And the sign said...

Want to have a WoW guild that welcomes gay/lesbian/bi/trans players? Better not ask,and not tell. In Newsweekly reports on Blizzard's censorship of guild names and descriptions. Cory Doctorow comments, as does Jason Schultz.

UPDATE 2/7/2006: Kotaku reports that Blizzard appears to be backing off; Lambda Legal applies pressure. Thanks, Naomi, for the link!

UPDATE 2/10/2006: In Newsweekly reports further on Blizzard's changing position; includes plans for a recruitment channel, GM sensitivity training.


Comments on And the sign said...:

Rohan Verghese says:

The Jason Schultz link does not seem to work.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 8:01:31 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Fixed.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 8:07:44 PM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

What a stupid, stupid, stupid move. Not only will this aggravate the players, and not only does it make Blizzard look like they're acknowledging the game's full of homophobic players, but I'm sure word will get out in the wider media about this. The plague story made it into NPR and other mainstream outlets, and I'm sure this will too. People are just starting to discover and understand WOW; now one of their first impressions will be that it discriminates against gays.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 8:11:39 PM | link

Kelly Rued says:

Ditto Chris. This is PR poison.

However, this is also why I see MMOEG communities filling a sort of gap for communities that want a totally "adult" space (our game Rapture Online is very sex fantasy focused but many others will be broader VR worlds that just have frank sex actions in-game as one small part of the greater game experience). I understand how WoW (or SWG, etc.) players want to escape from the politics and issues of the real world. You're in a fantasy world and here are people bringing in a touchy subject (not rightfully justifiably touchy, imo, but nonetheless touchy still to more people than simply homophobes- religious persons and others with all sorts of objections or uneasiness to the subject). It's the real world trampling the suspension of disbelief to know that Undead Rogue over there is actually a *lesbian* undead rogue. While I do not condone this sort of reaction I understand how it adversely affects the player experience for some people.

As MMO's move into the mainstream we'll see more and more that there is no one-size-fits-all VR World. In our second lives (heh, NOT to plug the only MMO I really enjoy these days) we want more control over our world and expect to be able to PAY to escape from that which bothers us in the real world. This is partly why there *are* community standards at all in VR worlds. Most were never meant to be anything-goes spaces. I know Rapture Online has a specific list of "no-no content" and it's not because we don't respect people's right to play those ways (as consenting adults) but it's because we know there is a huge market (a majority) of players who will appreciate the right to play without other groups putting certain content in their face. The issue with WoW isn't that they don't want GLBTQ players, it's that they don't want people pulling their politics, religion, sexuality, abortion stance, etc. to the forefront of what is supposed to be a pretty fantastical other-wordly role-playing game. If WoW is betting that the majority of their players feel this way... then it makes sense.

I still don't like it though, and it will be a factor in how I view Blizzard products in the future.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 8:25:02 PM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

Kelly, I see your point, and I know that some people are homophobic (or often, just immature). I can't accept any move by Blizzard to deny people's sexual identity in the game, especially for the reasons given (though what do I know, I just read one article and got pissed off about it). But so what stops them? Games give us a way to segregate ourselves, I guess, and nobody's contested whether that's legitimate - games aren't "public space," even though they try to claim they're wide open. I guess Blizzard could ban an all-black guild. I'd love to see them try that.

So, okay - I'd like to segregate myself from dumbasses. Could WOW launch a "no dumbasses" server?

Posted Jan 27, 2006 9:03:26 PM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

To clarify my last comment, and I apologize if Terra Nova has alraedy dug into this: why doesn't WOW segregate by age? If they're going to keep people away from each other, why can't they let me as a 31-year-old steer clear of 13-yo's? I know that a lot of 13-yos are better and more mature players than I am, but many of them aren't. That disrupts my suspension of disbelief more than someone being gay (in-game or out).

In urban studies, you see a lot of research into private and public spaces, and how we get away with segregating ourselves vs. how we can make people coexist (Jane Jacobs and her bustling streets). This would be a great opportunity to bring those kinds of ideas into MMOG's: if they can get away with separating and discriminating against people, then when will they decide to do it, and why?

Posted Jan 27, 2006 9:13:03 PM | link

Kelly Rued says:

Yes, I agree that banning mention of sexual orientation is like banning mention of race... in a game that absolutely thrives on the concept of "racial identity" lol. To a fault in fantasy genres.

On the point of age-based servers. SL has a teen grid. Not sure if anyone else segregates on age in the 3D MMO worlds. It seems that greed gets the better of companies so they keep the game open to kids when honestly as a parent the thought of a 13 year old in a MMO unsupervised is disconcerting for numerous reasons. As I mentioned earlier, one of the more "mainstream-apperciable" benefits of the move toward more sex in games online will be more choices for players who really want an adults-only MMO experience. By law, games with sex must make a good faith effort to restrict and enforce minors from participating (even if it's a world with much to offer besides sex, for example a WoW-ish game that simply had intimate relations gestures in addition to the others). The AO market really is more than "porn" as many mistake it for because adult gamers do want to play in adults-only worlds. AO could use to lose the stigma/knee-jerk association with porn but almost ironically, it's sex content in games that is the only thing that seems to really guarantee the player an AO distinction/rating/promise from the companies. Everyone else can't seem to give up that 13-17 range of players. I personally don't like playing with minors either. In TOS I often was absolutely depressed listening to the tweens in there. One gets older and forgets how insipid teen life really was!

Posted Jan 27, 2006 9:31:06 PM | link

Lurker says:

No... One gets older and forgets what it was like to be a teenager. It was heartfelt, intense, wonderful, and terrifying.

Teenagers feel very, very deeply. They are bundles of insecurity and desire.

The definition of insipid is "lacking flavor or zest; not tasty." I would suggest that grown adults like ourselves are far more insipid than our younger friends in the game-world.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 10:42:25 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Great comments.

Is it true that, in general, we trust that a company's desire to expand the market will counteract the impulse to pander to the prejudices of a part of its customer base? It seems to be true, generally speaking. It also applies on the labor side, as some companies adopt non-discriminatory practices so as not to face the PR hit, and suffer both in "sales" and recruiting (law firms and universities are good examples of this).

So why would Blizzard do this? Was it simply bungled, the product of ineptness+cowardice?

What also continue to interest me here are two things. On one hand we have the gaming community's increasing familiarity with sharded online game architecture (which presents many currently untapped possibilities for exclusion). On the other, we have the situation in WoW which gave rise to the case above and which seems to signal an emerging (global?) culture of competition among a significant number of mainstream online gamers (not *all* of them) that is characterized by a lot of homophobic and gender-biased views (though we don't really have good data on this yet).

It seems to me that there might be some happy (conveniently separable minors, for example) as well as some unhappy (hetero servers?) marriages of culture and code fast approaching.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 10:43:06 PM | link

Tess says:

On another game once, a woman was invited to join our guild, and she asked if her husband could come along. She warned us that he liked roleplaying gay, and some people didn't understand. We laughed, and told her that we had RL gays in the guild, so it was no big deal at all. She was, needless to say, quite relieved.

I think it's sad that there's this whole culture of overt homophobia that has grown up around MMOs. I don't remember it being like that on the old text MUDs. Heck I think it's fair to say that the classic TinyMUSHes were rife with homosexuality, feigned or otherwise. Aside from occasionally smirking into our beers over the straight-boys-playing-lesbians phenomenon, my impression was that most players were largely indifferent about it all.

I'm generally opposed to Blizzard's position on this, because the traditional manner in which the GLBT community has defended themselves against homophobia has been to raise awareness of their existence. "We're here, we're queer, get over it," in essence. A real, visible presence, as a part of normal everyday life, is the greatest power they have to get the general public to acknowledge their normalcy and humanity. To deny them their voice and their visibility -- to force them back into the closet -- is to marginalize them once again. It's regressive and potentially harmful.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 11:29:15 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

I hate to be the one to say it, but some of the comments to this seem to be a bunch of "the sky is falling" nonsense. Blizzard discriminates against homosexuals? Blizzard can ban an all black guild? Maybe the problem here is a bit smaller than a huge Blizzard-wide conspiracy against those who identify with GLBT.

I've been a GM. I know what it's like to have a harassment call come in in the middle of the night that falls in a gray area of the rules. Do you stretch the rule, or erode the rule? Which one is harder for your supervisor to overturn in the morning? Which one is more likely to get the stamp of approval of the department head? Making that sort of call is difficult, and no GM gets it right 100% of the time.

During the time I was a GM, and since then, I've tried to find where to draw the line in the sand when it comes to harassment based on sexuality. It's not an easy thing to do. How do you create a rule that protects one person's right to say that they are gay, but protects another person from being called gay as an insult? How do you create a rule that would allow two so-inclined people to flirt with each other, but would protect another from an unwanted advance? Even if you can find those rules in your head, can you word them in such a way that they won't be misinterpreted by a 19 year old GM at 3:00 in the morning?

If you want a rule that says that players can't keep other players out of (private!) guilds because they are gay, does that rule also mean that guilds can't reject someone for being straight? Can a "GLBT friendly" guild kick out someone who calls someone else a fag? Can a GLBT friendly guild kick out someone who calls himself a fag? If someone in a GLBT friendly guild calls himself a fag and someone else in the guild complains to a GM, how should the GM handle it?

From the very, very, very limited information we have seen, I would say that the GM in this particular situation made a mistake, and the senior GM who reviewed it made a mistake. But I would be willing to bet that we are only hearing about 10% of the actual situation. In all the years I've been working with MMOGs, I have never had a disputed harassment called repeated back to me with all its facts in place. Someone always leaves out some important detail, or twists the facts just slightly. Was the harassment call really about the guild advertising as GLBT friendly? Or was it about sexually-based insults being thrown around in general chat? We have no way of knowing.

But even assuming that Newsweek has reported the story exactly as it happened, this is no indication that there is a vast conspiracy within Blizzard to get all the GLBT players to quit -- much less anything else. One GM took the call. That GM may have asked other GMs for their opinions on the ruling. It's likely that one senior GM and possibly one lead GM reviewed the situation (I don't know how Blizzard's customer service department works, I'm just basing this on how things worked when I was a GM for a different company). At the most, maybe a half dozen people were aware of this situation. A half dozen people who are not involved in the creation of the game, only in the customer service of the game! I don't see how the actions of a half dozen GMs, however misguided, means that all of Blizzard is homophobic, or that Blizzard will soon start taking actions against all black guilds, or will create a married-people-only server, or anything of the sort.

There are good topics to be discussed here, and then there are the knee-jerk reactions to this sort of thing. Unfortunately, it seems like we've had a lot of sexually-based knee-jerk reactions here on TerraNova in the past week, but maybe we can do better with this topic.

Posted Jan 27, 2006 11:58:19 PM | link

Polis says:

If these exclusionary policies were imposed on a college campus, there would surely be some sort of organized response on the part of the students.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate time for high profile civil disobedience similar to the gnome warrior protest in Ironforge. With careful planning and advance notice to appropriate media outlets, it might be possible to ensure that the demonstration receives a significant amount of coverage.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 12:03:25 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Samantha wrote:

I don't see how the actions of a half dozen GMs, however misguided, means that all of Blizzard is homophobic, or that Blizzard will soon start taking actions against all black guilds, or will create a married-people-only server, or anything of the sort.
...Unfortunately, it seems like we've had a lot of sexually-based knee-jerk reactions here on TerraNova in the past week, but maybe we can do better with this topic.

I'm not really sure what you're responding to, Samantha. The overall concern about this situation in the interchanges above was not that it is a sign of a conspiracy or somesuch on Blizzard's part. I think everyone suspects that it was most likely a bungle in just the way you described. I think you're mistaking our exploration of what this says about the state of the culture of WoW (and what its architecture could allow) for a castigation of Blizzard as immoral or worse.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 12:57:44 AM | link

Mark Wallace says:

Samantha > "A half dozen people who are not involved in the creation of the game, only in the customer service of the game!"

In an MMO, the customer service *is* the game, to a great extent. These are the people who determine what we can and can't do in a world like WoW, these are the people who set the boundaries, as they did in this case. If the game was just about the software, we wouldn't need GMs.

I don't imagine that there's some vast Blizzard conspiracy against gays or anyone else, but GMs are official representatives of the company they serve. Given the necessarily low ratio of GMs to players, to have half a dozen GMs make this particular type of mistake at the same time is in fact a lot of GMs. If we discount the notion that there's some vast anti-gay conspiracy within Blizzard, then either (a) Blizzard is willing to discriminate against gays in favor of their homophobic subscribers, however many of them there may or may not be (which is not quite the same as an anti-gay conspiracy), or (b) Blizzard manages their GM staff very poorly. Either way, Blizzard can't wash their hands of the thing by saying "Oh, it wasn't us, it was just one of our GMs."

