Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Problem With Offensive Language


I'll give my other impressions of Guild Wars 2 itself in a bit, had to get this off my chest first.

Censoring potentially offensive terms can only stifle the full flower of expression. I am not talking here about allowing people to be potty-mouths. I'm talking about stifling normal language because of the fear of offending someone.

I really wanted to name a character in SWTOR a name containing the German word for "fox." Even though it could have been awesome, and fit my sort-of theme of German words for names on the Empire side, I knew it would never fly, because unfortunately, the German word for "fox" is "fuchs."

Yesterday I was creating a Norn Mesmer in the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. Since she was dressed in purple, I decided to name her Amethyst. But someone else had already used that name, so I added "Jewel" on to the end (finally a naming system that allows spaces). Unfortunately, "Jewel" triggered an offensive language warning. Now I wish in retrospect I'd had the wherewithal to grab a screenshot of the event in question, but I didn't. It was really more of a surprise and a quick adaptation, then I moved on. It is only beta, after all.

As far as I can tell, the only potentially offensive word contained in my proposed name was "Jew," unless "ewe" is some bizarrely offensive reference I'm not aware of. I was not aware that "Jew" was offensive in and of itself. I do realize that with certain intonation or context, it might be. But I highly doubt anyone in the beta weekend would have been offended to to see "Jewel" floating above my head.

In some internet circles this is referred to as the Scunthorpe Problem, after an issue in the 1990's wherein AOL's language filter did not accept the name of Scunthorpe, a town in England's North Lincolnshire, as a place of residence, because a portion of the name is an extremely offensive word in the United States. Now filters can be programmed to include "clean words," as was done by AOL (and Google) in the case of Scunthorpe. Arenanet could/should do the same thing with their filter. There's no reason to allow "Lovestospooge" for a name. But let a human being decide that (and not an entry-level lackey with no common sense either).

However, going beyond the Scunthorpe problem, I would say it's highly debatable whether the apparently offensive word within my proposed name is really offensive at all. Congratulations, Jews of the world, ArenaNet has determined your ethnonym to be offensive.

Have you ever been prevented from using an innocuous character name because it contained a potentially offensive term?

12 comments:

  1. Maybe it's a reference to the "family jewels"?

    Still... that's an odd censor.

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    1. A coworker speculated on that possibility, but I find it less likely and even more ridiculous. Kinda like the Utah Valley middle school that couldn't be Cougars, partly because of certain connotations in current American idiom.

      Political Correctness gets silly really fast on both sides of the aisle.

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  2. I'm wondering if "Jew" gets filtered for being contentious rather than offensive per se. Most games ban use of the names of religious figures, not just because it may offend members of that religion but because it's all too likely to get people started on arguing religion in public chat... and that's never a good thing in my experience. I don't suppose you had a quick try with other names such as "Muslim" or "Hindu" to see if they got blocked? I'm assuming "Christian" would get stopped anyway for the first six letters falling foul of the "major religious figure" rule.

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    1. You're right about the potential of it being "contentious." However, that is not what the dialogue box indicated. The narrower issue of completely innocuous terms being blocked because of letter sequences htting the filter still stands.

      As was mentioned on Twitter minutes after I posted this, the SWTOR language filter stars out "Saturday" because it contains the letter sequence "turd."

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  3. Just as an aside - I've not had a name blocked for containing an offensive word. However, my old Blood Elf Paladin was called Revanche (French for revenge) - when I tried to use the same name for a Jedi in SWTOR it was blocked, presumably because Revan is a major lore character.

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    1. Yes, I've seen things blocked because they have something to do with game characters or titles. Versteckt, my IA, was intended named "Cipher," but of course that is also an in-game title. But the dialogue box indicated the name was unavailable, as opposed to "offensive," which of course "Cipher" is not.

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  4. I still remember back in EQOA when you fought ****roaches. Because Cockroaches was censored. Yes, they extended the censor to their own NPC monsters...and hilarity ensued.

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  5. Ooh.. I was trying to name my tsw character nickname "something" jewel and didn't understand the problem. Now it all makes sense and how ridiculous it really is although it provably is an oversight.

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    1. Yeah, it's a simple code to include a clean word list. I don't know why they don't do it.

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