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?