I seriously doubt that all or even much of Blizzard is homophobic. But what I do think this episode illustrates is that perhaps the company needs to pay a bit more attention to how its GMs are doing their jobs.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 1:52:11 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Thomas said, I'm not really sure what you're responding to, Samantha.

I'm responding specifically to sentiments like, I can't accept any move by Blizzard to deny people's sexual identity in the game, especially for the reasons given, I guess Blizzard could ban an all-black guild, and I still don't like it though, and it will be a factor in how I view Blizzard products in the future. There's a tendency to jump on Blizzard for any little thing, to make declarations akin to "I'll never buy another one of their products as long as I live!", despite the fact that none of this is new. Every MMOG has had some sort of scandal like this, something where a player called foul. The only difference now is that a mainstream publication like Newsweek has heard of the game, and so the incident is getting some coverage. Surely we here at TerraNova have a longer view of the issue, and know that this is far from the first time that players have been censored for expressing their sexuality.


Mark said, In an MMO, the customer service *is* the game, to a great extent. These are the people who determine what we can and can't do in a world like WoW, these are the people who set the boundaries, as they did in this case. If the game was just about the software, we wouldn't need GMs.

I'm sorry Mark, but I think this shows a startling lack of knowledge of how customer service in MMOGs works. Like I said before, I don't know any specifics about Blizzard, but I've been around the block with this a few times. Much of GM policy is handed down from Legal, and from the Development Team -- what can be said, what can't be said, what's an exploit, what's not, etc. The rest is left up to the discretion of head of customer service, usually in concert with the production director, development director, executive producers, presidents, CEOs, etc etc. Everyone below Customer Service Director is handed a list of rules, and told to enforce them evenly and fairly. GMs can ask for clarification on rules, but rarely do they get any input on the rule itself.

It's a typical mistake many players make to blame the GM on the front lines for a rule you don't agree with, but the fact of the matter is that they are just enforcing a rule that was handed down from "on high". They don't have any more ability to change the rules than a player would.

Given the necessarily low ratio of GMs to players, to have half a dozen GMs make this particular type of mistake at the same time is in fact a lot of GMs.

Actually, you might be surprised at the army of GMs it takes to provide customer service for a game the size of WoW. In June, I estimated that WoW had about 1 GM to every 3600 players (based on a forum post by Lead Producer Shane Dabiri which is unfortunately no longer available, which stated that at the time, they had 550 GMs worldwide). That was when the most recent announcement of WoW's player population was at 2 million. Assuming that ratio was right and has held steady, Blizzard would have to have around 1500 GMs worldwide now. Half a dozen out of 1500 is actually not that many GMs.

Either way, Blizzard can't wash their hands of the thing by saying "Oh, it wasn't us, it was just one of our GMs."

Blizzard hasn't said anything yet. The Newsweek article said they hadn't responded to interview requests. If they do, I doubt it will be anything along the lines of "it wasn't us, it was one of our GMs." I'm just pointing out that we're talking about a handful of people in a huge customer support structure -- a handful of people who do not set the policy for the customer service department, and who will, in all likelihood, have nothing to do with the next title Blizzard puts out.

I seriously doubt that all or even much of Blizzard is homophobic. But what I do think this episode illustrates is that perhaps the company needs to pay a bit more attention to how its GMs are doing their jobs.

Sure, and here we've hit upon another good topic: the scaling of customer service needs. For instance, Second Life is able to police the things its players make because of the size of the player population. But if Second Life had 5.5 million active players worldwide, how many customer service representatives would they need? What sorts of things would slip through the cracks? How do the rules we define and the ways we go about enforcing them need to change as populations go from 50,000 to 500,000 to 5,000,000?

There are many interesting topics that this situation brings to mind, including the two I've mentioned (how do you set harassment rules for a diverse community, and how do you deal with customer service needs as a game grows). That's really all I'm looking for out of TerraNova: interesting, intelligent discourse on practical, theoretical, and academic issues surrounding MMOGs/VWs.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 3:24:25 AM | link

Aaron says:

Actually, I think the article appeared in a magazine called In Newsweekly, not Newsweek.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 4:14:04 AM | link

Kelly Rued says:

>There are many interesting topics that this >situation brings to mind, including the two >I've mentioned (how do you set harassment rules >for a diverse community, and how do you deal >with customer service needs as a game grows).

If you don't find the topics others raise interesting, I think it would be respectful to refrain from trying to shut down those portions of the thread with hyperbole that shows little understanding of the original poster's intent (no one was villifying Blizzard and everyone you quoted was being taken out of context of their posts). The racial word analogy would stand up to interesting debate in *context* of the CS pollicy enforcement issue you raised, in fact. I just don't see you giving the thoughts of others much consideration when writing your "response" to them.

>That's really all I'm looking for out of >TerraNova: interesting, intelligent discourse >on practical, theoretical, and academic issues >surrounding MMOGs/VWs.

And that's exactly what you were participating in on this thread and the other recent "knee jerk" posts about sexuality in VR worlds. BTW, THIS post was NOT about human sexuality *at all* and in fact was about corporate policy. If you're under the impression we're debating issues of sexual identity/expression in game worlds, maybe there is still time to scroll back and reread all the other posts rather than concentrating on declaring your topics as the "good" ones.

As for the problems of making CS policy that even a "19 year old GM at 3:00 in the morning" can implement with a reasonable margin of error... reference the community standards rules at any college campus (or corporate workplace for that matter) for language that protects the rights of certain populations to self-identify freely yet penalizes behaviors that harrass, discriminate, or otherwise affronts those same populations (gays, women, minorities, etc.). It can and is done. Even 19 year olds can comply. The issue of making good GM judment calls is hit and miss no matter the subject because of the difficulty in interpreting broad rules to specific cases (and the sometimes lack of complete and accurate information). These points are obvious even to those of us without first-hand GM experience. It's not however an excuse to not set up good rules of community conduct (simply because they are difficult to enforce fairly). It is possible that Blizzard has such rules and the incident was a *breach* of what the company had handed down (accidental or whatever). If that's the case then we'll be seeing a follow-up where Blizzard addresses what the actual policy was and how their people made a poor judment call on something. If that isn't the case, then we are back to issues of how far Blizzard policy does go in the direction of "don't ask, don't tell" with regards to the player's real life affiliation. The original topics, and all topics since in this thread have had equal merit if you'd just give them a thorough review.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 4:30:01 AM | link

Craig Huber says:

I suspect the majority of participants here are familiar with the limitations of the customer service situation, having either worked it in some capacity, or having spent significant time pondering it (this being an academia-centric site, after all :-) ). So, such provisos are, I believe, already factored in by many of the respondents. It is good to keep in mind, I think.

That said, there are several data points which seem to mitigate against the "lone customer service agent at 3:00am" scenario. The In Newsweekly article (a GLBT news site, so there is a potential inherent bias, it should be admitted), refers to and excerpts a couple of different communications/clarifications.

From the article:
"A series of e-mails back and forth concerning the incident, seems to make it clear that Blizzard may be inadvertently using a policy meant to protect GLBT people as a way to discriminate against them.

In Newsweekly obtained all of Andrews' e-mails between herself and Blizzard. Numerous requests for comment from Blizzard were not returned.
Here's the sequence of events:"

No offense, but I have yet to see a situation where "a series" of customer service responses was generated by a sizable MMO in less than a couple of days. That alone seems to speak against this being a lone actor making a halting determination on limited information. It could conceivably be a division instinctively circling-the-wagons to defend a member from just such an original instigating event, but that has implications of it's own. Customer service from a "defensive posture" is _always_ dicey, in my experience, no matter how tempting it can be at times...

Anyway, this is something that already is showing significant potential to blow up into a larger issue. A couple of political blogs I check on occasion mentioned and linked to this mid-day Friday, including some fairly activist ones, such as americablog.blogspot.com. This may well hit the "big time" whether it deserves it or not.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 6:28:30 AM | link

yabonn says:

It's the real world trampling the suspension of disbelief to know that Undead Rogue over there is actually a *lesbian* undead rogue.

I don't get that.

The suspension of disbelief is already here, as soon as i get a tell "dOOd is echeyakee up?" from Drizztroxor. Or by entering an instance, or a queue. Or waiting for a spawn.

The GBLT peeps are not bringing politics, or beliefs, or a statement, or whatever else to the game. They would like to be in a guild without the constant pain of dealing with people that hate them. How about believing them on that?

The homophobes ("you're spoiling everyone's fun with your gayness!") are turning this into an "issue", not the homos and their mad activist skillz.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 8:12:43 AM | link

Release the dogs says:

Am I the only person who isn't on the anti-censorship bandwagon?

For better or worse, a GLBT-friendly guild will become, in the society, a gay guild. Every member will be gay. No, no, I understand it's only "friendly", and that I, a heterosexual person, may be in that guild. That's not my point. From outside the guild, everyone INSIDE the guild WILL be gay. Perception is king. For every rational, educated, thoughtful person, there are twenty flame-first-ask-questions-never persons.

If you're a homophobe/hatemonger, and there's this giant lightning rod that says "Gay guild", what do you suppose will happen? (again, to a hatemonger/homophobe, is that "-friendly" suffix going to be noticed/relevent?)

This isn't a question of what's right or what's wrong. This is a question of Blizzard saying, "Hey, no lightning rods in our neighborhood, thanks."

Watch Die Hard With a Vengence - this is Bruce Willis wearing the sign. Take the sign off, Bruce.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 8:14:35 AM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

Samantha, you're right, I was angry when I posted last night, because it seemed really unfair on (whoever at) Blizzard's part. I'm not quitting the game over it, because it's clear that they're not bashing any type of player, they're just, as you say, learning how to manage a diverse community.

But like you, I'm interested in exploring the implications of this in "interesting, intelligent discourse." Is this "legal"? Does it bring up the same problems as colleges that ban gay groups? What does it say about games as private spaces? And my "I'd love to see them ban a black guild" comment was a kneejerk attack, so let me put it more reasonably: why does my server allow all-Australian guilds, and all-female guilds, but now it turns out they wouldn't allow an openly gay-friendly guild? I mean, we know why, but how can they codify that distinction, and is the call they made going to hold up?

Posted Jan 28, 2006 8:16:00 AM | link

Mark Wallace says:

Samantha> "Mark said, In an MMO, the customer service *is* the game, to a great extent. . . . I'm sorry Mark, but I think this shows a startling lack of knowledge of how customer service in MMOGs works."

Hang on now, we're actually saying the same thing here. Part of the point of my post, in fact, was to transfer any responsibility upward to Blizzard execs. I don't think GMs make the rules, but I do think they interpret and enforce them. How those rules are interpreted and enforced makes a huge difference to one's experience of the world. That's why it's less pleasant to live in a town with corrupt cops than in one with honest ones. (And no, I'm not saying the GMs are corrupt.)

Samantha > "Blizzard hasn't said anything yet."
Point taken.

Samantha > "Half a dozen out of 1500 is actually not that many GMs."

I disagree. It's not a large proporation of GMs, but it affects a large number of players. By your calculations (1 GM to 3,600 players) half a dozen GMs is something like 2-3 servers worth (although this is obviously not how it scales, and I am just guessing, since Blizz don't reveal how many servers they have). From the viewpoint of the business, it's not many people. But from the viewpoint of the population, it's enough to change life in those 2-3 "towns." Even if, as in this case, it just changes like in the single town, it's notable. In the "real" world, poor decisions by the cops in a single town are newsworthy. I see no reason why it should be different in a virtual world.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 9:14:52 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Samantha wrote:

I'm responding specifically to sentiments like, 'I can't accept any move by Blizzard to deny people's sexual identity in the game, especially for the reasons given', 'I guess Blizzard could ban an all-black guild', and 'I still don't like it though, and it will be a factor in how I view Blizzard products in the future'. There's a tendency to jump on Blizzard for any little thing

If you're responding specifically, then do so. Please do not generalize from isolated statements and thereby create a false characterization of the overall tenor of discussion.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 11:45:48 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Blizzard's final decision, in my opinion, will have everything to do with PR and numbers. The number of GLBT and GLBT/friendly players they have and hope to have vs. the number of players who are or will be "turned off" by explicit GLBT references.

Legally? the GLBT folks don't have a leg to stand on. In many (most) US states, sexual orientation is not a protected class in terms of job or public access discrimination; you can fire somebody or refuse to promote them for being GLBT in most states. That being said, the right to play a video game in a certain way isn't protected at all, so it doesn't matter. The right to be entertained in a certain fashion does not exist.

As long as Blizzard's hiring and financial and other legal policies and *actual customer* policies are non-discrimaanatory, their *content* can be as discriminatory as they like.

