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Developers and self, voluntary, censorship

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Offline kat

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Overwatch, Blizzards upcoming (at time of writing) multiplayer game, was subject to another controversy, again. This time over their decision to remove one of the characters (Tracer) "sexually provocative/objectifying" (victory?) poses. The move appears to have been the result of a single forum post made by an individual on behalf of someone else whom, it appears, is under-age[1]. Of course the fact that Blizzard capitulated without nary an objection has resulted in a Vesuvian eruption of claims and counter claims of censorship/not censorship.

Just to be clear on the "is it/isn't it" question, "censorship" is defined in the (proper) dictionary as follows[2];
Pronunciation: /ˈsɛnsəʃɪp/
The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security [OED]

Unless Blizzard were already in the process of removing the pose (apparently they were. Ed.), and the post asking for such just happened to coincide with this (apparently it did. Ed.), responding the way Blizzard did in this instance is often not the "voluntary" act or decision of independent volition its often argued to be. Instead they are often a mitigating consequence of pandering to sociopolitical pressure, of acquiescing to views voiced through passive-aggressive offense-taking empowered, not by veracity of argument made, but social climate[3], the risk of being labeled an *.ism, *.ist or *.phobe (and subsequent fallout from such accusations).

In other words, when disingenuous arguments are framed around a political issue, in this instance the subjective interpretation of something deemed '****' and 'offensive' (a sassy characters 'kiss-my-butt' victory pose), complainants grossly abuse the 'good-faith' trust creators afford those whom show interest in their products for persuasive advantage, lobbying often short-term change to appease 'moral of the moment' objections, especially those employing sensitive societal issues as an argumentative basis.

Under these circumstances this type of sociopolitically driven leverage is incredibly difficult to say "no" to, not for any argumentative reasons, rather for the disproportionate 'potential for harm' it may engender towards a given outcome (fallout). Its motivation is essentially coercive in nature, topped with an unspoken "...or else", in this case "do as I say (remove this **** pose) or else I'll post this all over social media, contact the press and call you a [it/ist/ism/phobe] for [reasons]".

Being an Indie or individual game developer, situations like this can appear nightmarish, "no" may seem just too risky. This need not be the case however, as the key to addressing such issues is to give the impression that "we're listening but will likely not act on your suggestion" by responding with something as simple as "thank you for your feedback, if you have any other concerns do let us know". It acknowledges their input whilst being completely vague as to whether anything will be done with it. There's actually a very specific reason for responding like this.


The risk of being sued for; 1) someone being offended by something subjectively offensive (in a non-criminal sense), or more important for creatives, 2) a Copyright (and subsequently Royalties) claim being made on an idea the complainant may have expressed publicly were it ever to appear in game. Although both can result in the same catastrophic outcome, being accused of 'sexism' (for example) is far easier a burden to bear for creatives than being accused of theft of ideas.

The chicken-tika takeaway for individual creative and Indies in this might be as follows;
Be mindful of giving those outside the development environment the impression they are contributed to a given project unless their input is specifically solicited, with the liabilities of their doing so being clearly defined[4].

Or else...

[1] Overwatch is rated "12" in the North America so the complaint is being made on behalf of a minor who should not otherwise be able to play the game without their parents permission. In other words, the person making the complaint is presenting a disingenuous argument as the individual potentially affected by the substance of the complaint is not of an appropriate or qualified age to be viewing said content in the first place. In other words, content deemed "Sexually inappropriate" implies tacit acknowledgement the person on whose behalf the complaint is being made is underage, which by virtue of circumstance, invalidates the complaint.

[2] Whilst Government has a vested interest in enacting, policing and enforcing censorship rules, regulations and laws, they hold no exclusive 'right' to the act itself. In other words, "Censorship" is defined as an act, who polices it, and how its enforced is not specifically relevant to defining what it is.

[3] Overwatch is currently in closed beta and available to qualifying individuals - access appears to be granted to age appropriate Battle.net subscribers(?) rather than specially to the game itself, or available openly to anyone, so the persuasiveness of the 'paying customer' argument varies depending on the perspective taken.

[4] The grand exception to this of course relates to bugs, issues of functionality, usability etc., feedback and commentary that's objective and repeatable - for purposes of fixing technical/functional problems, kiss-my-butt-slaps are neither.