Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Genitalia and Bigotry - "Drawing the Line" !

(Post by Quinzel, Producer of APB)

San Paro - a city where anarchy and iron-fisted justice clash.  Who is to say what is “right” or “wrong” in this concrete jungle?  Where does that leave you in this M-rated game?  What does “rated M for Mature” even mean in San Paro?

It would surprise me if anyone playing the game has not seen an inappropriate player-created image.  Whether it is a customized van with a “graphic” paint job or a topless toon on one of the display points in Social District – we have seen it all!  Now, what happens when players do this?  Some players get banned and some players are warned and you are left scratching your head asking, “Where do we draw the line?”

Apparently we (the production team) are all-powerful and as noted before we reserve the right to ban people for any reason what-so-ever. But as the producer of the game, I really do want to help define what we think “our community standards” are supposed to mean, even in a game intended for a 18+ audience.

One morning, I found an e-mail thread reported by our Community Team that there were some questionable nudity images in Social:

G1 Staffer 1, “We need a clean-up in aisle Colby – display points section. Is there anything we can do about this – I have the name of the players that posted this stuff. Let me know please.”
G1 Staffer 2, “I don’t see the problem. It’s just some boobs :P?”
G1 Staffer 3, “I second that  J 18+ Rated game J
G1 Staffer 4, “I actually find it kinda comforting…”
G1 Staffer 5, “Unless she has a swastika for a nipple or something I don’t think we have to remove it, 18+ game.”

We discussed this thread in one of our weekly team meetings to make sure we define our general policy and refreshed messaging to the community.  One point mentioned was that the game by design has characters that show a lot of skin.  If you go to our Character Customization Editor you can get characters down to their underwear.  Seeing as this was something we built how can we fault the community for doing the same?  

Quick answer – we can’t and we won’t. 

But what about more “disturbing” images involving nudity?  We were already taking actions towards players who created and displayed images that were “disturbing” to both us and other players.  Were nipples acceptable?  How about butt-cheeks?  

So one take away from the meeting was - genitalia is where we draw the line; we did not create that by design.  That line is the base.   Certainly, there are things that exist beyond that line which I’m sure if your imagination wonders far enough you will find.  Furthermore, our rated M for Mature is based off of content we created and have designed for the game.

Looking back at some of the legacy APB Sourcebooks, (documentation from RTW days), I found the following text in one of the design documents:

1.1.1      Adult Material

·         Adult material must be sensitively handled – we are not trying to needlessly shock or offend, but we are trying to put across a real seeming world with a definite edge.
o   No story elements should be gratuitous.
·         Hardcore brutality or cruelty, etc. must be played down.
o   However, the world must feel capable of such things (e.g. such events may be referenced in the story).
·         Explicit sex must not be depicted.

There you have it!  So here is where we can roughly define what our take on “disturbing” might mean; it says right there “Explicit sex must not be depicted.”  It also states, “we are not trying to needlessly shock or offend.”  So here is the general rule of thumb next time you ask yourself, “Can I put this image that I’ve created out on display?”

The last reply from G1 Staffer 5, (“Unless she has a swastika for a nipple…”), is a perfect segue to my next point of discussion – bigotry!

While my office is based in the U.S. my team (GamersFirst and Reloaded) are spread over different continents.  Our APB Reloaded team is an international bunch not to different from our player-base; we have an international player community spread across the world.  With that said, we all should recognize that as an international community we have a diversity of players from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

We have zero tolerance for any disrespect of diversity. 

It’s not uncommon practice for us to ban accounts that are infringing that respect between players so think twice before you create a characters, symbols, or images in game that are racist, sexist, or discriminate against any of the Protected Classes (based off U.S. anti-discrimination laws).  We clearly DO draw the line at Bigotry, and we also reserve the right to enforce 'community standards' when it comes to sexual imagery.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the “Protected Classes” generally include race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex and disability (and in some states sexual preference as well).

As an example, there were players in game who were going around wearing swastikas. The symbols were making players around them feel uncomfortable and so we asked that they please remove those symbols.  They refused so we blocked their accounts.  Soon after the banned players tried to contact us through customer support and dispute that we (GamersFirst) were the ones acting discriminatory; they claimed that they were banned for expressing their political views while other players with religious character names were allowed to run around in-game.  These players who were sporting the Nazi symbols in game were defending themselves saying that they never griefed any players in game, never used hacks or exploits, and further more felt uncomfortable seeing players in game with names that had some religious reference or players wearing religious symbols or national flags.

While I don’t want to go into a whole WWII dissertation or lesson in auspicious Asian symbols, let’s just say that in general - in today’s society - Nazi symbols are taken as symbols of hatred. Any symbols or actions that actively and deliberately are aimed to express such hatred are not tolerated. 

While one can argue that swastikas are a political symbol rather than a hate symbol, political affiliation is not a protected class.  There is a difference between a character named “STFU [FILL IN PROTECTED CLASS]” vs.  a character named “iLUVBuddha." And in plain English, if we think you are being overtly and actively offensive, we will ban you. 

Generally we DO try to give players a warning first. So, take this post (and also previous forum posts that have informed the same) as an official first warning.  We are not obligated to warn players but we’d like to think that everyone can make a mistake and try to give people a chance to correct themselves.

We hope that this post has helped clarified any mystical questions about what the boundaries are and why.  If you have to ask yourself twice better not chance it. 


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