To clarify -- they cannot refuse to sell me a copy of WoW or deny me service for any legal reason (including, in some states, reasons involving sexual orientation), as long as I can pay, and as long as I keep to their posted rules. But the rules of their *content participation* can be as discrimimatory as they like, because it is purely fictional. To demand otherwise, would be akin to saying that I would like to go watch "Schindler's List," but please make all the Nazis nice people and not anti-Semites. OK?

When you enter into an entertainment system provided by an author/director/producer/designer, you enter into his/her/their world. WoW could just has easily been designed as a world with one gender, no gender or a gender we've never heard of. Everybody is a "glok" there. What's a glok? How do they mate? Blizzard ain't telling, because it intereferes with the play balance. They decided otherwise, and we have genders that translate to our world genders.

But, by the same "we wrote the damn thing" logic, they can also say, "there is no GLBT in the World of Warcraft." Period. They can say, "There is no oral sex." They can say, "There is no abortion, there is no BSDM, there is no spanking, no ball-gags, no feathre-boas, no tickling, no peanut-butter, no top-hats, no toe-nail polish, no sun-screen, no whipped cream and no Heat Miser."

It's their world. They built it. They own it. You play in it at their suffrance. If you want to be GLBT or even GLBT/friendly in it, and they decide that it is in the best interests of their shareholders that NOBODY be GLBT/friendly in WoW... well, you gots to go play in a World not Warcraft. Same as if I want to watch a WWII movie with no Nazis, I should probably not sit down in front of "Schindler's List."

Is that sad? Yes. I think so. Because, personally, I think that a respectful, subtle GLBT/friendly guild isn't a big deal.

But, as somebody said, let's look at it from Blizzard's perspective. Should they also allow openly SM/friendly guilds? Or master/slave guilds? Or Furry guilds? Or auto-erotic-focused guilds? None of these sexual orientations are offensive to me, but they are at least troubling to some people. And, to many people, sex has no place at all in fantasy roll-playing worlds such as WoW. Where there is no functional "Male Genitalia +2," does it matter if your character is straight, gay, bi, trans, etc.?

And once you get to that point -- if it becomes a matter of pure "freedbom of speech" can you have "aryan friendly" guilds? I know I'm gonna get crap on that one, because it's a whole different issue... but if one group of folks wants to game together because of real-world sympathies (that don't really impact in-game mechanichs or storylines), then why not others?

I understand the impetus of those who would like a GLBT friendly guild; the world, at large, is not friendly to them. I have had a long lifetime of friendships with many gay men and lesbian women, and it is a damn hard row to hoe. Being able to group online with folks who understand those sensitivities would be very cool and, I think, not a big deal to other players, if done well. But like I've said on a number of other issues... I'm afraid that it's another thing that knocks down the 4th wall.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 11:51:31 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

How very sad. Blizzard can take the time to punish the victim, but can't be bothered to punish the rednecks who use 'fag' as a pejorative. It'd be trivial to flag all characters using the word 'fag' and hand-review to edit out instances where 'fag' is being used to mean a bundle of sticks or a cigarette.

--matt

Posted Jan 28, 2006 12:29:54 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt: It'd be trivial to flag all characters using the word 'fag' and hand-review to edit out instances where 'fag' is being used to mean a bundle of sticks or a cigarette.

Trivial if you have a few thousand people playing total. Not so trivial if you have many orders of magnitude more playing. And Blizzard does have (and apparently acts on) policy against pejorative speech like you suggest, Matt. No form of auto/manual profanity or other speech filtering has yet been invented, AFAIK, that scales beyond a few thousand users.

Someone earlier said, "This isn't a question of what's right or what's wrong. This is a question of Blizzard saying, "Hey, no lightning rods in our neighborhood, thanks."

I think that's exactly right. Can you imagine what would happen on a PvP server with people running around with "GLBT-Friendly" as a guild sign? They might as well paint targets on their chests. Even on a PvE server the anonymity of the game would invite pinheads to harass those advertising such a guild. Yes it's deplorable, but yes it's also reality. I can see why Blizzard wants no part in enabling that, even if it means a "no you can't make and advertise guilds based on your sexuality" policy.

This does bring up Chris Dahlen's question though: "why does my server allow all-Australian guilds, and all-female guilds, but now it turns out they wouldn't allow an openly gay-friendly guild?"

Does Blizzard in fact allow such distinctive guilds that advertise this way? If so, where is the line between on what basis you can actively exclude and what basis you can't? Or is it more of a tacit matter, going back to "don't ask don't tell." If you created a guild called "Valkyries" that was, internal to is members and on its website, say, GLBT-friendly, would Blizzard have a problem with that? I would hope not... doing so would allow people to group as they please but without carrying a lightning rod around with them.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 12:56:07 PM | link

Dan Peterson says:

My guess is that if the guild invitation said, “No gay-bashing/homophobic chat in our guild,” there would have been no discussion here. If LGBT-friendly merely were an affirmation of Blizzard’s anti-harassment policy, I doubt anyone would criticize it. But “LGBT-friendly” means a lot more than that, especially if it is how you define your guild; members of such a guild will probably consider sexuality in some way critical to their gameplay experience, even if it just means not having to conceal that portion of their RW lives. And since it means more, it will invite more antipathy, but also, some may hope, a debate that A LOT of gamers need to have. LGBT-friendly guilds remain something that players should lobby for, but until Blizzard changes its policy, perhaps “no homophobic chat” or something similar can act as a kind of code word.

Release the dogs > “This isn't a question of what's right or what's wrong. This is a question of Blizzard saying, ‘Hey, no lightning rods in our neighborhood, thanks.’”

It is inevitably a question of what’s right or what’s wrong, and likening the LGBT-friendly guild to a lightning rod strips the situation of its implicit moral dimension. Nobody controls lightning, but the flood of flames you fear for these guilds is actually made up of many individual, conscious acts of intolerance.

Blizzard has to make an allocation of players’ in-game rights: allowing an LGBT-friendly guild privileges that behavior, while disallowing such guilds privileges those who prefer, for whatever reason, that they not exist. Blizzard cannot protect the preferences of both of these groups, so whatever it decides and whatever reasons it offers, those affected by the choice will view it as a moral/political one.

That said, I doubt Blizzard would make such a decision on moral grounds. I have to guess that the profit motive is the deeper reason for everything a business does, but it’s tough to see how that applies here; the armchair economics experiments I’ve run are inconclusive.

Blizzard claims to be acting paternalistically, protecting potential guild members from the harassment their membership would incur. But this seems to turn the purpose of the anti-harassment policy on its head. The policy, one would imagine, is meant to protect players from harassment in the normal course of play (the profit motive is obvious this far), but this ruling alters the normal course of play for some players to steer them around harassment. So why the shift?

It’s tempting to say that there are simply more gay-bashing players than gay-friendly players in WoW and that Blizzard is just trying to maintain subscriptions, but that’s a gross oversimplification. My guess is more LGBT players would quit over the current decision than homophobes would quit had it gone the other way (who among them would skip the chance to grief gays?); moreover, the economic consequences of this choice could reach much further than the handful of current players who might quit out of righteous indignation.

But the lightning rod analogy does suggest another reason for Blizzard’s actions: the flood of gay-bashing that would result from the presence of an LGBT-friendly guild could be larger than the current number of GMs could possibly control. And that wouldn’t surprise me, if it is true; Blizzard may not be making a decision based on anything more complex than the administration costs of a guild that could be the target of hundreds of ToS-violating attacks a day.

If this is indeed Blizzard’s primary reason, it’s unlikely that they would react similarly to a black guild simply because (anecdotally speaking) racism just isn’t as common as gay-bashing in MMOGs. Sadly I don’t think there’s any other minority-friendly guild that could precipitate as strong a negative reaction. There may be a majority-friendly one, though; can anyone speak to the presence of democratic or republican guilds around election time in this or other games, and player/GM reactions to them?

Whatever the underlying reasons, I think Blizzard screwed the pooch here. They’ve now stepped into a long-standing pulic debate, and whatever they do next could incur the wrath of RW LGBT groups (indeed, In Newsweekly made the first sally) or RW social conservative groups. With the defense of marriage amendment going through Virginia’s legislature and the increasing presence of MMOGs in the media, Blizzard could find itself forced to address the role of identity politics in MMOGs on news programs, and in hundreds of newspapers, and... wait a minute... what was that old saw about bad publicity?

Posted Jan 28, 2006 1:12:17 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

Trivial if you have a few thousand people playing total. Not so trivial if you have many orders of magnitude more playing. And Blizzard does have (and apparently acts on) policy against pejorative speech like you suggest, Matt. No form of auto/manual profanity or other speech filtering has yet been invented, AFAIK, that scales beyond a few thousand users

I'm not talking about filtering. I'm talking about punishing. Could you watch it all? No. Could you punish for inappropriate use of certain words? Easily. Some search engines used to hand-review sites to be added to their index. Did that scale to Google's size? No, of course not. Does it scale to Blizzard's size? Easily.

In any case, the only point I'm making is that if Blizzard is so genuinely concerned about ensuring there is no discrimination against GLBT people, it could be doing far more. Punishing the victims when it doesn't do a lot to punish the offenders shows where their heart is: the bottom line (lot more offenders than victims). I have no problem with that. They SHOULD be focused on the bottom line. What I object to is Blizzard lying about its motivations in having this kind of policy and attempting to frame it such that it's viewed as friendly towards the victims.

--matt

Posted Jan 28, 2006 1:30:20 PM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

Does Blizzard in fact allow such distinctive guilds [all-female, all-Australian] that advertise this way?

Mike, on Khaz'Goroth I've seen "Hey, join our guild" posts in the chat channel that advertised themselves this way. I don't know if they were reprimanded. It didn't strike me as unusual (except that the player who advertised for the all-female guild was named TitsMaggie - that struck me as hinky).

Posted Jan 28, 2006 2:17:26 PM | link

That Chip Guy says:

Although the word "gay" is filtered by default, GLBT guilds/supergroups do not appear to be a problem for NCSoft, judging by the recruiting messages on the forums. In the year I've been playing CoH, I've encountered several flamboyantly gay-friendly supergroups on my server. Somehow the electronic sky has failed to fall. Perhaps, when the mission's gone pear-shaped, most players really don't care whether they're being helped by Captain Fabulous.

CoH players are discussing the issue here.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 2:23:16 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

I thought the issue here (from reading the link provided at the Herald) was not so much creating the GLBT group itself, but in the mods essentially saying to the player, "Don't create a GLBT group, we can't protect you from the harassment that is bound to inspire -- don't attract fire on yourself with that, we're not going to help you." THAT is a sad commentary, of course, and that the mods could then imply disciplinary action against you for making a group they can't protect from harassment sure makes mincemeat of their supposed policy of protection (which I'm not familiar with).

Obviously, even if children are in the game, you can instill the concept of tolerance for preferences implied in GLBT, even if you don't have to have explicit sex. Obviously, it's better to instill this tolerance when they are as young as 2 and 3, before they get to the stage of 9 and 10 where the schoolyard bullies will begin to laugh at gays and taunt them.

It's true that GLBT in some manifestions is associated with explicit sex, but not always. After all, not every couple that appears as a couple in public is engaging in sex on the street, but if they can't even appear as a couple and not even engage in appropriate "public displays of affection" they are in an oppressive, intolerant climate. But to make a club or site that merely implies there will be tolerance of GLBT in the sense of freedom from attacks, harassment, etc. seems even to fit under their restrictive TOS --are we dealing with a company policy here, or a one-off bad judgement call of a game mod?

Posted Jan 28, 2006 2:34:16 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

I think this is a case where Blizzard demonstrates the truth of something that's commonly said about them as a company: that they know game design, but not community management. More or less since World of Warcraft went live, they've consistently made a series of community management missteps. This is one of the biggest, in its initial form and even in the attempt to manage the damage.

The position that Blizzard is now advancing is not entirely incoherent nor inconsistent. They've been aggressive periodically about policing the content of "general chat" in the game, to the point where it's a running joke among players to "report" people for saying, well, anything. I understand that Blizzard is trying to avoid notorious errors in the opposite direction, where the general chat or overall culture of a MMOG is allowed to run to being nothing more than an open sewer for the lowest-common denominator sentiments.

This is an issue that goes beyond MMOGs, in fact: it's an old and complex question in virtual-community literature, and even in the larger question of what makes civil society work? How do you "seed" the culture that you want to have?

But for this very reason, Blizzard is being hypocritical here, and being at least passively against GLBT players, and perhaps more than passively so. The previously announced standard is to act against someone when a complaint is made that meets some kind of "reasonable person" test. E.g., if someone says on general chat that "I hate Stranglethorn Vale", and I report them as being hateful, the GMs ignore my report as unreasonable. If someone says, "I hate Jews", and I report them, generally the person who said it flunks the reasonable person test.

