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2 Dec, 2021 10:42

Forza Horizon 5: Bans for vague ‘offences’ kill player creativity and interest

Forza Horizon 5: Bans for vague ‘offences’ kill player creativity and interest

Videogames allow us to be anyone, anywhere and anywhen. At least, they used to. Now, with the troubles of the real world leaking into the virtual one, it is not the case. Recent bans in Forza Horizon 5 are evidence of that.

Forza Horizon 5 is an amazing game. An ideal arcade racer, where you can enjoy stunning Mexican scenery, a plethora of common and exotic cars, and virtually no limit to what you can do to upgrade your car or how to race it. You can turn a Lamborghini Aventador into an off-roader, your Ford Mustang into a drag racing monster, or you can download an old-school rally livery and a powerful tune for a Subaru Impreza and tear it up on a rally stage to your heart’s content.

But that last part is not that simple. Yes, there are thousands of community-made liveries for different cars in Horizon 5. But the first weeks of the game’s life saw the begginning of a sudden wave of bans for artists for certain liveries they created. Reddit user git-regret sounded the alarm, warning fellow artists not to publish any custom-made liveries to avoid getting banned. Git-regret’s designs are of clothed comic and anime characters, with a pin-up aesthetic to them. A ban was issued for 69,934,592 hours, until December 31, 9999, with no warning, no “first-time offence” 3- or 7-day ban, and no apparent way to appeal. The user was banned not just from sharing liveries or participating in car auctions, but from any online activity – in a game built around multiplayer, community and showing off your custom rides.

Git-regret never got an explanation or a reason for such a severe ban. He deduced that it might have been his designs as he just received a “legendary painter” status for being a popular artist within the community. But without an official word from the community team at Forza, speculation and fear began to spread among other players – where the line is drawn, what content is now bannable, and how to protect yourself from a ban. Because there is no appeal process, no one feels safe even when using other players’ designs.

There are other reports that if you search for anime liveries, many of the designs will have empty creator names, which means that their author was banned. Another 8,000-year ban was issued for a North Korea-themed parody of a KFC livery, with a stylized portrait of Kim Jong Un and several joke logos made to look like real world ones – “Pyongyang” (Pirelli), “Nuke Balance” (New Balance), and “Nuke” (Nike).

At the same time, Forza developers updated their Enforcement Guidelines, where they described what constitutes “offensive user-generated content.” The list includes, but is not limited to, obvious things like pornography, nudity, Nazi symbols, bullying, cheating, etc. Such guidelines are common practice – other games, like EA’s Need for Speed series, also forbid use of such symbols on player-made liveries. Profanities in languages other than English are much easier to get past the radar, though, being harder to moderate.

But some things mentioned in that list are controversial, for example, “Vans with ‘free candy’ or other similar ‘free __’ wording” – a reference to kidnapping and child abuse. In reality, it’s just a meme – there was no child abuse or kidnapping. The whole “free candy” creepy van thing started as a prank carried out by some kids in 2004 on an old van driven by a 16-year old. After that, the photos of a beaten-up van with “free candy” were uploaded to a TiVo Community forum, and then linked-to on an emerging College Humor website. Thus, the legend of a “pedo van” was born. The only crime committed was vandalism, the only victim was the van, but this reference will get you banned on Forza games.

Forza Enforcement Guidelines also forbid using a Confederate flag on any designs. While this is in line with recent social shifts in the United States, this makes it impossible to recreate, for example, a 1969 Dodge Charger from the TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Not to mention that Forza games are played all over the world, not just in the United States. And in many countries the Confederate flag is not such a big deal, which can lead to some poor soul in Czech Republic getting a lifetime ban for a flag that is displayed in lots of US-made TV shows and movies shown around the world. On a related note, all these restrictions are applied to “things that are offensive in the USA,” which led to WB game designer Osama Dorias not being able to put his name on a car’s licence plate for being too offensive.

And Osama is not the only name that is off limits. People unfortunately named Brandon by their parents one or two decades ago that wanted to put their name on a car have received seven-day bans for it. One can only wonder why.

Forza’s community has expressed its outrage with the new enforcement and interpretation of the game’s community guidelines. Lots and lots of joke liveries with “generic brand” or “pls don’t ban me” written on them started appearing, and many players are advising others to remove any shared and/or downloaded liveries with anime characters, brand names and other stuff that has suddenly become edgy. This also makes creating a replica livery quite risky, given that in the past many racing teams were sponsored by tobacco and alcohol companies, which is now outlawed in sports and in games.

Killing the modding mood

All of this makes some sense, given the game’s ESRB “Everyone” (PEGI 3 in EU) rating, as some content may indeed be harmful for children. But the same was true for all “Horizon” games except the first one, which had a “Teen” (PEGI 12 in EU) rating. So it was natural of players to assume that they had the same freedom of expression as before. Many players that are vocal on the issue of the bans are displeased with the direction the game took, lack of warning or consistency of the moderation. After all, the only way the community-driven game can ensure its long life, is to allow the community to drive it (get it?) and create more content for players to enjoy. As shown by the success of Cities Skylines with its great support for mods and other player-made assets, no developer can allocate enough resources and time to create as much as dedicated fans can.

Forza Horizon is not the only game that is changing its approach to user-made content and interaction. Extremely popular Minecraft-like game Roblox has issued revised community standards that will clamp down on things from romantic activities such as weddings, honeymoons, or kissing and hand-holding, to depictions of political parties, elected officials, elections or slogans. Roblox reports up to 40 million concurrent users these days, most of them children, so naturally the game’s creators wanted to take special care of the millions of children playing. While ban of recruitment for terrorist organizations on their platform makes complete sense, why also ban hand-holding? Most of the romantic activities listed in the new standards are completely normal in real life. So it is technically a bannable offence to play Roblox with your child and your significant other and hold hands with them in-game, when doing the same in a public place in real life is completely acceptable.

Changes like this can come to many other games, often unannounced, if developers continue this policy of maximizing their defense against any criticism. When fear of getting a bad review on Steam of an angry post on Twitter because someone wrote “2 Fast 2 Furious 2 Genders” on their car as a joke or holds hands with another character takes away the freedom of expression of a player that paid their own money to breathe life into your game, we can forgive people for losing interest in making content for their favorite games, or leaving online games altogether. Quite a bleak future for a world where you get to meet fellow players from across the world, enjoy things you like together and make friends you never would have made in real life.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.