Loading... February 7, 2006

By John Hoskin -

I've avoided writing about this topic as it is rather explosive. I was worried that, much like the Danish cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, I would incite a Jihad against myself and the site. The problem with that kind of thinking is that you don't come here to read press releases. You come here to read the latest news in the massively multiplayer online game market. You come here because we tell it straight-out, from the hip, like it is. We aren't always politcally correct, but we are always forthcoming. If a game stinks you can smell it when you visit our site. You may not always agree with us, but you can rest assured that publishers, developers and advertisers don't have us in their pocket. So, if I have incited a politically correct Jihad with the column today it was because nobody else has stepped up and written what many of you were already thinking.
I enter my bunker.
There was a time, not that long ago when I owned a business that was cutting edge, successful and high profile. A business with these attributes inevitably attracts customers who don't really understand your product or service and what it takes to make it a reality. They have their own agendas, which as is human nature, come first and foremost in their minds.
One such customer of mine ordered services from us which required special hardware. We leased them the hardware, went to their location and completed the installation, making sure that everything worked to their satisfaction. They signed off on the project. A few days later we received an angry phone call and a registered letter from a lawyer claiming that the service did not work and that we were being sued for a preposterous amount of money. The letter stated that we were not allowed to enter their premises. So, they claimed that they had a problem. They had an expensive piece of equipment that belonged to us and they were unwilling to let us come to fix the alleged problem.
Our lawyer came to the plate and eventually the issue was solved. What was the mysterious problem that had shed a distasteful flavour across my company's name? The customer had taken the router we had leased them and duct-taped it to a wall, completely covering the box, to the point that no air could get in or out. They had suffocated a router with duct tape, and sued us over it.
In this case, the customer was simply ignorant of the implications of duct taping an expensive piece of hardware into a silvery-grey cocoon. They felt that we had duped them into paying for a service that we couldn't provide and probably even that the piece of hardware we leased them was a piece of junk. They did not understand our industry and they felt taken advangtage of.
They were wrong, not because they were necessisarily malicious, but because they couldn't see outside of their own world into ours.
Blizzard is a cutting edge, successful and high profile business. A business with these attributes attracts customers who don't really understand the service and what it takes to make it a reality. They also have their own agendas. Their agendas comes first and foremost in their minds, naturally so, since they don't understand what it takes to make the virtual world that they play in a reality. When they are told that their agenda cannot be carried out in the way that they had planned they are upset. They feel taken advantage of or worse, they feel discriminated against. One such customer is Sara Andrews, who was promoting a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gendered friendly guild in World of Warcraft.
In Newsweekly, a GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Trans-gendered) publication with an unabashed bias on the subject, jumped on a recent story. In Newsweekly has a sparse gaming section, surgically focused on their market. It should come as no surprise that this story was something that they would cover. It is something that is of utmost importance to their readers.

"Sara Andrews thought it was a big misunderstanding when she received an e-mail from a game master in Blizzard Entertainment's popular online role playing game "World of Warcraft" citing her for "Harassment - Sexual Orientation."

Andrews had posted that she was recruiting for a "GLBT friendly" guild in a general chat channel within the game."

Is there anyone who can't immediately see the problem here? If you have played World of Warcraft, even for a few hours, you can imagine the turmoil that this would cause. World of Warcraft is a game inhabited by many people who are crying out, loudly, for attention. They are hidden behind a veil of anonymity and are able to send out any message they like to a general chat channel that everyone can see. If Sara Andrews had played the game for any amount of time, and let's assume that she had since she was recruiting for a guild, she would have known this.
There is absolutlely no doubt in my mind that sending out a message in General Chat that recruits for a GLBT friendly guild would cause riots and civil disobedience on a scale that is hard to be believed. In fact, to test it out I went into a server and did it myself. I sent a message once and once only to General Chat recruiting for a fictitious GLBT guild.

"Friends and Partners, a GLBT friendly guild is now recruiting. Send me a tell if you would like more information."