In this case, Blizzard is saying, "The mere mention of GLBT identities on an open channel is sufficient to constitute potential offensivenss to some players, ergo, you must not do it." It's a preemptive gesture, for one, but it also essentially enshrines the reaction of strongly anti-GLBT players as a legitimated taking of "offense".

Moreover, as I've noted on WoW's forums, the preemptive standard is enforced nowhere else in game. On almost any server, general chat channels in the Barrens zone on any given night are overflowing with discussions of religion, race, sex, sexuality, politics and so on, and often replete with sentiments that many might legitimately call offensive. There isn't a censor hovering over that channel calling people out of bounds the moment they write--and for the most part, no one gets reported, joking aside.

What Blizzard has done here, in an ordinary sense, is no different than what most major media outlets have done: buckled under to the first idiot that complains about someone else's speech. There's no question but that they have the legal right to do so, but it's stupid business policy, stupid community management, and a foolish bridge to the degredation of a kind of common human freedom within synthetic worlds. None of us leave behind what we are when we enter a virtual space: worlds that try to reduce their players to compliant, neutral, plastic agglomerations of code are worlds that quickly become sterile and empty of humanity.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 2:58:03 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

A simpler addendum to my comments, in response to Samantha:

A simple rule of community management in synthetic worlds would be, don't always back the decision made by a GM once it becomes a larger subject of discussion. I suppose you could say that's cynical, or a good way to promote lack of loyalty among your employees, but that's why you have community management hierarchies. The people on the scene don't always see the larger picture. The details of any given complaint may be (legitimately) obscured by the implications of action in the particular case.

This is what *worlds* are, in the end. Once local actions trickle up to global or universal scales, the precedent they establish, however reasonable a Solomanic judgement they may appear in the particular, are inadmissable. It's a big mistake to just dig in and defend what the cop on the spot said, which is a lesson that good police forces in the US have learned (and bad ones have yet to learn).

Posted Jan 28, 2006 3:02:58 PM | link

Artheos says:

What I'm curious about, is it a GLBT guild as in characters are GLBT, or is it as in the players are?

How about a Hetero friendly guild as an alternative advertisement? Or for that matter, Hetero only?

What really is interesting is the need to 'advertise' GLBT in the first place. Why?

Posted Jan 28, 2006 4:35:54 PM | link

Wondersaurus says:

It's GLBT as in the players are.

Hetero friendly doesn't function as an alternate advertisement. All that implies is that the guild is friendly to heterosexual players, and no claims are made about the rest. And you can certainly go make a hetero only guild. It has some very strong negative associations, but you can go make one. I'm not stopping you!

And why are they advertising it's GLBT in the first place? Couldn't be in order to establish a safe environment for people of like minds and opinions to gather and play together! IMPOSSIBLE.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 5:37:41 PM | link

Artheos says:

I'm not sure what I get the 'safe' part. What defines an 'unsafe environment' for GLBT?

Posted Jan 28, 2006 5:45:51 PM | link

Rohan Verghese says:

I don't think 'safe' is the best word. Non-offensive environment, maybe.

I think people are missing something. Blizzard doesn't ban GLBT groups. It has a "no sex, politics, and religion' rule for its open chat channels in-game. Advertising a GLBT guild in General chat violates this rule. Somebody reported it, and Blizz took action.

If you want to advertise a GLBT guild, you can do so on the official WoW forums.

If you really disagree with this policy, simply report every instance of someone violating this rule (ie random people calling people 'gay' in Barrens General). You'll can easily snow Blizz under with legitimate complaints about the chat.

Posted Jan 28, 2006 6:24:02 PM | link

Kelly Rued says:

>I think people are missing something. Blizzard >doesn't ban GLBT groups.

So is this a matter of the media misreporting? I've read that the person in the incident was told they couldn't refer to their group as GLBT at all...

>It has a "no sex, politics, and religion' rule >for its open chat channels in-game. Advertising >a GLBT guild in General chat violates this >rule. Somebody reported it, and Blizz took action.

Hey, you're 100% wrong about this point. GLBTQ is NOT about sex. Queers and Transgendered people don't just share a community of sex or like sexual interests. :) It's not a "sex" term it's an "identity" term that describes people with shared lifestyles (they face challenges and issues uncommon to people of other identities- thinking of it more like a culture or nationality may be a helpful analogy). But it's not about sex.

They weren't saying "hey come have gay, lesbian, or bi sex... hell just the word "transgender" (which is what the T is for in GLBT) should clue you in that it's not an acronym for sexual fetishes- these are groups of PEOPLE not SEXUAL INTERESTS. They were inviting people of their culture to join up and I've rarely come across GLBTQ people who were hostile to hetero/others who are supportive and fun... so really it was simply inviting people who are/like GLBTQ (or dig GLBTQ activism or issues, I guess). None of the lifestyles/people referenced by GLBTQ want you to think SEX when they identify themselves.

Mostly I think people just want to be able to chat openly about their SO/life without dealing with people who get flustered with reality. ;p

But, honestly, GLBTQ describes people- not sex acts. They were soliciting like people not sex :)

Posted Jan 28, 2006 10:19:57 PM | link

Rohan Verghese says:

>So is this a matter of the media misreporting? I've read that the person in the incident was told they couldn't refer to their group as GLBT at all...

From what I've read, they couldn't refer to their group as GLBT in General chat. I do know that GLBT guilds post relatively often on the WoW guild recruitment forum.

> Hey, you're 100% wrong about this point. GLBTQ is NOT about sex. Queers and Transgendered people don't just share a community of sex or like sexual interests. :) It's not a "sex" term it's an "identity" term that describes people with shared lifestyles (they face challenges and issues uncommon to people of other identities- thinking of it more like a culture or nationality may be a helpful analogy). But it's not about sex.

But it's an identity term based on sexual preference and gender relationships, as opposed to one based on nationality, ethnicity, or religious leanings, etc.

Besides which, "sex, religion, politics" basically means "stuff that will start flamewars".

Posted Jan 28, 2006 11:09:34 PM | link

Naomi Clark says:

By the way, Blizzard did post another official statement about this incident, on their boards. I was surprised, I had kind of made a very similar assumption to Samantha's, but at this point (there was an earlier post saying "we're looking into it to find out what really happened") it looks like Blizzard has come down solidly and officially against any "mention of sensitive real-world subjects in open chat" including "a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference." This has already raised questions about why Christian guilds that are being advertised on some servers haven't gotten warned.

As a long-time (and now former, I am happy to say) veteran of online community management, of various sorts, I have to say this really disturbs me and I'm concerned that as the hugest game in the marketplace, Blizzard's policies might end up setting some sort of precedent, even if it's a conservative "profit motive" one. That's part of why I delurked to post this, because I hope this conversation doesn't just end here; players and designers and community managers involved in this kind of thing need to hash this out, especially as virtual worlds "grow up" and have to deal with broader and broader social issues. I'm also posting here because Blizzard is systematically shutting down almost all conversations specifically about this subject on their own boards.

Here's another way to frame it: Blizzard has a pretty standard harassment policy, and it's this policy that they invoked when they gave a warning to that guild. Like many other such policies, there are lots of words in the policy like "insulting," "slur," "promoting hatred," "negatively portrays" etc about references to religion, ethncity, sexual orientation, etc. What Blizzard's new policy does is basically strip all of those words out; now you can't talk about those things at all. The intent -- negative or positive -- no longer matters, at least in the policy, although from the GM's actions it appears you might get off with a slap on the wrist. Even so, it's hard to imagine that such a policy would not have what's known as a "chilling effect."

So in theory, in WoW public spaces, you can no longer mention being gay, or Jewish, or a pagan, or a Republican, or Christian... or heterosexual? Except a lot of those things won't be enforced in practice, because it would seem absurd and not within the confines of "common sense." Of course, gays are in the crossfire precisely because some people want common sense to dictate nobody should be able to talk about being gay, even when it has nothing to do with having sex. I'm not sure it's possible for Blizzard to take a neutral position on this, no matter how they might try to contort themselves to make all the people happy all of the uptime. And as it is, they're favoring the side that wants to push homosexuality back into the closet.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 2:02:39 AM | link

C.D. says:

I silently follow many debates on TN, and they are, fortunately, usually not politically charged. But with issues like this, it is hard to overlook that the readership is primarily recruited from the extreme left side of the political spectrum, where 'homophobe', apparently, doesn't even register as a fighting word anymore.

Any expression of my actual opinion would have to appear as a mere troll with such an audience. But let me say this: Many here (especially the business people) are longing for computer games to escape the tiny demographic niche they have been conceived in and become appealing to the mainstream of ordinary people. If that is ever to happen, computer games will also have to esacpe the extremistic political and philosophical trappings which tend to dominate their current niche. The average customer in a Western country (not to speak of the wide world) isn't particularly young, he certainly isn't rebellious, he isn't sexually liberal, and he isn't an atheist.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 8:27:11 AM | link

Dr, Cat says:

The moment I read this story, I was tempted to get on WoW and try to make a "Heterosexuals Guild" and announce it loudly on the public channels. To see if I could get in trouble, and they're egalitarian about it, or if they allow it with no complaints and I could go post all over the net "They don't give GLBTs the same rights as heteros". But of course I don't have the free time. :)

Saying GLBT social organizations are "about sex" is inaccurate, in my opinion. Many of them are for people to socialize, make friends, or just have fun in a group setting in a totally non-sexual way. Maybe they meet someone to date if they're looking but maybe not, and some of them aren't even looking anyway. It's about "being able to socialize in all the random average ways like picnics and bowling without having to carefully avoid mentioning that you're gay" or "being able to socialize openly with fellow gays without any risk someone's going to beat you up or kill you because they found out your gay", etc. The word "safe" in describing such groups in the real world is definitely highly relevant, though online the danger of meeting someone who'll come find you and beat you up is nearly nil. Some such groups might be political (gathering to organize GLBT rights activism), and some even sexual (just as heterosexuals have a few "swinging clubs" and other sexually oriented groups/hobbies), but I think more are just about getting together, just like stamp collectors might get together. Some of the people who meet might start dating and eventually have sex, but that doesn't make the group sexual - the same thing happens to some couples that meet each other at church picnics. I don't think Blizzard would say "No talking about church picnics in channels you sex fiend!" :) (I doubt stamp collector gatherings lead to sex terribly often, statistically. But I bet it's happened at least once, maybe even more than once. Ok, ok, just once.)

People, especially the many kids that play games like Warcraft, need to learn that gay people like to socialize in more ways than by having gay sex. One of my best friends shares with me a passion for movies. (She's way ahead of me - been an extra in one, interviewed Crispin Glover for Aint It Cool Movie News, etc. I bow down to her superior knowledge of movie trivia.) We love to go out to a movie together or watch DVDs together. But you know... We also like to go to restaurants together, sit around and chat (about both move and non-movie topics), and various other things. People prefer to do almost everything together with people they have more things in common with, rather than less things in common. And being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or transsexual is something you have in common with anyone else who's the same thing. I wish Blizzard were trying to teach people "that's ok, it's no big deal, and ragging on those people is just silly and immature".

Personally I avoid posting my personal positions on politics and religion and abortion on our Forums, because both sides have a case, and I don't want to alienate either side and make them feel unwelcome or like the staff takes the other side on their issues. I remain neutral. But when it comes to "Is it ok to be homosexual or is it awful and deserving of insults and wretched treatment and discrimination", I'll speak up any time without hestitation. The side that it's "ok" I think is clearly in the right, and the people who disagree don't have a leg to stand on. Millenia ago, when we needed to make enough babies to surive and then to thrive as a species, making non-reproductive behaviors taboo may have had some potential survival value. Today we don't NEED more babies, if anything we need better population control and less growth in some places. India is having huge problems, being unwilling to be as heavy-handed as China in how they adress the problem.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 9:41:37 AM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

Many here (especially the business people) are longing for computer games to escape the tiny demographic niche they have been conceived in and become appealing to the mainstream of ordinary people. If that is ever to happen, computer games will also have to esacpe the extremistic political and philosophical trappings which tend to dominate their current niche.

I agree with you about this thread, but with games, I'd actually like to hear more about what you mean - because to my eyes, World of Warcraft (and most other games) stay extremely neutral on every front. Paladins don't practice any real kind of religion (or carry any obligations to pray, behave well, etc.); Blizzard wants sex and sexuality to be a non-issue; the Horde and Alliance fight, but it's not like they have much of a philosophy to fight over (as compared to the Cold War - or the Jedi and Sith); etc.

