Vague Patch Notes: Culture doesn’t excuse poor design choices in MMOs


So Tarisland has heard that people don’t like gender-locked classes. This is the correct feedback because gender-locked classes blow, and every game that has them would be better without them. And the response to that is what amounts to word salad in which the developers promise to figure out if they can make the time to fix this, which we all know they cannot and will not actually be looking into. Because let’s face it, if the developers were really worried about this, they already would have made different decisions.

You don’t need me to tell you this. I’ve done entire articles about why gender-locking happens in the first place, and the fact of the matter is that it usually comes down to a matter of resources. Everything costs time and money, and it seems pretty obvious to me that Tarisland is being speed-developed on the cheap to hit a specific demographic as quickly as possible for very obvious reasons. But there’s a certain sort of really weird and dumb argument whenever Eastern games come over like this arguing that well, no one in the country of origin cares about this, so why should the developers?

First and foremost, this is… demonstrably not true. Like, saying “oh, folks in China and South Korea don’t care about gender-locked classes” overlooks the numerous MMOs from China and South Korea that do not have gender-locked classes. This is not a universal thing. And the people who are parroting this are pretty universally not from these countries, to boot.

But even if you take the argument at face value, it’s dumb. To explain, I am once again going to turn to our old friend who is in no way emotionally charged, potato chips! (I kinda want some potato chips.)

Let’s say that I have a new line of potato chips. No, they’re not luxury chips; they’re reasonably affordable. And I’m proud of my Lefebvre Chip Promiseā„¢: Every bag comes with a dead rat stapled to it! Really. Every single bag has a dead rat stapled to the outside.

For some reason, initial sales aren’t as good as I was expecting. The chips are good, though, so I run a survey of everyone who buys my chips. “Would you like this better without the rat?” I ask. A solid 65% of the people who buy my chips say “no, keep the rat.” So should I conclude, “Well, it can’t be the dead rats – people like the rats”?

No – because my survey targeted only the people who were willing to move past the fact that there’s a dead rat stapled to the bag and buy it in the first place. This is a self-selected group of people predisposed to thinking dead rats are acceptable, and even then, a lot of them would still prefer that the rat weren’t there. It’s quite reasonable to assume that I’d have a lot more customers without a dead rat stapled to every bag, and the fact that a slight majority of people who bought them even with the rat are all right with the rat says more about people who buy chips with rats on the bag than anything else.

Pity about so, so many missed opportunities.

This isn’t just unique to gender-locked classes, of course; you see the same thing in nonsense like the most recent interview about Blue Protocol in which a fan site asks about “censorship.” (Which is not even censorship but rather just discussing things being made… you know, less sexually exploitative when there’s no reason for it to be in the first place.)

And all of the arguments against this are always the dumbest things possible, always from people who try to argue that “well, this is perfectly acceptable in Japanese culture, the problem is that we’re all prudish” and so much word salad. It’s exhausting and is basically a torrent of excuses wherein the person arguing against these changes knows nothing about Japan beyond sexualized art of people coded as minors.

If you’re already scurrying to the comments to explain how she’s actually four hundred years old and just looks like she’s 12, please go someplace that has all of the grass in the universe and touch it.

Now, I am not Japanese, either in ancestry or in current living arrangements. But Japan is not actually a country of perfect enlightenment where sexism is completely solved. The nation has real societal problems, a burgeoning right-wing nationalist movement, corruption, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth. These problems are not unknown in Japan. Just as an example, do you know when same-sex marriage was made legal in Japan? The answer is it still isn’t. It’s almost like a lot of countries have problems and no culture is sacrosanct!

But none of this matters anyway because this sort of cultural relativism only arises in one direction. It’s always raised as a defense of the idea that this is all fine in the game’s country of origin without ever asking if it is, in fact, considered fine (or considering whom, in fact, you’re polling on the topic). It’s like the longstanding myth that anime and manga are seen as totally normal to be obsessive over in Japan, which is just not true; people don’t turn their nose up at animation as a genre, but it’s seen as disposable entertainment for kids and teenagers most of the time, and the people who are way too into it are still seen as weird there. The dude in Osaka who collects every Gundam model kit is not any different from a guy in Des Moines who has every G. I. Joe figure.

poke poke

My point here is not to say that Japan or South Korea or China are blighted hellscapes with nothing of cultural value, just to urge gamers to stop treating these places as if they’re some irreproachable fantasy land where we can’t apply any of our own values to choices made because of their points of origin. Tarisland gender-locking classes is bad and dumb. The fact that a lot of Chinese companies do gender-lock classes in MMOs probably has way less to do with the fact that no one in China cares and way more to do with the fact that these games are low-effort spam there, too, and there’s a marked push toward live service games with short lifespans in the country’s gaming culture.

The real reason a minority of people are upset about this, of course, has nothing to do with actual interest in preserving or promoting these cultures but simply a desire to get what the speaker wants in a venue where he (it’s always he) feels he can win the argument. There’s never even consideration given to the fact that even if all of this were culturally unproblematic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.

I’d say “it’s all right if that’s what you want,” but considering what you want… no, it isn’t. But at least you could be honest about it. It’s not that no women in China want to play a melee character in a game that disallows that; it’s that the designers decided to skip that as an option because this way was cheaper and faster. And treating it as a cultural issue that no one can criticize sidesteps the real discussion of whether or not it is an acceptable decision, to which the answer is an unqualified no.

But even when you can prove that dead rats stapled to chips are common in another country, that doesn’t mean they’re the correct choice – just like same-sex marriage thing. That should be legal and accepted in Japan. And if you want to argue that I shouldn’t say that because I’m not Japanese… well, you’re kinda saying the quiet part loud, bucko.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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