I feel that we really need to have a serious discussion about character names that pertain to certain identities and/or alternatives lifestyles. We really need to clarify where the line is drawn between "inappropriate" and blatant discrimination against people of various stripes.
Here's what it says in the official Code of Conduct:
I'm sure that we can all agree that we want a friendly and inclusive atmosphere for all players; One that is free from discrimination or genuine discomfort. I'm sure that we can all agree that these are laudable goals. We don't want anyone to feel truly offended, but unfortunately, we live in a messy world fraught with grey areas and ambiguity. There are things that are considered commonplace and downright mundane on the streets of New York City(or any other big city) that are at the same time regarded as shockingly provocative in small towns in the American South. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions as to where exactly we stand between these two extremes.
While on a Task Force yesterday, I bore witness to an incident that has me asking these very questions, and I'm downright nervous as to what may happen to me as a result. We were running a Positron 1 TF on Everlasting, lead by a character named "Femdom". Her costume was clearly referential to that subject matter, but not overly provocative by any objective measure. During the TF, she said something to the effect of "I was just contacted by a GM, I have to change my name". This generated a lot of outrage and discussion between the eight of us, we were all of the consensus that there was nothing "wrong" with her name, and that it was a bad call by the GM in question. It seems overzealous, and itself not in step with what society at large considers to be beyond the pale in 2019 AD.
This incident has me particularly on edge, because I have a character that is very similarly themed, so I am, right here and now, going to make the full case as to why these characters, and other types of characters in these "grey areas", are not legitimately in violation of the Code of Conduct. Furthermore, I am going to deign to demand a definitive answer from Homecoming staff regarding the validity of my own main character in City of Heroes/City of Villains, and ultimately, her fate.
So, does anyone here want to make the argument that the name "Femdom" is in violation of the Code of Conduct? Is that a name that requires a name change? Ok, I'll take you head on:
This is Ms Liberty. We all know who she is.
Are we all aware of who exactly her Praetorian counterpart is? Of course we are, it's Dominatrix!
Did you happen to catch that name? It seems pretty clear cut that we're dealing with a blatant double standard, or at least a GM that is seemingly unaware of official, existing content. My case gets even stronger, because she has minions. Did you ever right click on these enemies and bring up their Info? I distinctly remember doing so myself back in 2011 when Going Rogue went live:
"To be bound to Dominatrix is an honor that must be earned. Going without sleep and other trials of endurance are given to candidates to prove their worth. Passing means a term of servitude where complete obedience is expected."
"Trainers are very important to Dominatrix's organization. They teach the new Servants to fight effectively and work as a unit. They also fill the position of tactical leader in combat quite often."
"The Lady is the mistress of all she surveys. She is responsible for a number of Trainers and Servants. There is a strong bond of fealty that goes both ways in these relationships. With power comes responsibility."
Take a good look at those pictures. These were created by our friends and benefactors at Paragon Studios. And there is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever that this character and her minions are blatantly referencing the Bondage & Discipline, Sado-Masochistic, Dominant/Submissive lifestyle.
Now let's ask ourselves: Was anyone that played CoX actually offended by this inclusion back in 2011? Sure, there were undoubtedly a few individuals that were. Do you think that they were massively shaken to the very core of their being with extreme offense, or do you think that they were mildly disgruntled over it? I would suspect the latter. Do you think that anyone actually cancelled their subscription over this? I seriously doubt it. The fact of the matter is, however uncomfortable it may be to some, stuff like this exists in real life, and there's far too much reference to it in popular culture(including City of Heroes) for anyone to pretend that it's utterly unmentionable. And let's face it: It makes excellent fodder for villainous archetypes. We're all familiar with the existence of Catwoman, and vanishingly few among us has any ignorance as to what she's all about.