Personally, I don't want Blizzard to condemn or endorse gay-friendly guilds. I'm more libertarian - I want Blizzard to let people do what they're going to do so long as it falls short of out-and-out harassment. If Captain Fabulous wants to start the Superfriends of Dorothy guild, he can do that. If a bunch of players point at him and laugh, they'll do that. This kind of stuff happens every day around the world. Nobody expects to agree with everybody they encounter - that's part of the challenge of an online game.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 10:27:52 AM | link

Chris Dahlen says:

(And to be clear, I understand that that's pretty close to Blizzard's position, and the conflict lies in this chat channel policy. I'll be interested to see the euphamisms that people start to develop in WOW to advertise GBLT guilds without getting a warning ... )

Posted Jan 29, 2006 11:04:54 AM | link

Kathy says:

Well I've been a member of GLBT guilds in AO, EQ2, and WOW. None of them are exclusively GLBT. And really, it's not about sex or adult content. It's just about being able to share the normal sorts of details about your life that come up in guild chat. That I'm logging out to make my gf dinner. Things like that. And one of the guilds I'm part of was started because of exactly that. Someone mentioned their bf in guild chat and the next thing they saw was the message they had been removed from the guild.

As to Blizzard's reasoning, I don't think there are too many people who don't know that our guild is GLBT oriented, but I've never been harrassed because of it. It really has only become an issue because of Blizzard. And even if it did happen, we're adults and understand what homophobia is. Seriously, like we didn't notice there are homophobes in the world?

I was pretty shocked. I thought Blizzard "got it." Blizzard should apologize and backdown. They're wrong.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 12:37:40 PM | link

Dr, Cat says:

Many here (especially the business people) are longing for computer games to escape the tiny demographic niche they have been conceived in and become appealing to the mainstream of ordinary people. If that is ever to happen, computer games will also have to esacpe the extremistic political and philosophical trappings which tend to dominate their current niche. The average customer in a Western country (not to speak of the wide world) isn't particularly young, he certainly isn't rebellious, he isn't sexually liberal, and he isn't an atheist.

I agree that the net (and Terra Nova) tend strongly towards the left, and I personally certainly do. I disagree though, that only very leftist, non-business oriented people would push for even the most minor of gay rights imaginable - the ability to discuss or even mention the subject. Television networks as major as the big 3 have been airing sitcoms where main characters are gay, in some cases that's one of the major drawing factors of the show. Disneyworld allows the GLBT community to do their "gay day" event every year. While Disney doesn't facilitate it that I know of, they also turn a deaf ear to right wing group's requests to stop it from happening. I believe the City of Orlando government has rainbow colored flags on the lightpoles in Orlando on that day. The network news reports on stories about gay people like the state of gay marriage legal battles, etc.

To me the question of "Can you bring up the subject of homosexuality at all" isn't so much a leftist vs. rightist issue. You'll hear gays mentioned on radio and tv just as freely by ultra-rightists like Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh as you will by ultra-leftists like Al Franken. It's more an issue of where to allow more freedom of speech vs. less, and if less than in what ways to restrain it. Blizzard being a private company has, unlike the government, the legal and moral right to restrain speech in any way they choose. We can, of course, use OUR free speech here to debate whether their choices are better or worse for society, and better or worse for Blizzard's bottom line as a business.

I remember Prodigy was the only online network in the 1980s to keep sexual talk off the service. They had no real-time chat, and they had many staff monitoring not only message boards, but everyone's private email in order to block any message that had naughty words or anything else against the TOS. They were popular for a while, the first online service to break a million users I think. But AOL eventually zoomed past them. I remember too, when they added real-time chat - I got on a couple days later, and the room names had lots of things like "Boston area bis in their 30s" etc. Sex was all over Prodigy and they could never hold back the flood again.

I do think it's valid for some games to choose to be the online world's equivalent of "The Family Channel". I question whether that level of sanitizing is necessary or even compatible with achieving the highest tier of financial success. Family Channel certainly isn't as successful as ABC, which reigns things in too but does so a lot less and does mention homosexuality. (Though I was very surprised when I saw ABC didn't censor the soapy naked breasts scene in Moscow on the Hudson when they first aired it in the 1980s. Just a slip-up I suppose.)

I would also SERIOUSLY question whether parents who want to avoid having their kids even hear about anybody mentioning "My guild welcomes gays" or "Gays suck" or anything else about gays will have much luck just because they put their kids in a game that blocks such discussion. Without keeping your kids from roaming the internet at random, where they'll run into it there quite likely, it's a pyrrhic victory. Not to mention them hearing about it at school, on TV, etc. If the goal is to get the kid hearing about it less, that might get somewhere. Though they will be hearing it in Warcraft too, as Blizzard can only try to stop someone after they've said it one or more times. If you play Horde and get on the Barrens chat, you'll hear people saying "That's so gay" and "Why do you use gay as an insult, there's nothing wrong with those people" and "That's sick you fag, there is too something wrong with them" on and on and on, and people reporting each other for breaking that rule.

I just really question the value of going so far as to say "You can't talk about it in public at all". (They do allow it on the guild advertising board on the web, and in private chat, party chat, etc.) From a business standpoint, it's likely to hurt you a little amongst the estimated 10% of the population that's gay. And it doesn't seem like the other 90% drop their usage of ABC, Disneyworld, etc. a corresponding amount, though the extreme rightists occasionally talk of boycotts. In some situations it seems more a way to make a little extra money than to lose it - Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a big hit a couple years ago, and I've seen several of the stars of it featured in TV commercials for big corporations to hype their products. We also have seen a lot of big corporations like IBM and Apple (AT&T too I think?) extend spousal benefits to the live-in partners of their gay employees, which doesn't seem to have harmed their bottom line any.

The only major organization in the US I know of that's gone so far as to not just discriminate in hiring (as many do), but to try to say "You can't even mention that you're gay here, ever" is the military. And I can't see any signs that they've gotten significant benefits from that. In ancient Greece, there was once an army that consisted entirely of gay male couples, and they were pretty effective from what I hear!

Blizzard can continue to censor such talk. But I'm not sure that it doesn't do them more harm than good, financially. Some negative PR, a few gay people cancelling their accounts - and are there more people signing up because it's "family friendly" for their kids? (At least if you don't consider violence to be unacceptable for your kids, just sex. And please ignore the female night elves dancing and stripping on the Ironforge bridge!) I don't think so, I think it's mainly kids deciding whether to buy or not because their parents aren't involved, or parents who DO reserve the decision looking at the box art, the reviews, etc. and then saying yea or nay on Warcraft. They don't even ADVERTISE the "no sex, politics or religion discussions in front of your kiddies" aspect in their ads, on their box, on their website, etc. They just have the typical "ESRB rating says content may vary during play because other humans talk to you and we can't guarantee what they will or won't say" sticker on the box.

I can say, even as an ultra-leftist kook, I feel a little sorry that people/families that would rather not have to hear about homosexuality, violence, rape, or whatever have to face the unpleasantness of hearing about it. Because those subjects are all over our media, in conversations with coworkers or schoolmates, they're unavoidable. At the same time, I also have strongly gotten the impression that it's in the most insulated communities where biases, prejudices, and even outright bigotry grows and thrives best about people of other nationalities, religions, hobbies, skin colors, sexual preferences, or people different in ANY way from those in the insular group. So I think it's for the best overall if people are exposed to as many subjects, types of people, and points of view as possible. So they can have the "standard epiphany" of "Oh, people from country-such-and-such aren't a bunch of fanatical morons that want to kill everyone that's not like them - my penpal has a family like me, enjoys television like me, goes to school, has friends, plays checkers, has a pet dog - danged if he isn't an actual person like people from my home town, maybe everybody else over there is a person too!" If I'm mistaken and homosexuality is actually bad, I would rather see young people grow up hearing about it and forming an opinion, rather than magically cocooned from knowing about gays or sexual intercourse till they're 18, and then somehow trying to do as good a job of deciding about gays and being good at sex on their honeymoon without knowing the first thing about any of it. :) I think parents should choose to guide their kids in learning about sex, gays, violence etc. by talking to them early and sharing their own parental wisdom, experience and opinions rather than trying to keep society from exposing them to the same subjects, or just giving up and letting television and videogames raise their kid. But maybe that's just my ultra-rightist side talking. ;)

Posted Jan 29, 2006 6:29:33 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

I think that Blizzard's new policy - and it has been announced as official policy, not just GM ruling now - founders a simple point of fact. A friend of mine tried asking about this on their forums but it got lost in signal to noise ratio: Do existing GLBT-friendly guilds get regular harassment?

I have friends in the Gothique Sisterhood, which is focused on dominant/submissive lesbians and requires other mebmers to be respect of the lifestyle, and acquaintances in Stonewall Champions, a multi-lifestyle GLBT guild. To the best of my knowlege, they are not regularly picked on, despite open mentions in game of what their purpose is.

The casual homophobia that drives many non-straight players (and some straight ones, too, for that matter) buggy is just that, casual and unfocused, using terms like "fag", "homo", and "gay" for their semi-generic swear value. If their swearing weren't linked to other people's identity in that particular way, many GLBTs and friends would feel a lot less need to arrange a sub-environment to be away from it. Very little of it has ever, so nearly as I can ascertain, been directed at guilds publicly associated with homosexuality..

If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd like to know it.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 8:43:14 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

I should add: I would gladly accept a report of "not many such cases, but the number's rising" as cause for concern. Being ahead of a real curve seems entirely worthwhile to me.

Posted Jan 29, 2006 8:57:42 PM | link

Kathy says:

"A friend of mine tried asking about this on their forums but it got lost in signal to noise ratio: Do existing GLBT-friendly guilds get regular harassment?"

My guild is so large we had to trim our roster because we hit the hard coded limit on guilds. I don't think there's anyone who knows we aren't gay. And no, I have never been bothered because I have a Spectrum tag hanging above my head.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 8:45:15 AM | link

Thintalle says:

I was member of the Gothique Sisterhood for some time, starting in SWG then moving to WoW - and while I can remeber two times where we were "harrassed" in some way while I was online, I would count one of these as "in game" (which some others in the sisterhood did not) and one which was out of line for sure - that over the course of .. hmm .. maybe a year.

On the other hand we got quite some positive feedback from people we met - alot realy.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 10:00:18 AM | link

L'Emmerdeur says:

I'd like all of you to log in, fly over to The Barrens, and hang out there for an hour or two and read the public chat channels. If this doesn't convince you that today's youth will grow up to engineer the world's next Holocaust, nothing will.

The chat in the Barrens is unbearable, and I have a very high tolerance level for such things. Reporting the people stating all these horrible things ("fag", "dyke", "nigger") never gets a ban from Blizzard. I've tested this by reporting one of these idiots, and then checking to see if they were online the following days. They were online every single day for weeks.

Blizzard knows that a significant portion of their income comes from such hateful teenagers, and would not risk alienating this target audience for a tiny population of LGBT players who have a negligible impact on their bottom line. In fact, suppressing th expression of their community panders to the hateful teenager contingent. The only thing that will force them to reverse their policy in this matter is bad press like this.

If you don't believe me, visit the forums of the Azjol-Nerub guild Silvan Rangers. Bonus points: their erstwhile founder and guild master was Greek, providing me with a sense of shame for my nationality as well as my hobby.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 10:36:40 AM | link

Bonnie Ruberg says:

I'm glad to see many people have considered this so serious an issue as to give it real thought here. Personally, I find I'm almost at a loss for words. That Blizzard could, in effect, put hatred and their own short-sighted concerns before the rights, comfort, and respect of their GLTB and GLTB-friendly players - especially in an environment like WoW, which so many people of all sexualities call home -shocks and appalls me. I am hurt for myself as a queer gamer, and moreover I am hurt for my community. Blizzard's decision, unfortunately, not only represents their personal lack of tolerance, but a general sentiment in the gaming community that considers non-hetero-normative behavior, when brought out into the open, unacceptable. There is always hope for change. In the meantime though I find it hard not to feel sick.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 11:01:43 AM | link

Lanky says:

Bonnie> That Blizzard could, in effect, put hatred and their own short-sighted concerns before the rights, comfort, and respect of their GLTB and GLTB-friendly players - especially in an environment like WoW, which so many people of all sexualities call home -shocks and appalls me.

Thats a tough denouncement. As it says (and has been quoted here), Blizzard's policy is essentially to protect GBLT players by maintaining the 4th wall as much as possible.

In an ideal virtual world, discrimination against all stripes could be edited out. That simply is not possible yet when you have 5 million players.

The "lightning rod" analogy is spot on, let me assure you. I play WoW, and I have some great gay / lesbian friends in RL and in game. Most of those in the game dont play WoW to be openly gay in WoW. They are comfortable with their sexuality, and express it just like everyone else does, through play and jokes, etc. But every time somone starts a new GBLT guild that is obvious from the guild tag they, (and I) advise reforming.

