State Of Decay 2 developer Undead Labs has apologised to Steam Marines 2 developer James Seow, after an automated blocking system tried to silence their concerns over a questionable in-game trait.
For the past month, Seow has been exhaustively live-tweeting his playthrough of State Of Decay 2—and while there'd been a few missteps along the way, he seemed to be having a grand old time. At least, until this week, when he discovered that one of his survivors had the trait "punched Nazis", which despite adding a damage bonus, made them irritable towards other characters.
The idea, apparently, is that strongly held beliefs make characters more combative as they express their beliefs. But as the traits system was evolved and streamlined, the system began erasing much of the nuance. Arguments of all forms were tied together under one negative banner, penalising any kind of strongly-held belief.
Asking both the Undead Labs and State Of Decay Twitter accounts why the game had "Nazi shit" in it, Seow was greeted by a block by both—an act that, in context, made it appear that the developer was doubling down or otherwise silencing complains.
IF WE'RE KEEP SCORE NOW BOTH @STATEOFDECAY AND @UNDEADLABS HAVE BLOCKED ME FOR POINTING AT THE NAZI SHIT IN THEIR GAME #STATEOFDECAY2 YOU WANNA COMMENT @Xbox @Microsoft @MicrosoftHelps @XboxSupport #StateOfDecay2 ?https://t.co/PGEgxnbuBR pic.twitter.com/CxiSPOGm28February 25, 2021
Since that post, Undead Labs has come out with an explanation and an apology directed at Seow (which reportedly echoes what he was told hours prior via DMs). Apparently, the block was applied by an automated system, set up by the developer to hide offensive language during Black History Month. The trait itself also predates State Of Decay 2 by some time, and was never meant to be anything other than positive.
"We created the rare 'Punched Nazis' trait long before SoD2’s release," Undead Labs writes. "One designer actually told us firsthand stories about punching Nazis in the underground music scene. We loved it and boom, the trait was born.
"It was designed as an overall positive trait with a skill bonus — it grants four stars of Fighting experience, and also made the character more likely to argue passionately for their beliefs (we figured someone punching Nazis in a mosh pit is going to have some strong feelings)."
It's a sad end to one fan's playthrough, and a frustrating reminder of how even simple mechanics can find themselves politicised through context. I've reached out to Seow for comment, but going by his thread, it seems Undead Labs' apology is too little, too late.
"I woulda accepted the design explanation and 'we'll fix this' 8 days ago, sounds very corporate damage control to me now. Glad it only took a week of me and other people yelling."