?utm_term=.7aea1781dc9b

    Btw, republicunts were ok, when Cesar was played by an Obama lookalike…

    So, lacking of facts, what was your point again?
    Games which rely on cooperation will always need communication channels.
    Games should have better options of getting rid of trolls and shitposters, UBISOFT’S method is crap and bothersome.

    The official The Division discord server is a fine example of how to moderate channels…

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  12. @Smite: Griffin and Ceasar were obvious, over-the-top toxicity. But people have very different toxicity levels for their side and the other.

    Lefties are outraged over SETTLED SCIENCE that blacks have lower IQ on average or woman are less competitive by nature. Right wingers are outraged over the obvious fact that guns play a role in gun violence and that religion is not a fact. I’m not saying that a crazy-liberal guy is worse than an alt-right guy, lefties cause more trouble because they have more power (which is a cruel twist on the lefty doctrine that whites can’t be racist, because racism needs bigotry and power).

    Ergo, if offtopic speech is allowed, any channel will soon devolve into a partisan safe-space, where people are either banned for cultural appropriation and white privilege or alternatively forced worship the God-Emperor! I find these outcomes bad, but unavoidable except for total lockdown of offtopic speech.

    By the way if you want to have a good laugh, let me tell you that I’m banned from the Donald reddit for being a lefty hater (by pointing out that he didn’t build a wall, didn’t deport illegals and most of the tax cuts went to the top 1%)

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  13. Well, reddit is also a toxic place. Whenever the moderators fail to act by “objective” standards, echo chambers will be the result and there won’t be room for conversation. As I said, the Division discord is well maintained. There are different channels for different game related topics and the voice channels only have 4 slots so only 4 player teams can speak there and no one is having forselulz BS in there.
    My experience so far has been great, I have met a lot of nice people there and most of them were concentrated on achieving the objectives and contributing the most possible as getting good gear is grindy…

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  14. Your solution to the slippery slope of chat moderation is to skip the slope and just dive face-first off of the mountain. Not everybody plays games *just* for the game itself, Gevlon. As much as you have disdain for that, there wouldn’t be enough revenue to operate the games you enjoy if you had your way here.

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  15. @LazyE: no. Moderation usually means that one (political) opinion becomes mandatory. Ergo, if the mods are SJWs, you can throw death threats to white people, but can’t even criticize blacks. Compared to that, “talk about the game” is more freedom.

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  16. @Gevlon,

    The level of moderation you’re talking about doing here would dwarf anything I’ve ever seen in a game. How would you execute this? Barring a breakthrough in AI that even Facebook sent figured out yet, it’s just not manageable without an army of moderators.

    Better to let communities self-organize around whatever shared goals they have and police the fringes than this wei do authoritarian approach. You’re anti-freedom on this one, I believe. I say that as a long-time reader of your blog from the early days in EVE. This idea of yours would break any game that tried it. People would simply leave.

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  17. @LazyE: the communities are divided. One subculture would rule the game sooner or later, defining the boundaries of speech by their own beliefs.

    It doesn’t need real AI to check for offtopic speech, just keywords of popular offtopic talks. Names of celebrities, movies, characters. Also, people would report others and mods could deal with chatting players.

    Some people would leave. Those who never cared about the game at the first place.

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  18. “Hate speech” is well defined

    nope. it is defined as “what ever the victim makes of it.” and “how far s/he can get within the legal system of a country”. everything else like physical assault, murder, attempted murder, steeling is all well defined. there isn’t really good stuff defined about speech. even advertisement regulation isn’t that well defined.

    It doesn’t need real AI to check for off topic speech, just keywords of popular off topic talks. Names of celebrities, movies, characters. Also, people would report others and mods could deal with chatting players.

    Ehm no, maybe in the 70s on the first crowd-computer in some Berkeley dusty corner where 10 nerds shared access and got triggered by 60s slang. No. just give more tools besides blocking and filtering. would be great to share lists and even more complicated stuff like regex filters or even more advanced spam filter software integration. so like wit adblocking you could manage some lists for multiple games.
    I rather would like to miss filter stuff on a individual level and fix it that way as that systematically the game just permabans my speech because my language (German and Dutch) has some trigger words within perfectly fine words.

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