All that will occur is a hate-storm. Flames and frothing rednecks will make VL miserable for players with that tag. They will get reported, and Blizzard does punish them. Do you think that stops the discrimination?

Now I am NOT saying to the GBLT community: "Hide, so that you may enjoy your play experience."

What I AM saying is that guilds which form expressly to protect / accept the sexuality of their members essentially paint the bullseye on themselves, and that can be avoided with some tasteful naming:

Ie: Instead of naming my GBLT guild: "The Gaymers Alliance" I name it "The Symposium". Most Greek males = openly gay. Link? yes. Target on Forehead? Not likely. I doubt a redneck knows what a Symposium is.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 11:55:23 AM | link

Lanky says:

sorry for the DP.
Historically in Ancient Greece homosexuality was openly accepted / partially ritualized.

My context above was far too ambiguous.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 11:57:23 AM | link

Artheos says:

If you think about it, GLTB labeled groups are segregationist, which is a shame in and of itself.

What it almost sounds like is folks are fighting for the right to label themselves based on only one dimension of who they are as a whole.

I don't think this is as bad a decision as folks are talking about, but then again I believe self-segregation is as disempowering to a person as forced segregation.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 12:40:04 PM | link

C.D. says:

Chris Dahlen: I'd actually like to hear more about what you mean - because to my eyes, World of Warcraft (and most other games) stay extremely neutral on every front.

I don't think so. I find the portrayal of the Scarlet Crusade highly tendentious, for example.

Dr. Cat: To me the question of "Can you bring up the subject of homosexuality at all" isn't so much a leftist vs. rightist issue.

Of course not, but you're misrepresenting the socially conservative consensus in your post. There might be a few loonies on the fringe who want to totally remove any reference to homosexuality, but it seems to me the majority takes a more differentiated view. Consider that there is solid political support for the removal of anti-sodomy laws, but a solid opposition against gay marriage. The former merely concerns the conduct of individuals, but the latter concerns public approval of said conduct. Ordinary people seem to be quite willing to tolerate the occasional expression of homosexual thoughts, as long as these are met with a kind of communal "frown". It has been said on these pages that a subtle reaction like a frown cannot yet be represented through our limited MMOG user interfaces, which would explain why the communities are still struggling for a fitting expression of their reaction. But I have no doubt that, if the matter is left to the democratic vote of ordinary people (which includes voting with their wallet), the sign they put up will read "Homosexuality Unwelcome", not "Homosexuality Outlawed". It will entail some sort of bias against these sexual attractions on the part of the authority figures, but not a draconic crackdown or extermination.

Lanky: Historically in Ancient Greece homosexuality was openly accepted / partially ritualized.

Applying the modern conception of homosexuality, which was invented in the past century, to ancient Greece would be extremely anachronistic. The practise of pederasty, which you are probably referring to, in which an older, married man had a sexual relation with a teenager under the pretense of educating him, was not very widespread and far from universally tolerated. And if your somewhat cryptic comment was supposed to mean that Plato's Symposium should be interpreted as a defense of this pederastic practise, I urge you to study it more closely, as it does precisely the opposite. In fact, the way in which Socrates undermined this practise was one of the reasons for his trial and execution.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 1:08:12 PM | link

Fearless says:

Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but the posts here tend to fall into two categories: there's folks saying "It's supposed to be a fantasy game, bringing sexuality into it opens a can of worms," and folks who rag on Blizzard for allegedly discriminating against gays.

I completely understand Caydiem's post. Blizzard is trying to keep RL issues from spilling into a fantasy universe. And sexuality, religion and politics are certainly sensitive issues (as evidence by the original article and this thread). They are not denying anyone the right to set up any sort of guild they'd like - freedom of association and all that - just strongly advising against establishing guilds that are certain to result in harassmment for their members, given the prevalent attitudes of the player base. It is not Blizzard's job to change those attitudes.

I play on one of the oldest RP servers, which has its share of illiterates and knuckle-draggers, but overall a higher quality of discourse than, say, PvP servers. Silver Hand's community generally polices itself - if someone starts speaking in General Chat about non-game-related issues, they are quickly warned (or shouted down) to keep it private. My ethnicity, religion, politics, sexuality, or race obviously have a lot to do with my personality, but by and large don't apply to my avatars in-game. Why should they? There is no place in World of Warcraft for European ethnic feuds, for example.

So you're gay, black, Croatian, Democrat, whatever. How's that relevant in any way to the fact that your dwarf hunter just wiped my UBRS raid?

Posted Jan 30, 2006 1:16:48 PM | link

Gothique says:

The Gothique Sisterhood is a long-lived Family spanning across 3 years through 5 different games now. We started under another name in Anarchy Online:RK2, then moved to Star Wars Galaxies:Eclipse, There, World of Warcraft:Argent Dawn and Second Life.

It wasn't until World of Warcraft that we truly began running into problems. The GM staff at Blizzard has been FAIR with most any concerns. Not for us, not against us -- just grey. I appreciate that sort of balance and respect it.

The problems lay with the subscribers, here. I saw it mentioned by another poster that WoW has a very high homophobic audience. I couldn't agree more. We got a bad apple in our Family once who was caught engaging in sexual activity in Goldshire in a public channel. At the time there was also a prostitute guild going there named Night Kittens, which we blacklisted and claimed them as "off limits." Though this person was removed for engaging in unLadylike behavior, however, some children (not age-specific, mind you) obviously saw this and started poking fun.

Ever since that event, TGS has undergone an uphill struggle to show people that we are not prostitutes. People think we are a D/s-Lesbian-only guild. We're not. Yes, we do bend toward Lesbians who follow the D/s Lifestyle, but neither are a requirement to join the Family.

People in the game are finally starting to see and understand what and who we are -- and aren't. We'll sometimes get grief in the server's forums, but nowhere near as bad as it used to be. *FINALLY* after a year of hard work and dedication, our good Sisters have shown Argent Dawn what we're really about. Fun, enjoyment and good times.

Yes, we get children poking fun at us, or me in the forums now and again. Overall though, I get people in-game saluting me and Sisters, going out of their way to say hi to us, compliment us, thank us for helping them, etc.

If you have any questions or simply want to read more for yourself, please try http://www.gothique.us/faq - the FAQs here can answer a lot of questions. Feel free to join our community and contribute, too. It would be an honor to have you along. :)

*Curtsies*

Respectfully,
Gothique
Goddess & Matriarch
The Gothique Sisterhood

Posted Jan 30, 2006 1:27:42 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Oh, wow, thank you very much for the extra history and context, Gothique. Very welcome. If I misrepresented anything, my apologies, and I'm very glad to have the best-informed commentary. (I don't really ever mind finding out I've been wrong - my commitment is to being as right as possible over time, not to the truth of any particular claim.)

Artheos, you're missing the key point: most people's identities are not regularly used as insults and abuse. You may occasionally hear someone say "that's so straight", but I'll bet you don't very often. "That's mighty white of you" is gone as a compliment, and "honky" isn't used much as an insult in any net environment I participate in. On the other hand, every single day you'll find someone in general chat and party/raid chat saying "shut up, fag" and "that's so gay" and "queer" as insults. It would enrich many people's play to be away from that, and not all of those who'd so benefit know how to use the obscure forums, let alone have nay luck reading through listings for a hundred realms rather than the one they're using.

The other point you're missing is of course that the solicitation that set all this off was for a "GLBT-friendly" guild. I would join that, though my sexuality is between me and those I hope to have relationships with. A goodly number of avowedly straight people would like it, too, simply because they don't like homophobic abuse any more than its targets do.

I approve of guilds exclusively for female characters, and for the same reason: hearing a lot of "shut up, cunt" and "bitch, you take that" gets old fast. And if I were to realize that any other group's basic identity were a matter of frequent insult, I'd be there enthusiastically ont heir behalf too.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 1:41:02 PM | link

Gothique says:

I'm glad I could come and help.

I hope that my point was well conveyed in my previous response here that I don't think it's 100% Blizzard that's at fault.

Working in an online "policing" capacity in the past, myself -- I think that some GMs in the game see and hear about things like this over and over due to several people filing tickets about it that they finally take action. Is it the right action to take? Yes, I think that it would be if these guilds are trying to force their views and feelings on others. That is indeed a form of harassment. One I do not tolerate in my Sisterhood.

I half-way blame the subscribers here, given my experiences in WoW and other games. Not just the GMs. If somebody created a pro-heterosexual guild, I'm not sure many would make a fuss, so why should they make a fuss about gay and Lesbian guilds?

To each their own as long as it's healthy and safe. Also, as long as it doesn't negatively impact themselves or others around them. Otherwise if they are fun and find a healthy comfort with what they do, who they are and how they do things -- I say let them be.

Who knows -- one might be able to learn something from them, or vice-versa from making friends with one another.

Work together, as a team in all aspects of life. Respect your fellow human, even if you hate them with every inch of your being for being gay or "color impaired" in your eyes, or what other "weakness" they may hold.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 1:55:33 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

I do agree that the root of the problem is people being jerks. I could wish for more enforcement of policy, and do (Signed, Tries To Roleplay on Roleplaying Servers), but I know that such things are only substitutes for building better hearts.

There's a Pogo strip where one of the three bats has lost his pants and can't tell which one of them he is without htem. In the end Pogo goes out during the night to search for the lost pants, finds them, and returns them. We see the bat holding up his pants, and saying "Folks gotta stop being bums!" One of the others rouses and says half-awake, "Right now? Couldn't we wait until morning?" I tend to think of all these accommodations as what we do while waiting for folks to stop being bums. :)

Posted Jan 30, 2006 2:30:07 PM | link

Chas says:

C.D.>Many here (especially the business people) are longing for computer games to escape the tiny demographic niche they have been conceived in and become appealing to the mainstream of ordinary people. If that is ever to happen, computer games will also have to esacpe the extremistic political and philosophical trappings which tend to dominate their current niche.

Chris Dahlen: I agree with you about this thread, but with games, I'd actually like to hear more about what you mean - because to my eyes, World of Warcraft (and most other games) stay extremely neutral on every front. Paladins don't practice any real kind of religion (or carry any obligations to pray, behave well, etc.); Blizzard wants sex and sexuality to be a non-issue; the Horde and Alliance fight, but it's not like they have much of a philosophy to fight over (as compared to the Cold War - or the Jedi and Sith); etc.

I've encountered many religious groups that were repelled by pen & paper D-n-D because of the "false gods" approach- and many of these same ones also bar comics that have "false god" characters such as Thor or Hercules. In the time I spent in the Army, I was amazed by the number of people I encountered with this belief. Sometimes, developers add a little caveat for these people, alluding that all might be created by some other, greater god, but some have become so fundamentally against all fantasy genres just for this reason.

As for sex and sexuality, while many of us are liberally-inclined in allowance and openness, we have to remember that it wasn't very long ago that homosexuality was an acceptable reason to bar a teacher from the classroom- and may still be informally done today.

There's been a transformation in the view of homosexual identity over most of our lives, and many of us who live in the academic world sometimes forget that many of these changes we take for granted still haven't trickled through other parts of the country. Just as we see "evolution" still under attack in areas- we see alternate views of homosexualty (outdated, in our eyes) still holding strong.

I recall studies that suggest that back in the 70's and early 80's, many homosexuals would have been insulted at the idea that they DIDN'T "choose" who they were- to suggest a biological or psychological origin was akin to suggesting a "defect." While much of the community has emerged to accept a less self-made origin, and scientific evidence supports this, many of those insulated from such issues continue to believe this is an issue of learned behavior, not inherent identity.

There's a politically-charged aspect of this as well: setting aside the "privacy" inherent in the constitution, we can legislate "learned behavior" where we have much higher obstacles to breach if we try to legislate away inherently-derived attributes (all are created equal, after all). Opponents to homosexual rights often argue heavily that this is a "learned" (and unlearnable) behavior for just this reason.

If homosexuality is perceived as learned, parents will feel very concerned about their childern being exposed in a way where they might "learn" such behavior. If they see it as "innate," then parents may want to insure that kids won't be shunned for being what they are. Schools, television, and games will be the battlefield, as these can either encourage GBLT pride and openness ("promoting" behavior, according to some) or act prejudiced against GBLT (allowing parents to decide what to "teach", according to some).

MMO's are particularly hard, as cirriculum can be reviewed, television shows can be categorized & blocked, and even a non-mmo game can be reviewed for content by an aware parent. The dynamic nature of an MMO makes this more difficult, and makes a parent's anxiety that much worse.

