What he wrote was “…so too should the folks who find nothing wrong with naming your group of online friends after some of the most efficient mass murderers history has ever witnessed take a few steps backward, if only to reflect on how they’ll explain it to Senator Lieberman next year.” Now there’s something telling in this sentence. I think we need to take a step back here and examine how these games will be viewed by the general public. Online games are hitting the mainstream. Of that there can be no doubt. TV Guide has one of the largest (if not THE largest) subscriber base of any print magazine. EQ making the cover is going to bring people to the game. If nothing else it will give more people recognition of online games as a genre. People will notice not only EQ but other online games. Games like WWII Online.
Now I don’t care about historical accuracy. I don’t care if its not an RPG, or a persistent world, or even if those of you playing the game wouldn’t hurt a fly and work at soup kitchens 3 days a week. I don’t especially care if one side’s battle gear looks ‘cooler’ than the other sides. I don’t play warsims. Not my cup of tea. But here’s the thing — neither do the people that will be looking in from the outside and judging that and other games.
Please do not misconstrue my meaning here. I really don’t have much of an opinion on whether or not the game should be made or people should play Germans or if the swastika is a symbol of peace or hate in Asia. You folks can argue about that till you’re blue in the face and more power to you for caring. I have different fish to fry. So while you may want to take back the swastika and make it the symbol of peace or Finnish pride or whatever the hell other excuse you’re using this week to display one of the twentieth century’s most objectionable symbols, what do you think Joe Public is going to think when they see it plastered all over your guild’s website? You won’t have a chance to explain that it used to be a peace symbol in some arcane religion a hundred years ago and that you are taking it back. I mean, to me, the swastika looks like a Nazi symbol. I’m forty years old and that’s what its been all my life. I see a game with guilds that have swastikas plastered all over their website and I’m going to dismiss it as a game for hate groups. And I’m educated about games. I know games. I work for a website, the purpose of which is to provide commentary about games. So how do you think this is going to appear to Mrs. Cleaver watching over Beaver’s shoulder as he shows her this great new online war sim? Hmmmm?
You may think that won’t matter but please think again. It does matter and it reflects on the industry as a whole — not just some little game by Cornered Rat Studios with a limited audience and player base. While this article deals with players and guilds more than the game companies I do believe the game companies, especially Cornered Rat Stuidos, really don’t seem to understand that they will be burned by the users, which they cannot and should not, try to control. On the other hand, a game company should be very cautious about what ideas it wants to put into the player’s head. John Smedley, President and CEO of Verant Interactive, said about banning a user once, “It is very important for everyone concerned to understand that EverQuest’s reputation is a very important thing. In this day and age, video games are subjected to an ENORMOUS amount of scrutiny by watchdog groups and the federal and state governments.” In the specific case of WW2OL – there is a special subsite for the guys in the cool uniforms. Not for the Russians, or the French, or God forbid the British or Americans – just the Germans. If we continue to believe that our actions don’t matter, if game companies do not understand how their players give them an ‘image’ and do not take responsibility for it, that image and those actions will be censored. Don’t believe me?
After the Columbine Shootings it was noted that the shooters played Doom and listened to Marilyn Manson. “OH MY GOD” cried the national conscience “video games and Marilyn Manson are BAD!” Whereupon the gaming industry did the best ostrich immitation in the history of mankind. The game companies collectively stuck their proverbial heads in the proverbial sand and tried to pretend they were invisible. Marilyn Manson took to the talk shows explaining that no, he was not a blood-sucking satanistic pervert, that only vampires sucked blood and White Wolf was in charge of those. After a while the furor died down. How many well-meaning mothers looking over Beaver’s shoulder do you think it will take to stir that furor up again?
This industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and as it gets larger, scrutiny will get tougher. Dungeons and Dragons has already come under attack in the past by well-meaning, but very misguided, Christian groups. There’s already a rating system. Not a very good one but there is one. Congress has already taken an interest in violence in media. Not just in video games but in movies and music as well. As inner-city street kids with gifts for rhyme and rhythm who exhorted their listeners to kill cops and rob from the rich made censorship a reality for ALL musicians, so too will games that are associated with websites that bear swastikas and glorify the Third Reich make it a reality for ALL games. Let me reiterate that it doesn’t matter if you are only playing Germans because their equipment was better or you like the scenario. These guild websites, complete with swastikas in some cases, are all its going to take. If we do not police ourselves, we will be policed. We will probably be policed in any case. The real question is, how much ammunition do we want to give to Senator Lieberman and other well-meaning, but totally misguided, people who would seek to censor this genre? Think of this article as just a little food for thought while you plaster Finnish peace signs all over your guild’s website.