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The Secret World Column: What is TSW?

By Shannon Doyle on April 22, 2014

Hot off the back of the mankini-gate scandal a discussion has been born asking what the IP of The Secret World actually is. How do you define something with such broad reaching strangeness? The discussion on the official forums has been going on for 19 pages now with everyone from fan to developer chiming in. Can there really be one solid definition of what The Secret World is? And do outfits like the Mankini and Sight for Sore Eyes really detract from the intellectual property?

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First let’s start with a little background. April 1st, Funcom releases the gender equality outfit set that includes the mankini. Several days later this item is removed from the game all together, with those who bought it given a refund and this all sparked a big scandal about sexism in Funcom. You can read all about that in more detail in the last TSW column if you want to know more. Since that article two weeks ago more action has been taken. Funcom has taken both the horse head and the Sight for Sore Eyes costume off the market as well. All of this done, according to Funcom, to preserve the integrity of the intellectual property (IP) of The Secret World.

Naturally this sparked a debate on the forums which has seen everyone from Game Director Joel Bylos to the Lead Writer, Joshua Doetsch and the Live Team Programmer who goes by Quokka chime in along with pages upon pages of fans. So many people slap the Lovecraftian label on The Secret World and leave it at that. But that really only covers one third of the world. This ignores the Indiana Jones like feel of Egypt, and Transylvania is more of a modern day fairy tale fantasy world than anything else. Add in the secret societies and a creature of some sort selling tacos in London and you really do have to think about what kind of box TSW belongs in.

Perhaps the most solid argument in the entire discussion is from the original post on the forums. It is a long essay which itself would make an excellent article. But here is just one clip which really sums the whole thing up.

“Its not a game about modern horror or ancient mythology or fantasy creatures, its a game about the human psyche, human creativity, human paranoia, the way we believe in things that aren't real, the stories we make up to explain them, the things we want to fight for, and our silly sides too, because most of that other stuff is already silly. I can't see any reason to make distinctions, because it's all part of the same glorious mess.” – TSW forum user Candycane

If The Secret World really is about humanity then there should be no limit to the things that can be put in the game. Because if the Funcom management remembers back to their tagline then they would know that The Secret World is a game where everything is true. Even the mankini and the horse head.

Why must The Secret World only live in one classification box? Society is so quick to apply a label to something, in this case the label is horror that it abandons the idea that very few things are purely black and white. Something can be firmly based in the horror genre and have humor that isn’t all dark. On the forums, TSW lead writer Scrivnomancer wrote this very quotable line; “Genres are handy guidelines. But ultimately, they exist so book store employees know where to stack things.” Other MMOs are using this opportunity and venturing outside the genre classification box they’ve been shoved into. Rift has Mech Week events and World of Warcraft is getting into the reality TV playing field with the new webseries Azeroth Choppers. What the developers of The Secret World did isn’t nearly as far of a stretch as either of these two examples but somehow the integrity of the IP is in danger.

This leads to one argument seen throughout the forum discussion that this isn’t about the IP looking bad but is instead about making the game look good enough to sell. Be that to the consumers or the suits who have invested in Funcom. Do an image search for The Secret World and you won’t find a single horse head or mankini for pages. First this speaks highly of the community but it also could be exactly what the executives want. Do an image search for mankini (highly unadvised without eye bleach) and it is again a couple of pages before you find anything related to The Secret World. TSW has a squeaky clean image to keep up. Or so one theory goes.

But perhaps ultimately Funcom forgot that The Secret World is just a game. Games are played to be silly and have fun. And it is especially because of the horror setting that the game needs a good injection of humor from time to time. You need to see a line of people dancing Gangnam Style while wearing silly hats to calm down from the serious, and honestly at times very depressing story. Costume parties are a popular event in TSW because they offer both an escape and the chance to be insane. If a game isn’t fun then why bother playing? If you’re making a game that isn’t meant to be fun then maybe you’re in the wrong business. Being silly is perhaps the easiest way to make something fun. So why force yourself and your fans away from something that seems so natural?

It is clear though that The Secret World is something different to every person. The desk jockey in Funcom sees it differently from the mankini wearing, horse head loving college age frat boy. Can there be a happy meeting point somewhere in the middle? Or should the absurd be left to another game all together? Why doesn’t anyone question buying tacos from a monster but they do question a woman wearing eyeballs on her chest? All of these questions really boil down to one simple question; What does The Secret World mean to you?

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