While I respect the rights of these parents and acknowledge their concerns, I do believe in the rights of free expression and the value in free association.
I'm glad to see the Official response from city of heroes is much more open.

This issue isn't going to go away overnight, and I'm sure we'll see real media scandals in the future. As we move away from the "lured X minor from a chatroom" to "...from an MMO" the conduct we allow and regulate within our environments will be held to a much brighter spotlight than we've encountered in the past.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 2:30:32 PM | link

says:

C.D
Applying the modern conception of homosexuality, which was invented in the past century, to ancient Greece would be extremely anachronistic. The practise of pederasty, which you are probably referring to, in which an older, married man had a sexual relation with a teenager under the pretense of educating him, was not very widespread and far from universally tolerated. And if your somewhat cryptic comment was supposed to mean that Plato's Symposium should be interpreted as a defense of this pederastic practise, I urge you to study it more closely, as it does precisely the opposite. In fact, the way in which Socrates undermined this practise was one of the reasons for his trial and execution.

The primary reason for the reference whatsoever was as a demonstration of a more subtle way of displaying sexual preference. "Spectrum" is also a good example of a guild name which does this. Also, I was *not* specifically referring to Pederasty, given your obvious knowledge of Greek culture I am sure you are also familiar with the practices of some women in Sparta, and some myth associated with the island of Lesbos?

In any case, read not too deeply. If you want to debate Plato's Symposium with me, this thread really aint the place. I think perhaps my example guild name could have been chosen better. The intent is unchanged.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 2:30:35 PM | link

Lanky says:

That was me sorry.
Time to save settings!

Posted Jan 30, 2006 2:31:37 PM | link

Dr. Cat says:

Consider that there is solid political support for the removal of anti-sodomy laws, but a solid opposition against gay marriage. The former merely concerns the conduct of individuals, but the latter concerns public approval of said conduct. Ordinary people seem to be quite willing to tolerate the occasional expression of homosexual thoughts, as long as these are met with a kind of communal "frown". It has been said on these pages that a subtle reaction like a frown cannot yet be represented through our limited MMOG user interfaces, which would explain why the communities are still struggling for a fitting expression of their reaction. But I have no doubt that, if the matter is left to the democratic vote of ordinary people (which includes voting with their wallet), the sign they put up will read "Homosexuality Unwelcome", not "Homosexuality Outlawed".

I think if you were to comission a poll full of questions about "Should gays be allowed to do this" and "Should gays be allowed to do that", you'd find that marriage is probably the question that gets the highest percentage of opposition in the United States today of any of them. So using that as your example to show just how opposed to homosexuality the general public is distorts the issue, I think. While I'm sure amongst those opposed to gay marriage there are indeed millions that feel it should be regarded with a "communal frown", I think there are millions more that feel they should be smiled at, welcomed, and given everything but marriage. If you compare poll results on legalizing gay marriage vs. legalizing gay civil unions, the big difference in numbers there indicates something. Or take a poll of 2 men - in the 2004 presidential campaign, BOTH the republican and the democrat running for our highest office publically stated that they endorse allowing civil unions but not marriage as their preferred solution. Most likely they thought this was the most centrist position to present to the American people, and thus the most likely to get them elected. (And both of them broke the previous record for most votes ever received by a presidential candidate.) I think what a lot of people want is "don't give it religious public approval, but do give it govermental public approval, don't discriminate against them in tax breaks, right to visit each other in the emergency room, etc."

And even the poll numbers on legalizing gay marriage aren't 98% to 2% or some kind of blowout numbers like that which would indicate overwhelming public consensus. The minority here is well into the double-digit percentages, which for me labels it "a highly contentious issue in modern society", rather than one "our society has mostly made it's mind up about for the most part". I think you'd also see if you compared poll numbers about homosexuality over the past decades that acceptance of it is on the increase, not on the decline. A trend that I expect to continue (although of course I've been wrong before.)

But even if it's not - do you feel that supression of discussion or even mention of the topic is "good for society", or do you think that even the cause of those who frown upon it might, perhaps, better be served by actually talking about what's wrong with it and what to do about that? You seem to have "voted with your feet" here - when a discussion of the subject came up on Terra Nova, rather than say "I think Terra Nova should ban usage of words describing homosexuality like World of Warcraft has", you also jumped right into the discussion, said things about homosexuality, used the word homosexuality, etc. If it's ok or even desirable for you to mention the subject in public in order to express your opinions on the matter, is it not desirable for other conservatives to do so in other forums? What about liberals, or moderates?

To those who mentioned GLBT guilds that mention or imply their orientation in the name of the guild - the particular case in question was about a guild that didn't have such a name, they merely tried to recruit by mentioning it in public chat. I do appreciate, by the way, that Blizzard allows such guilds to advertise their orientation on the guild recruitment board. But I think a lot of players (myself included) never look at that board, so they're missing some opportunities to tell people more about their guild if they're not allowed to mention that in public chat as well. Blizzard's obviously trying to balance pros and cons, with guild board advertisements stirring up little debate, and public chat stirring up a lot. If they really want to address this issue though, I wish they could find some way to reduce the amount of rude teenagers saying "faggot" as an insult in public chat, though. I agree with the other posters who feel this can be unpleasant for both gay and straight people. I think it's unpleasant for both "gay-friendly" straights and straights that aren't. It's certainly distasteful for me to hear, I can tell you.

I think they should strongly consider a language filter that either replaces a few key words like "fag" and "faggot" with #### or the like - or else blocks that message from the crowded public chat channels so it doesn't appear at all, perhaps giving a warning to the player that they aren't allowed to say that. This is a lot less labor-intensive than making the behavior possible and then having human staff and/or volunteers policing it. And it blocks the word BEFORE people have to hear it, rather than after. I know that I'm bothered less by four letter words and insults than a lot of people, but I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that when we put a simple swear filter in the main public maps in Furcadia, I and all the rest of the staff felt kind of a collective sigh of relief. The amount of work our rules enforcement people had to do went way down, the amount of stress and tension in the community went way down, and the happiness level went up noticably. Maybe it's time for Blizzard to consider putting in a hard-wired filter that would catch certain words related to sexuality, politics, religion, race, etc. rather than doing things the way they are now. I'd certainly recommend it if I were doing paid consulting for them or something like that. :)

Posted Jan 30, 2006 2:42:27 PM | link

Sara Andrews says:

For those of you wondering about the FULL story. . . I have posted the email correspondences all over the internet. Worldofwar.net has taken out all of the >>>>s that cluttered the original emails, making them difficult to read, and posted them in their article on the situation.

http://www.worldofwar.net/cgi-bin/news/viewnews.cgi?id=EEFlulZlVyDcXMAeAJ

Perhaps that will clear some things up for you. =)

~
Sara Andrews
prismaticecho@hotmail.com

Posted Jan 30, 2006 3:05:07 PM | link

hikaru says:

Regarding WoW and sex-themed guild impressions...

I play on Argent Dawn, and remember when Gothique Sisterhood was formed, saw the recruitment macros. They never made any reference to dominance-submission, or lesbianism. They only had one requirement: a guild for women.

I think according to the current WoW policy, that's a no-no, but it's obviously not enforced, as I know of other female-only guilds.

However: listening to the chat spam, my impression was that the majority of people who were joining the Gothique Sisterhood were, in fact, men -- well, boys, and that's not an age thing... And according to Nick, we do know that 50% of female WoW characters are in fact run by male players, while only 1% of male characters are female. Does the Sisterhood have a TeamSpeak server...?

I was wondering when TN would post on this. (Who/where does one write when something needs to get seen...?). This is not just one GM's interpretation of the policy -- it's clearly written, and the GM was just following the script. Blizzard's policy, enforcement aside, is clearly "don't ask, don't tell" -- in essence making homosexuality illegal on Azeroth -- whether IC or OOC. Temporarily suspending it -- making it a blue law -- still is a morally reprehensible stance, but shrug. Does Blizzard/Vivendi Universal really want to draw this line in the sand?

Posted Jan 30, 2006 3:23:07 PM | link

C.D. says:

Dr. Cat: I think if you were to comission a poll full of questions about "Should gays be allowed to do this" and "Should gays be allowed to do that", you'd find that marriage is probably the question that gets the highest percentage of opposition in the United States today of any of them.

This is one of those issues where I don't trust polls. When such a question is asked face-to-face or through the telephone, everybody will feel a certain degree of social pressure to make a good impression on the interviewer, which entails guessing what he wants to hear. That's why I stressed the importance of a secret vote.

And as far as I recall, every measure curbing homosexuality that has actually been put to the vote has passed by a wide margin, including all state-level constitutional amendments banning civil unions.

Because of the anonymity provided by the Internet, I expect a similar trend for MMOGs.

do you feel that supression of discussion or even mention of the topic is "good for society", or do you think that even the cause of those who frown upon it might, perhaps, better be served by actually talking about what's wrong with it and what to do about that?

I don't think the discussion needs to be suppressed. I only think that it is not, and never has been, an open-ended discussion. The sign is erected, and the only purpose of the discussion can be to make the reasons for that clear.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 3:49:59 PM | link

yap says:

If you think about it, GLTB labeled groups are segregationist, which is a shame in and of itself.

What it almost sounds like is folks are fighting for the right to label themselves based on only one dimension of who they are as a whole.

I don't think this is as bad a decision as folks are talking about, but then again I believe self-segregation is as disempowering to a person as forced segregation.

Maybe, but that's not the issue. The issue isn't people starting guilds that are for gays only. The issue is that some people wanted to have a GAY FRIENDLY guild (ie no constant stream of homo/fag jokes in guild chat). What's segregationist about that? Why don't they deserve the right to at least limit the constant stream of homophobic vitriol that follows every Blizzard online game like a plague?

If you still think it's segregationist, they're only segregating themselves from bigotry. I guess that's a bad move in your book.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 5:48:43 PM | link

galiel says:

I've heard of this idea called "democracy" that seems to work-- societies seem more stable, governments are less interventionist, and civilization seems to emerge from a shared cultural consensus rather than being enforced by a heavy-handed police force.

In fact, I hear that, because people feel at least minimally empowered, they tend to riot less, fight authority less and even tend to break stuff less than they do in more authoritarian and repressive systems--all of which is more cost-effective.

And interesting side effect is that, when people are participants in their own self-government, they tend to be a bit less hasty to blame everything on the folks in power and tend to have a better understanding of the complexities and nuances of government.

I even think I read somewhere that democracy is more efficient and productive than the alternatives.

It works wonder on retention, too - I seem to have read that people try everything, even the most desperate things, to get *into* democracies, and few seem to try to flee them for more authoritarian systems.

They have these admittedly odd and radical ideas such as 'free speech' and citizen's "inherent" rights and such - yet they seem to be able to combine that with a more or less free market economy, where those who control the capital tend to do quite well, too. Not as completely and utterly disproportionately as in totalitarian systems, but still, it seems to work okay--some of these systems are more than a couple hundred years old. Not perfect, but, hell, they are a hell of a lot cheaper to run.

Hmmm.

Nah, I guess there's nothing to learn there. The answer is clearly better censorship and tougher policing and it's all the player's fault anyway.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 7:38:15 PM | link

RedWolf says:

Personally I am far more offended by extremist "political correctness" views expressed above than any perceived discrimination against gay players. It is Blizzard's game and it's up to them whether such issues are approriate within the game or not. I think they made the right choice.

Posted Jan 30, 2006 10:59:02 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Galiel and RedWolf: So it is your shared stance that it's wrong for people to wish not to hear language that takes an important part of their identity and uses it as terms of abuse and insult, and that it's wrong for them to enjoy the company of like-minded folks? Tell me, if you're white, do you seek out the company of the Nation of Islam? If you're religious, to make it a point to put up with atheist ranters' attacks on your faith, and if you're a skeptic, freethinker, or atheist, do you treat the harangues of the religiously obsessed as just something you ought to be willing to put up with at any time?

It's awfully easy to tell others that they shouldn't seek any relief from being hated and mocked. But so many of those who do that telling are not themselves in a situation where they are regularly hated or mocked as the price of an interaction they otherwise value, and it seems fair enough to ask: what's your qualification for this? If you don't know what it's like, why are you so sure it's not a problem?

I used to be vocally anti-PC and all that myself. The change for me came with sustained experience of physical disability and how people treat the disabled. I am very obviously a middle-class white intellectual - you can look at me and guess that I have professors and engineers in my family tree, and be right. I have few if any mannerisms that would indicate anything more non-standard in my inner life than a fondness for reading and a geekish enthusiasm for new toys. I've twice been the subject of racially motivated violence, once by a black gang and once by a Korean thug trying to impress the local Armenian gang. (Pasedena, CA, is an odd place sometimes.) But basically I went through all my formative years being able to take a lot of social comfort for granted.

