You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been posting anything here lately. The reason for this is that work has gotten really busy, and I haven’t had the time to spare from work at work, and playing City of Heroes at home, to say much.

However, in the interest of not losing all of my readership, I’ve made the time to bang out a brief entry on an issue that alternately amuses and annoys me.

In the forthcoming second content update to City of Heroes, currently undergoing testing on a special open beta server, one of the major additions is a system of badges. Not unlike scouting merit badges, you can get these badges for various accomplishments such as subduing certain numbers of particular kinds of baddies, earning a particular amount of influence, and so on—or for visiting particular places on the game map. Each of these badges has a name and a brief description, telling a bit of history or trivia about the location or some hero associated with it. In addition to showing up on a list of badges, a badge’s title can be made to appear under your character’s name as a secondary character title.

One of the badges is the “Patriot” badge—originally placed at the top of the dome on Atlas City Hall, next to the flag, and the badge said something about how you’ve stood beside Old Glory to earn this badge. In today’s political climate, and given the international patronage of City of Heroes (even in countries where it’s not “officially” released, it can still be purchased and downloaded over the Internet), you should see the problem coming from a mile away. In the web board discussions that followed, many non-American gamers (and some of the more liberal contingent of American gamers) immediately denounced this as forcing American values of patriotism on all players, even if they were native to some other country. Most American gamers (and some non-American gamers), accepted this with a shrug since it was part of the game’s setting. If you’re playing a character who lives in America, in a game set in America, about the American institution of the superhero, isn’t it reasonable to expect that patriotism might be associated with the American flag?

Apparently not; in the most recent patch to the test server, NCSoft changed the location and the description of the Patriot badge. It is now near a statue inside City Hall, and commemorates some superheroine who, after saving the world from a rogue comet, was granted citizenship in every country in the world. Leaving aside all other issues associated with the change for a moment, this new form of the Patriot badge doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not only do many countries (such as the United States) have mutually exclusive citizenship requirements, but patriotism doesn’t have a whole lot to do with citizenship in a country; it has to do with allegiance to that one country and its set of values, over all others. I’ll grant it’s possible to be patriotic to more than one country if their values are particularly closely aligned, especially if you hold dual citizenship. But to be patriotic toward all countries on earth at the same time? Including the ones that are at war with each other, or are guilty of human rights violations (at the same time as the ones trying to stop those violations)? That truly is a superheroic feat…of schizophrenia.

Now, in both its old and its new incarnations, the title of the badge is simply “Patriot”. Even if the description referred to Old Glory, it was still possible for a character to wear the badge and mark himself as a “Patriot” of wherever it was he came from—be it the USA, Canada, England, Germany, etc. And before the change, nobody was forcing them to get the badge; in fact, as it was placed on the roof of the building, it was far enough out of the way that it couldn’t be snagged by accident. But a lot of people didn’t see it that way, and so NCSoft made the change. And in so doing, they opened up a few big cans of worms—not the least of which being that the change was made on September 10th, and thus first noticed on the inauspicious date of September 11th.

Reactions posted on the COH boards’ “official Patriot badge change thread” ranged all across the spectrum—from satisfied to moderately pleased to moderately annoyed to incensed. And naturally, on the discussion in the web boards, it was the incensed people who made the loudest noise. What was a bit more unexpected was that the people who were pleased with the change—that is, the ones who had the least reason to whine about any of it—started whining right back at the incensed people. Apparently in their eyes Americans’ support of their flag equated to support of the American government, which was doing things they didn’t like. Negative connotations of the word “patriot” in current American politics were brought up, including the PATRIOT Act. People complained about what America currently “stands for.” In short, it turned into a big mess, and it went on for quite some time. It’s like the world’s slowest train wreck; even Godwinning didn’t seem to stop it, and it finally took a moderator locking it to bring the invective to a close. It reminds me of the old maxim that the viciousness of politics varies inversely with the amount that’s at stake; surely an argument over a computer game update that isn’t even out of beta yet has to be way down there on the lower end of the “stake” scale.

However, all is not quite as it seems. According to a response from Statesman (the game’s chief developer), he had always felt that the Patriot badge should be better-placed, and instead there should be a “Freedom” badge next to the flag, the better to reflect American values. This was why the Patriot badge was moved. However, the new artwork for the Freedom badge was not yet ready, and that’s why it hasn’t been placed yet. Most of the people who were whining are now resting a little easier.

I can’t help but feel that there are still problems on the horizon for this, though. Even with the Freedom badge, something that provides any positive recognition to the American flag whatsoever will probably not work all that well for some of the complaining crowd (who have since moved on to complaining that the badge given out for subduing the City of Heroes version of the Mafia has the colors of the Italian flag on it). It’s a strange dichotomy: these people are willing to play a game from an American company, written by American programmers, run on American servers, in an American setting—but let there be any hint of US-centrism and they’re all over it like ugly on a Troll.

Oh well. I was formerly pretty annoyed by the change, not so much for reasons of patriotism but because it seemed like NCSoft was “wimping out.” But Statesman’s explanation cleared it up for me, and I look forward to being able to get my Freedom badge, whenever it goes in.

Expect an entry from me on the new City of Heroes update sometime soon.