Search KoopaTV!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Videogame Vulgarity

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - You'd expect me to swear in this header. You'd be wrong.

Artistic expression is the number one reason KoopaTV takes a lot of the stances it takes. So one day, a KoopaTV reader (or maybe a random dude who won't actually read this) asked that I share my thoughts about swearing in videogames. Sure.

Long story short: I'm okay with it, as long as we're properly notified about the content of the game beforehand. And fortunately, we are, since the ESRB exists. The ESRB has four content descriptors relating to profanity:
  • Language - Mild to moderate use of profanity
  • Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music
  • Strong Language - Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity
  • Strong Lyrics - Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol or drug use in music
Now for the long story.

Let's start off by saying that artistic expression trumps my social conservatism. I laugh at and parody any notion of "trigger warnings". However, for something you're paying for, and, as I discussed in yesterday's article, possibly giving to your kids, it would be nice to know what content is in the game beforehand.

It's impossible for me to be against swearing in videogames when Travis Touchdown is one of my favourite videogame characters of all time and one of the guys on my Super Smash Bros. 4 wishlist. The dude swears over 100 times between No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle in cutscenes.

(Warning, the following video spoils cutscenes from those games. It also is just a bunch of selective clips, so you might not have any idea why I like Travis so much if you only know him from this. Also that's a weird thumbnail.)

Personally, I swear a lot in my personal life. I rarely do so when writing commentaries, with the exception of one particular phrase. Speaking of which, Trayvon Tyson's Punch-Out!! has its own share of swears. ...Mostly in the latter half of the game. It just wouldn't be realistic or true to those characters if they didn't swear. That doesn't apply to all characters.

Tibarn says dastard.
Tibarn never gets his revenge, by the way.
You can certainly write good characters without them swearing. You can be like Fire Emblem characters and call people "dastards", or you can save your swears for the end of the game in a Precision F-strike. Or they can just be clean and compelling at the same time. Like me, I guess.

Matthew from Golden Sun: Dark Dawn swears.
The Precision F-Strike in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Exclusive to the American version.
If your character is really frustrated, it's perfectly acceptable to have them express that in words. In fact, it's arguably weird if they don't do that and they're all polite about it. 

The artistic expression argument does not extend to the players, though. You're fine to swear all you like in your private company, but one of the biggest reasons why people don't like voice-chat is that it has the reputation of a bunch of potty-mouth children. And those children aren't badasses or cool and collected with their swears like written characters. It's sort of why people thought the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege gameplay at the end of Ubisoft's E3 2014 conference was weird: People were voice-chatting it was just the most polite group of people you've seen play an online game. The fact that acting like civilized people is weird shows how bad our culture has gotten. Swears aren't meant to be carpet-bombed! That desensitizes their effect! They're supposed to be hurtful and special, or else they wouldn't be swears! And it's obnoxious, since you're limiting your vocabulary... and, speaking as a writer, that's not fun.

We don't want swears to be like ordinary words. We want there to be a special class of words that have that meaning to them. If we lose swears, how can we properly express ourselves? For an Economics metaphor, it's like the common good issue. If everyone gets to fish from the same pond, soon enough, that pond is going to run out of fish since no one is accountable and maintaining it. The pond loses relevance and meaning. But people want there to be fish!

It's okay if your videogame character is a potty-mouth, though. Travis Touchdown can swear all he wants and it won't change the meaning of the swears I say when I say them. It just reflects off of Travis Touchdown's personality. We should be self-aware about the effects swearing has on how others perceive us, or our characters. That can actually enhance them. And again, with the power of the ESRB, if you don't want to expose yourself or your kids to potty-mouth characters, you don't have to and you should be made aware of when potty-mouth characters are in the game since that's your right as a consumer. There are many well-written characters for you outside of that realm!

Ludwig may swear a bit off of KoopaTV, but he does not swear at all on Miiverse, so feel free to Follow him at NNID PrinceOfKoopas. If he did swear, he would probably get banned. Again.


  1. :D That mysterious requester was me!

    1. You didn't know my name at that point. So I stealth-requested like a ninja! *shifty eyes*

    2. ^_^
      And I like your article. Everybody's happy!

    3. Well, you wanted my thoughts on it.
      What do you think about my thoughts?

    4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. They're similar to mine in many ways. Although I don't swear and kinda prefer my games not to swear either, I wouldn't tell some gave dev they can't include swearing

  2. My iPad just stopped letting me type partway through. XD As I was going to continue, I, however, apply the "don't make them ordinary" words idea to games and other stories as well.

    1. Right, the "don't make them ordinary" logic applies across the whole culture.

    2. Okay, I wasn't sure, since in the last paragraph you said that if a character swears all the time, it won't change the meaning.

      Oh, I can't stop without mentioning what inspired my original request--Putin is banning certain profanity from public media, and if you have a book with profanity in it, it has to be wrapped in special packaging until you get it home, and stuff like that.....and since this is me, I started thinking about profanity in video games

    3. ...Pah, Putin.

      Characters aren't people. That's my logic. Characters can use swears for their personality, and you... shouldn't.
      I only gotta deal with a character when I'm playing that game. I gotta deal with you in potentially any situation, though.

      I suppose it's a silly distinction.

    4. Well, I guess what I mean is that if you're playing a game and there's relatively no swearing, when a character DOES swear in that game, it really hits you and makes you realize things are REALLY serious.... or funny, I suppose it can work for comedy as well as seriousness.


We embrace your comments.
Expect a reply between 1 minute to 24 hours from your comment. We advise you to receive an e-mail notification for when we do reply.
Also, see our Disclaimers.

Spamming is bad, so don't spam. Spam includes random advertisements and obviously being a robot. Our vendor may subject you to CAPTCHAs.

If you comment on an article that is older than 60 days, you will have to wait for a staffer to approve your comment. It will get approved and replied to, don't worry. Unless you're a spambot.