Within seconds the chat had erupted into a choatic dissemination of pro-GLBT, anti- GLBT and eventually even straight-bashing verbal diarrhea. After 30 minutes I logged, with the battle still raging in the chat channel. No less than 47 different characters had commented on the topic. I had received numerous tells, none of which I answered, either offering to kick my head in or to massage my nether regions.
Public recruiting, using the chat channels is often done many times per hour by guilds who use that method. Imagine if I sent out my GLBT recruitment message 10 or 20 times per hour, in different zones.
Imagine the support costs incurred by Blizzard to deal with this seemingly innocent guild promotion. The problem is that Sara Andrews and the people who are up in arms about her being told not to publically recruit her GLBT guild can't imagine it. They can't imagine the hours of wading through /reports of bad language and inappropriate behaviour that came from each and every guild promotion. They can't get past the feeling that they were somehow discriminated against because other guilds can recruit in the General Channel, which for all intents and purposes is the bonfide, absolutely, positively worst way to recruit for a guild in the first place. I'm not easily offended and the vitriol that rolled across General Chat when I sent the fake recruitment message even got to me. It's unfortunate and it is a sad statement on our society as a whole that Sara cannot publicly recruit her guild in that manner. What it is not, is Blizzard's fault.
Blizzard even went so far as to inform Sara Andrews via e-mail that her guild recruitment procedures may,

"incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game."

Exactly! She was inciting the precise type of reactions that she claims were the reason for forming her guild. She went as far as to write this,

"It seems to be OK for general chat to be flooded with, 'That's so gay!' and 'I just got ganked! What a fag!' yet advertising for a GLBT friendly environment where we don't have to deal with such language is deemed inappropriate."

Does that mean that guilds who don't put the GLBT tag out in public are GLBT unfriendly? Of course not. Just making the statement that only a guild tagged GLBT friendly would be the only place to escape homophobic behaviour is itself offensive.
Blizzard requested that she recruit in forums outside of the game world and not in General Chat where it became a support and social nightmare. They didn't tell her that she couldn't have a GLBT guild. In fact, they made the following statement,

"We encourage community building among our players with others of similar interests, and we understand that guilds are one of the primary ways to forge these communities...However, topics related to sensitive real-world subjects--such as religious, sexual or political preference, for example--have had a tendency to result in communication between players that often breaks down into harassment."

By now there are undoubtedly a few who are thinking that I'm a homophobe or that I'm somehow insinuating that minorities are to blame for their own victimization. I'm not. Take off the blinders. What I'm trying to do it shed some light on this situation that seems to be receiving only biased coverage on both sides of the fence. The GLBT friendly sites are showing one side of the story. The homophobic sites are showing another. I don't believe that either of them really sees the situation as a dollars and cents, business decision. Blizzard has no viable means to deal with racism and bigotry in their virtual world. What's the worst the can do, ban an account? $50 gets another one opened up.
Commentary like, "discrimination in gaming: World of Warcraft bans queer community" just fuels the fire of ignorance. Blizzard did no such thing.
and, "WoW: Blizzard Gets Gay Rights Warning" is simply inflammatory. They didn't get a warning. They received a letter from a lawyer's office. Maybe I'm out in left field, but if you want something solved you pick up the phone. If you want to create a paper trail and drag things out you send a letter. Phone calls don't get printed on websites, letters do.
Should GLBT guilds be able to flourish in World of Warcraft? Of course they should, but turning the General Chat channel into a riotous cauldron of bubbling violence isn't going to make that happen. Whether the preference is sexual, religious or political, it is naive to think that thousands of people hidden behind their cloaks of anonymity will be able to act civilly when given the opportunity to speak their mind on a volatile issue. It just won't happen, as much as many of us would like it to be so.
Sara Andrews made a bad decision when she recruited for her guild in General Chat. She had to have known that it would incite a riot. I'm confident that the issue could have been solved privately between Ms. Andrews and Blizzard. Instead it was put on public display.
I'm all for people who stand up for what they believe in, as long as they see the big picture. Disrupting the environment for everyone is unacceptable. If I wanted to walk through the local mall yelling out bible verses at the top of my lungs it would cause much less of a commotion than recruiting for the GLBT guild in World of Warcraft, but you know what? I'd still get thrown out of the mall.
Blizzard did what they thought was best for the community as a whole, given the tools available. In fact, they did what they thought was best for Sara Andrews and her guild. How can you fault them for that?
Comments? Flames? Send them here!

Game Movie: The Amazing Race

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Now on to the real world. You can't make this stuff up.

As always, thanks for visiting TenTonHammer.com,
-- John "Boomjack" Hoskin

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