Why Silence Isn't Censorship In Games Like 'Hearthstone'

Apr 20 2014, 7:04am CDT | by

There are few controversial aspects to Hearthstone, Blizzard’s beloved free-to-play collectible card game which recently just saw an iPad release, but one source of contention involves how players interact with each other. Or rather, how they don’t.

Rather than allowing text-based chat between players who aren’t friends, Blizzard has limited interaction to a series of preselected “emotes” for each character. They all are the same categories, but each hero has unique lines. The “Hello” emote for the Paladin is “Well met!” while for the Warrior it’s just “Heh, greetings.” Though the emotes can be used sarcastically (saying “Well played” after your opponent screws up), they limit chat to a few predetermined responses, and toxicity is forcibly removed from the equation as a result.

Polygon’s Ben Kuchera just published a piece about why this is rather great, but found himself facing backlash from Hearthstone fans who equate the system with censorship. The idea is that because of a few trolls, everyone loses the right to speak. “Even one positive conversation would make up for a hundred flamers and trolls,” one fan says.

I strongly disagree.

While mandatory emotes and chat restriction isn’t the best idea for every game, I think it’s certainly right for Hearthstone given the type of game it is. Very often, many Hearthstone games come down to a single card drawn at the exact right moment. It can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for you or your opponent, and leave one of you feeling steamed.

Right now, every time I receive a friend request from someone I just played in Hearthstone, it’s not because they want to discuss how my expert play allowed me the win, and ask how they can improve their game. It’s because they want to call me a “f***ing lucky c***” and there’s no emote for that. In probably 500 games of Hearthstone, I’ve never received a post-game friend request from someone who actually wanted to have a productive conversation. It was always, always flaming, and I learned to just ignore such requests going forward.

But overall, my experience with Hearthstone has been largely positive due to the forced muzzling of toxic players. This is as opposed to say, League of Legends. That’s a great game to be sure, but when every other game devolves into a shouting match about who’s a noob and who threw the game, it’s simply exhausting. In my experience, probably 60-70% of my League of Legends matches have some form of flaming in them, as opposed to 0.1% of my Hearthstone games. It makes the latter a much more relaxing, enjoyable experience.

While League of Legends may need chat in order to effectively coordinate five player teams, the same isn’t true for a game like Hearthstone. There’s no team-based strategy in Hearthstone, and chat would only exist for the purposes of trash talk. And no, one positive conversation would not erase the experience of a hundred nasty trolls. People say that those in favor of the system “just don’t want to get their feelings hurt,” but it’s not that I’m like, personally offended at the insults, it’s just that I’d rather not have my day clouded by that sort of negativity. Some people may thrive on conflict like that (as evidenced on every internet comment board), but that isn’t me, and those sort of interactions do nothing but darken my mood for no reason.

The problem with the gaming community as a whole is that hell is often other people. One nasty player can ruin an entire game for the other nine. Even if it’s just a small percentage of the community, they’re consistently loud, irritating, abrasive and ban-proof, as they simply make new accounts in these free-to-play games. I’m willing to give up my freedom of speech if it means I don’t have to deal with players like that. Obviously, this doesn’t translate across all games, but there are certainly times I wish League of Legends restricted players to Smart Pings, and Call of Duty would auto-mute everyone I play with until the end of time.

It’s not censorship, it’s good game design, and I’m appreciative for it.

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