*AUTHOR'S NOTE* This editorial addresses the response from Moddb over the removal of the 'School Shooter Mod' found here: Moddb.com
From the above title, you may think that this is going to be an angry rant session; it’s not. I’ve done my ranting and raging, some here on Moddb and some elsewhere, but now is the time for a less “passionate”, more analytical examination of what I consider the absolutely disastrous decision to censor the “School Shooter Mod” by removing it.
First off, let me make it clear that I understand perfectly whose house this is – this is Moddb’s house or, more specifically, the house of those who founded Moddb and keep it running day by day. There are some who claim what Moddb did (remove the mod as a result of outside pressure) was an affront to free speech, but I don’t. Insofar as this is their house, we play by their rules, or we don't play. Free speech stops at their door. I’m under no illusions about who is in charge and neither should you be. That said, I have a problem with what I consider a blatant and hypocritical inconsistency in the application of those rules and their supposed principles. A rule is hardly a rule if it is not applied consistently across the board; a principle can hardly be considered a principle if it is only applied arbitrarily and is subject to the whim of the outspoken and the easily offended. The deletion of a mod from the huge depository of mods here at Moddb for the reasons given in “Why We Removed the School Shooter mod” article illustrate that the “rules” here on Moddb are subject to the influence of hyper-sensitive, habitually-offended people who believe that they have some innate right to NOT be offended by anything. ‘Principles’ apparently only stand if they avoid coming under any external pressure, in which case said principles become null and void. If I have learned anything in my 40 years of living, it’s that someone, somewhere is going to be offended by anything, regardless of what it is. The ill-conceived deletion of an in-progress mod inevitably sets them up for more hypocritical and inconsistent application of said rules and supposed principles, lest they delete each and every mod and/or game from their massive database that anyone might take offense from. Given my aforementioned rule, I’m not sure there would be much of a database left were they to do that.
Indeed, the 'School Shooter Mod' was a more extreme example of one of the egregious affronts to decency and sensitivity that can occasionally come about in modding. Most, if not all, examples of oppressive censorship in history, however, have begun with well-intentioned attempts to censor the worst offenders to common decency. Once you start down the path of censorship, you may realize too late what a dangerous and slippery slope it really is. It is especially galling to me that any mod can be removed from a site on which mods for the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ franchise (no stranger to controversy itself) are allowed to remain and in fact are celebrated. I remember (more fondly than I probably should admit) what a guilty pleasure it was to run around with a baseball bat beating old ladies to death and taking their money in more than one of the GTA games and on more than one occasion. Reprehensible behavior? Maybe. Fun if not taken too seriously and in the context of a silly game? Absolutely, at least as far as I’m concerned. As tongue-in-cheek as the whole presentation of GTA was, it was hard for me to get all bent out of shape about it, but boy, a whole lot of other people did. And yet here it is on Moddb, all of the games listed in the games database and dozens of mods in various stages of development (including some that have not been updated in years) in the mods archives. So why shouldn’t the GTA nay-sayers be catered to as well? Is it not clear that many people take offense to the content in the GTA games? Under Moddb's apparent guiding principles, I guess all GTA games and mods should henceforth be removed or censored. And after that? Now that there’s precedent, in theory all mods and games are on the table. That has never before been the case for as long as I've been here. Once started, where should censorship stop? In the interest of fair and consistent application of rules and principles, where can it stop?
Grand Theft Auto and it’s multitude of brilliantly fun mods should stay on Moddb to be sure, but so should have the 'School Shooter Mod'. The hypocrisy of removing one while keeping another aside, what I find so offensive about the censorship of the ‘School Shooter mod’ is that in doing so Moddb has empowered the morality crusaders, the hyper-sensitive sissies, and the pro-censorship crowds and in essence encouraged them to continue on in their misguided quests to silence or otherwise do away with anything that does not fit their own narrow perceptions of what the public should and shouldn’t be allowed to do and see. The last thing gaming needs is for these and other short-sighted, self-serving groups like them to have their common, ill-conceived efforts to limit what we are allowed to play affirmed by what is probably the largest and longest-running mod website on the internet. In that regard, the censorship of the mod is in my view far more detrimental to gaming, modding, and gamers than any content that any mod may include could ever be.
It has been asserted by some that the removal was ‘no big deal’ because the ‘School Shooter Mod’ was a “troll mod”, or one that was started for the sole purpose of riling up a bunch of people via its outlandish and potentially offensive content. While that can be argued either way, ultimately it is irrelevant. The true intentions of the mod team are only for they themselves to know, and not for anyone else to judge. The bottom line is that they made a mod on a site that hosts mods, and in an ill-advised attempt to appease some outspoken critics, the host of the site censored the mod in direct contravention of the most basic principle of modding – utter creative freedom. Moreover, they allowed a few to dictate to the many what they can and can’t create or use, and in one fell swoop have changed their basic role from archivists of mods to content police. For those who ask what the big deal is in removing one mod, I implore you to consider that concept very carefully. With such a precedent set, can we really be sure such a thing won’t happen again, this time maybe to a mod you personally are interested in and are excitedly following? Again, once started, where do you stop?
Personally, I found the mod to be kind of interesting, at least in concept, and not offensive in the least given its obvious tongue-in-cheek nature, but that is not to say I have never been taken aback by any content in any game ever. I found the inclusion of Modern Warfare 2’s airport level (where you are an active participant in the slaughter of innocent civilians) to be in extremely poor taste for example. However, I never once asserted that it was not completely within Infinity Ward’s right to include such material in their game - I showed my disapproval by simply not playing it. Who am I to say what others can and can’t enjoy (If the Japanese can have their “Rape Lay” games after all…)? I have been gaming for 33 years, and in that time gaming has always been a self-policing industry, one where we rely on the relative good sense and judgment of all involved rather than a bunch of restrictions enforced by people who never played a game in their lives or the easily-offended (not to mention the 'offended by everything' crowd). Yet it has always been one devoid of outright censorship. In their article explaining their censoring of 'The School Shooter Mod', they stated, “We don't want the hard work of thousands of other mod developers to be threatened by people misunderstanding this one mod/game, and assuming all others are like it.” What Moddb has done by censoring a mod due to external pressure goes a discouragingly long way in undoing gaming's long tradition of self-rule and its principle of no censorship, regardless of their intentions. By caving to people who don't understand gaming and modding at all, Moddb has sent a strong, clear message that they can tell gamers and modders what we are allowed to enjoy. Thanks for nothing Moddb – next time, do gamers a favor and refrain from “protecting” us.