It’s all fun and games until the racists show up.
Nearly two years after its release, Nintendo’s Online app for the Switch remains virtually useless outside of a handful of games, and is relegated to being an overcomplicated voice chat system for everyone except Splatoon and Smash Bros. players. I’d toyed around with the thing for a while, ordering gear and checking out recent battle records, but I’d yet to really find a must-have use case for the program.
And then yesterday happened.
For the most part, Splatoon 2 has been able to avoid the toxic sludge that surrounds most competitive online games, mostly by limiting the ways in which players can directly communicate. You can taunt, you can tilt, and you can spam “This Way!” for the entire match, but you can’t lob personal insults at someone unless a) voice chat is explicitly enabled in a match, and b) both players actually have the app open and connected to the system (which is easier said than done). There is, however, a small loophole: Player screen names, which give people ten characters to say anything they want, which is more than enough to let someone’s idiocy shine through.
In other words, it’s possible to get stuck on the same team as someone whose screen name was literally “The N Word,” which is what happened to me last night. Using a name like that is completely and unequivocally wrong, and regardless of whether you’re eight or eighty, you deserve to be disciplined if you do it.
Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve encountered someone using such racial slurs in their name, and in the past I’ve reported such players whenever I encountered them. This time, however, there was a problem:
- Splatoon 2 has no way to report inappropriate player behavior within the game itself. Instead, you’re forced to use to Switch Online app to access SplatNet, find the match and player in question, and file a report. Again, I’d done this in the past, but…
- Recently, Nintendo released an update to the application that included a bunch of performance updates, bug fixes, and one seemingly-innocuous change:
Supported iOS versions changed. To use this app, iOS 10.0 or later is now required. (emphasis added)
Unbeknownst to me, my iPad was so ancient that Apple had cut off support for the darn thing back during the Obama administration, which meant it couldn’t run iOS 10.0, and by extension could no longer run the Switch app. Long story short, there was some idiot running around using racist terminology in Inkopolis, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
This, as you might expect, really made me angry. The Splatoon community has worked really hard to build a positive, inclusive environment for players to enjoy, and now I was forced to stand idly by when some jerk flaunted their bigotry? Are you telling me the only thing I can do is vent in my own little corner of the Internet? WTF, Nintendo?
Of course, this moment also forced me to check my privilege: Maybe I couldn’t do anything now, but at least I had the opportunity to do report this sort of stuff before. What about the people who can’t afford a smartphone or tablet, or who aren’t allowed by their parents to have one, or who don’t want to install the app because of data privacy concerns? If a person of color jumps into Splatoon 2 and sees someone like this idiot running around, do they have to just let them go if they don’t have the extra accessories required to report it? This is also completely and unequivocally wrong, and Nintendo needs to rectify this issue now by adding in-game reporting functionality to Splatoon 2.
On some level Nintendo already realizes this, because in-game reporting is already a thing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. However, cheaping out on retrofitting games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe by making such functionality exclusive to the app is not good enough, because it places unnecessary barriers between people who want to do the right thing and the thing they actually want to do. Reporting offensive players is key to maintaining the fun, family-friendly atmosphere that the Big N has always prided themselves on (and perhaps deluded themselves about), and when players are restricted from calling out the offenders, the situation can go downhill in a hurry.
It’s your move, Nintendo. If you want to keep that squeaky-clean image of yours, it’s time to put your money where you mouth is and return some power to the players.