Again, Dominatrix and her minions were creations of Paragon Studios, which was located in Mountain View, California- which is part of the San Francisco Bay Area. They were not worried about whether or not they would violate community standards in Wichita, Kansas or Birmingham, Alabama. The very people who made the game we're playing deemed this particular subject matter to be acceptable content to present to the world at large. And unlike Homecoming, they actually had a financial stake in potentially losing money over offended unsubscribers. So are we actually going to take the position that characters that make any passing reference to this lifestyle are in violation of the CoC when the people at Paragon Studios themselves clearly did not? I don't know about anyone else's experience in this game, past or present, but BDSM themed characters, whether subtle or overt are *extremely* common. Taking action on them as a matter of course would be a pointless, fruitless exercise in futility. It's pretty clear that that particular ship sailed long ago.
Ever play World of Warcraft? They have a class called Warlock that summons demon pets. The level 20 demon upgrade is a Succubus that's also- you guessed it! A Dominatrix! Here's a very recent fan made video from WoW Classic. She does this animation/sound FX constantly in game. Seriously, watch this if you're still on the fence, it's short:
If that's ok in the biggest MMO ever, then how could it possibly be considered to be beyond the pale here? It's not, because society at large is ok with this stuff being mentioned.
And what about other highly-contested, Hot Button groups? The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community has made great strides within the last 20 years or so(and BDSM itself is frequently considered to be a part of the Q in LGBTQ). But let's not kid ourselves: There are still a lot of people in the world that hate them, want to persecute them, want to deny them civil rights, and yes, outright murder them simply for existing. There are still lots of people in the world that claim "offense" at the very mention or portrayal of them(the "controversy" over Endgame for example). And I don't doubt for a second that there aren't at least a few people that play on Homecoming Servers that share those sentiments. Yet, how does the Homecoming community at large feel overall about LGBTQ inspired characters or BDSM themed ones? Just because there's a puritanical zealot in Vicksburg, Mississippi that's offended by an overtly gay character, is it their right to claim offense and force a change to the name and/or appearance of a character played by someone that lives in Los Angeles or London? Do they truly represent the feelings and attitudes of Western Civilization at large in this day and age? Would that not be a blatant case of discrimination against a set of identities that still live in a constant state of siege?
Let me throw out some hypotheticals for us to consider:
Gay Rights Activist
Drag Queen Hero
How do you feel about names like these? Are any of these *egregiously* offensive to you? Could anyone potentially report these names as offensive, and would the very act of reporting them therefore make them "right"? So where do we draw the line? Personally, I think that all of these names are fine. I think that we might be just a little too cautious and a little too trepidatious about offending people when there would be absolutely no negative repercussions to letting these names slide. Maybe we all need to relax, let our hair down and have a little lighthearted fun.
I realize fully well that I am not a member of the Homecoming team, but in my opinion, the only types of names that are truely offensive and actionable would be:
> Actual profanity
> Overt hate speech
> Blatant negative stereotypes
> Names that *graphically* refer to *specific* sexual acts and/or genitalia, fluids, etc.
> Certain Illegal references
And this leads me to yet another grey area: Suppose someone rolls a Tanker that looks like an obvious Leatherman or Dominatrix named "Itank USpank". Sure, it's a bit graphic, but it's referencing arguably the single most common trope in MMOs. Would that hilariously fun name & concept truly be offensive enough to take action against? I think not.
And why would potential offense over "Grey Area" names take so much precedence anyways? We all want people to feel safe and comfortable playing here. But at what point does proclaimed offense itself turn into egregious policing of common cultural tropes and other things that are only deemed offensive by a marginal few? At what point would Homecoming be afraid of potentially driving away players that are the victims of spurious reports rather than driving away the "aggrieved" parties?
Because let's face it: A number of these complaints aren't made in good faith. Yes, many reports are due to actual, legitimate offense- and those need to be addressed. But we should all be well aware that there are always going to be trolls that are intentionally going to exploit any possible loophole to cause grief just because they can get away with it. I feel quite firmly that my teammate Femdom was likely a victim of this. Who, in 2019, young enough to play MMOs, living in a place large enough to have high speed internet access would actually be offended by that name? Very few people IMO. So perhaps blanket agreement with every single report shouldn't be the guiding policy on these matters, especially when the core motive appears to be at least a little suspect.
So why is this issue so important to me personally that I'm willing to type all this out? Because my main character is potentially affected by this policy if it's going to be that strict.
Meet Demonatrix, Mind/Fire Dominator:
She's the first character I ever rolled in this game. She was a very well known figure on Virtue, a prolific teamer, and frequently lead Strike Forces and even lead full iTrials. She was a fixture in channels like Virtue United and Virtue TFs. Just like now, I received constant kudos on my character's name and concept. Because it is a great name, and it is a great concept. I've played a lot of MMOs, and Demonatrix is my all time main. Only my Elf Hunter in Lord of the Rings Online and my Gnome Frost Mage in WoW come anywhere near being as beloved and important to me, and they don't. She stood in Aeon Square, in Cap au Diable at the exact moment that Virtue was unplugged. When this game came back from the dead, I was in sheer, giddy disbelief that she would fly again.
Ironically, she has had a small number of negative interactions over the years, always instigated by guys of the "Alpha" variety that seem to be super offended by her character concept- and definitely not in the puritanical sense. They've made out-of-the-blue comments that range the gamut from demeaning to outright sexual harassment. It's beyond obvious that they were super salty about women like her existing. I think that Femdom was the victim of a misogynistic guy like that too, pretending to be offended. They'd probably be just fine with names like "Subservient Female", "In the Kitchen" or "Barefoot N Pregnant".
NcSoft never took offense to my character's name, and I even interacted with GMs via her on a few occasions. I remember a GM helped us spawn Caleb when he glitched, and watched as we burned him down. No one ever complained about her name. But now? Are you really going to tell me that this name is too offensive? How could you possibly justify Praetor Duncan being allowed to sport that name, yet not allowing a player to be just two letters off on the exact same concept? I'd really like to hear it, because it would be sheer hypocrisy, unless you removed said major NPC from the game as well.
I am not saying this as a threat, as I don't think anyone actually cares: But I really would permanently quit the game over a forced name change. My anger and disgruntlement would be too much for me to continue playing here with a different name or even to play any of my other toons. Some people don't really value their characters names and/or concepts. Some people would barely be phased if their character's name was forcibly changed to LOL1234567. I am not one of them. I only want to play on Homecoming, and I'm planning to play here for as long as these servers are alive. But I don't want to spend another second playing her if there's a chance that she can be effectively killed off on someone else's whim. So I want to hear it straight from Homecoming staff: Yay or Nay? Is "Demonatrix" deemed acceptable or not? Do I continue to play on Homecoming servers or not?
It occurs to me that we may have to have a discussion about costumes as well. The inclusion of the Lambeaux costume set is undoubtedly offensive to someone somewhere. Is that therefore actionable too? I don't know about other servers, but on Everlasting, that look is literally ubiquitous. Standing near Ms Liberty on Everlasting could probably cause a zealous GM to be very busy for hours off end with all the potential infractions they'd find if we're really going to go with a super strict interpretation of the CoC. Shall I post pictures of Swan & Serafina to make a further case for costumes? It can't get skimpier and more revealing than theirs. Are these two official Paragon Studios NPCs themselves in violation? Shall we reprimand Matt Miller for it?
And what about bios? Go to Everlasting's Pocket D on Friday night. The GMs would die of exhaustion if they decided to police all of the bios there. In general, it should be resolved that Everlasting should probably be afforded slightly lighter moderation than other servers. Take it from an MMO vet, by their very nature, Role Play servers are always more libertine than the rest. It's the nature of the beast. Sexy catgirls, etc outnumber straight-laced Silver Age heroes by a pretty wide margin, and that's an understatement. Shall we consider closing down our RP server, even though it's exactly identical to old Virtue in its character and composition? Again, NcSoft was perfectly fine with it.
I don't want to come off as snarky and rude, and I sincerely hope that I'm just overreacting. But that incident I witnessed has me really nervous about a character that I've been playing for years without incident. I would hope that we all can agree that grey areas do exist, and that sometimes overzealous moderation in-game may sometimes be a little over the top. It may drive people away rather than keep the vast majority of players happy & secure.
I do want to hear what other people think, though I fully expect that I'm going to get some snarky responses.
And no, I'm not an Erotic Role Player. But thanks for asking. 😛
Oh BTW, Femdom should have her name reinstated...