That changed when underlying immunological problems started manifesting in what amount to seizures. They're seizure-like episodes, technically, since they don't generate the EEG traces that define "seizures" in clinical terms, but the fact that you need an EEG to tell me apart from an epileptic should say something. Sometimes the seizure is very thorough, and I become completely unresponsive to the world for a while. More often I get a partial impairment, including confusion, stiffness and loss of coordination, and partial loss of the ability to speak. After living with this for more than two decades, I know how to manage it pretty well, but nonetheless, a few times a year, I have a seizure-like episode while away from home and need to get help.

Some people respond better than they'd think they might, and they are (as far as I'm concerned) true heroes, to take up the cause of a stranger doing strange things and needing help of a sort they may have no clue about. I admire and respect such people, a lot. Some people prefer not to get involved, and as long as they're basically polite I've got no real problem with that. Life is demanding, and honestly, it's weird stuff to look at. And then some people are monstrous. They taunt me, or try to rob me, or spit on me. None of that's happened to me very often, but it is all part of my experience.

Gradually I realized, as I got to know friends in various subcultures, that this is much close to routine in their experience. And - this is the key thing - my experiences as an outcast come from something I agree is a disability, a flaw I would fix if my doctors and I could. "Crippleware" is an amusing bit of invective, and I don't mind the idea that my broken immune system has something in common with poorly secured software. Being disabled is not a fundamental part of my sense of self, just a persistent trouble I must deal.

This is very much unlike the situation for black people who don't want to stop being black, they just want to stop being called "nigger" or expected to treat the regalia of the regime that kept their ancestors in slavery as harmless fun. It's likewise true of my gay and bi friends, who'd like the same freedom to mention a love interest that their straight friends have without being accused of "flaunting" it, to gather with friends and never have to worry that passersby will shout insults or attack them for being a bunch of fags, to not hear their inclination in loves used as synonyms for stupidity.

This doesn't seem unreasonable to me, and less and less so the more I had any experience of anything comparable. To me, telling people who hate blacks or gays that they must put up civilly with the fact of others declaring themselves to be that sort of person and looking for others like themselves just isn't a burden. It's certainly much less than than the burden those people will be shouldering every damn day. Just who are you to tell them they must never wish for or seek a relief you can take for granted?

Posted Jan 31, 2006 3:58:14 AM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Another bit of following up to myself:

I do think there's a lot of room to discuss sensible policy on this sort of thing: what state you want, how to get there, priorities for scarce human and other resources, and so on. I think there are probably a lot of good possibilities along with a lot of bad ones. What appals me is the calm and often snide dismissal of the idea that there's any problem here to deal with, which seems to come almost exclusively from people who don't have to experience it themselves and resolutely resist learning about anyone else's lives.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 4:30:34 AM | link

Artheos says:

yap and Bruce,

You completely miss my point.

Any group that applies a label to itself and sets itself apart is actively encouraging being viewed as different.

Segregation (even if the motive is 'from bigotry') increases that bigotry, because the group has identified and labeled themselves 'different'.

I've been in nearly every single MMO released and I choose my guild associations with care, and in the past 8 years or so of visiting these worlds, inside of the guilds I've chosen, I've never seen a GLBT unfriendly environment (as described above).

Of course my basic criteria for associating with any human(s) in any fasion includes maturity.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 5:08:28 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

Artheos, I completely agree that naming oneself as different necessarily segregates you from the rest, whether for better (authority) or worse (unfortune).

But since I'm not really contributing to the discussion overall, I thought I'd point this out:
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/12/23/0354/5492

It's not about GLBT. It's not about politics. Just the nature of the group. And no, I didn't write it. I have held that particular view for a long time, so I felt compelled to share a little bit of what more I've learned along the same lines.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 5:34:55 AM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Artheos, very few of the gay and bi people I've ever known started off labeling themselves - they are responding to being labeled for the simple fact of who they are. Saying "Yes, I love people of my own sex" should be no more an act of isolating and inviting hate-mongering than saying "Yes, I love people of the other sex" or "Yes, I'm white" or anything else about oneself that one didn't choose or cultivate. The problem of being part of any invisible minority is that if you don't say something, people will assume you're not in it and proceed accordingly - I've run into this with people saying cruel and factually wrong things about those with disabilities and what sorts of help they need and how they use them.

Is it really self-isolating for me to say "I've dealt with Social Security's application process myself and you're wrong about the requirements, and how people show they meet the standards"? I don't think so - I think I'm simply being honest about who I am. And I think the same thing when gay people say "I'm gay, and I'm not the sort of child-raping exhibitionist you're making us out to be, and I expect you to manage to refrain from insulting me the same as you do with everyone else in this room".

Posted Jan 31, 2006 10:45:59 AM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Actually, speaking of politeness, I'll wrap this up here. I don't expect that I'm changing anyone's mind, and this is going to drift farther and farther from Terra Nova's purpose. Thank you very much, hosts, for providing the space and for drawing such an interesting audience. :)

No further closing statement from me. On to other topics.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 10:47:51 AM | link

Artheos says:

Bruce,

I don't know that you're following my train of thought. I am a whole person, not just one attribute of my person. I'm not a man/woman, I'm not gay/straight. I'm not african/european. I'm not a cook/surfer pro. These are merely attributes that describe only a portion of my being.

Labels, especially when used in conjunction with a group, emphasize one of those attributes.

This can lead to segregation, we see it all the time in real life. That segregation (chosen or not) leads to lack of understanding from folks who don't 'get it', whatever it is.

Sure, folks can say, I'm different because I've labeled myself? If they want to do that, but instead consider considering oneself the same with different attributes.

Then we're talking about tolerance and understanding.

Just my two cents for whatever they're worth.

As you said though, this is swaying from the original topic, though I find trains of thought that are derivative to be of value too!

Posted Jan 31, 2006 11:52:14 AM | link

yap says:

Arthos, how is your guild criteria (Maturity) any different from their guild criteria (GLBT Friendly) ?

Aren't you creating a label for yourself therefore segregating yourself from everyone else, or whatever? You're arguing semantics and they don't work both ways in this case.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 11:56:10 AM | link

yap says:

Sorry for the mispelling of your handle.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 11:56:49 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

This is a wonderful discussion, and it has illuminated certain aspects of this issue for me. As the most recent contributors note, however, there is a certain amount of straying from the main topic at the moment. The broader issue of 'tribalism', for want of a better word, is perhaps too much for us to tackle here.

The tendency for people to differentiate themselves from one another along any of the multitude of possible axes of identity is a human universal, and in some ways what is most remarkable is that people with significantly different 'affiliations' end up speaking to each other at all. In the case at hand, I hope that we do not forget (as some have noted above) that the 'label' (to put it unfairly) that the recruiting guild put forth was simply a description of the guild in guild chat as 'GLBT-Friendly'. The fact that this may be tantamount to a 'tribalist' for some is a sad commentary on our willingness to be exposed to that with which we disagree.

At times I think that the pressures against open discourse, even about things some may despise, are so many that the situation does not allow us much hope. Then I read a sequence of posts like these, where the tone about a divisive issue has been remarkably good, on the whole, and through which, I can only assume, many of us learned new things as I did. While obviously not every view is represented here, it is enough of a spectrum, imho, to be productive. This involves some risk, of course: the risk of being offended, misunderstood, judged, or harrassed (however one defines it).

While there may be many people and institutions in the world (in the U.S., at least, on both sides of the political spectrum) that would like to turn the fear of that risk into closed boxes of conversation, from which blossom habits of exclusion, it seems to me that down that road is nothing but cultural stagnation.

Of course, Blizzard can do whatever it wants with its "game", but it cannot pretend that whatever choice it makes is somehow innocent, or will somehow hermetically seal the game from these fundamental human concerns. No sufficiently complex, persistent and open-ended world (virtual or otherwise) can be so isolated.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 12:18:14 PM | link

Dann Dana says:

WoW's unfortunate LGB policy? Blizzard discriminating against gays? Banning mention of sexual orientation?

Sadly, what I'm seeing here is the typical "omg I'm being discriminated against" attitude, without any effort to understand Blizzard's position on this.

Blizzard does not want people discussing non-game-related issues in General chat, or does Blizzard want people discussing incendiary issues in General chat.

At no point has Blizzard said Ms. Andrews' guild cannot exist, they have merely said she's not allowed to advertise it in General chat. She has the option to advertise her guild in the game forums, and has been told as much.

Nor would Blizzard allow advertisement of a whites-only guild in General chat, or of a straight guild in General chat, or of a athiest guild in General chat. These are all incendiary issues, and like it or not, homosexuality is an incendiary issue.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 12:46:33 PM | link

yap says:

Nor would Blizzard allow advertisement of a whites-only guild in General chat, or of a straight guild in General chat, or of a athiest guild in General chat. These are all incendiary issues, and like it or not, homosexuality is an incendiary issue.

Perhaps not. There are, however, all-female guilds openly recruiting. I've heard there are also all-hispanic and all-asian guilds, although I've not seen this first hand.

I think it's laughable if true that "Blizzard does not want people discussing non-game related issues in chat" and should remove global and zone-wide chat features from the game, as they do nothing to enhance actual game play.

It's rare that someone actually discusses something game related in these channels.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 1:41:48 PM | link

galiel says:

My point, which seems to have been lost in my admittedly provocative post, was quite simple and pragmatic.

Why is it that, whenever confronted with issues like this, the first and often only instinct of developers is to tighten the censorship, harden the rules, and look to more enforcement? These are not only expensive measures, they are not only measures that scale poorly, but they are, ultimately, counterproductive.

Is it not possible that there are some things worth learning from the free model of civilization rather than the Chinese model which is all the rage?

This is not a binary, either-or argument, which unfortunately most arguments in this industry devolve to. One can learn things from democratic institutions and systems without necessarily turning the servers over to the players.

For example, in non-game online communities, two broad approaches have evolved to managing member comments:

One requires heavy, manual moderation. This is a solution which does not scale well, and which inevitably leads to perceptions of unfairness.

The other seeks to exploit the wisdom fo the masses, by turning over "moderation" tools to the community, in the form of rankings/ratings/& the like. When coupled with strong user tools to filter content by these ratings, this approach has several advantages:

1) It scales well - in fact, the greater the participation, the better it works;

2) It requires few ongoing developer resources--certainly less than human moderation of very-large communities;

3) It eliminates the perception of unfairness or authoritarian overreaching on the part of the developers--which, in turn, helps to reduce the antagonistic, confrontational relationship between (in our terminology) players and developers;

4) By empowering the community as a whole, it gives everyone a stake in the outcome, which, in turn, helps to promote cultural norms which dampen antisocial behavior;

5) It is harder to game (and, if the underlying source is open, easier to patch--and, opening the source makes testers and QA'ers of the entire player community);

6) It adjusts to changing norms and populations in a way that is difficult for developers or human moderators to do;

7) Did I mention it is a *lot* less expensive than human moderation?

Now, an in-game community is not the same as a blog or a forum, and i am not suggesting we can simply port slashdot's solution to a virtual world game.

Rather, this is an example of how democracy can be a useful and cost-effective tool in the service of sustaining and supporting healthy community.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 1:43:04 PM | link

yap says:

I'd just like to add Dann Dana, if your issue is out of game conversation - what's to stop players from saying "Ok, I'm roleplaying a homosexual, and I want to join a guild with other characters who are roleplaying homosexuals, and characters who are cool with homosexuals. Remember, I'm roleplaying! I'm a homodwarf!" Would that situation be okay in your book?

Posted Jan 31, 2006 1:48:13 PM | link

Dann Dana says:

Yap,

Don't attack me for attempting to explain Blizzard's stance. You know nothing about me or my beliefs, yet have chosen to respond with snide remarks.

One of my characters is bisexual. Yet I do not discuss his sexuality in the open, simply because it upsets people. Why would you choose to announce you're gay in General chat, knowing that so many people are going to respond negatively? "Because I shouldn't have to hide who I am." True, but that doesn't stop the fact that there are people playing the game who disapprove of your sexual preferences, and don't want it discussed in General chat.

The solution? Ban all offensive speech. Ban open discussion of sex, politics and religion. Ban racist speech. Warn anyone who tries to form a gay guild, a straight guild, a white guild.

"But there are female guilds and Hispanic guilds!" Yeah, so? Look at each situation. "pst for info about joining an all-female guild." That's not incendiary, nor is it off-topic for the game. "pst for info about joining an all-Hispanic guild." That's also not incendiary, but is off-topic and should be limited to the server's forums. "pst for info about joining a gay-friendly guild." That is incendiary, though not necessarily off-topic as there's no reason to assume there aren't gays in Azeroth. But being a potentially offensive topic, it doesn't belong in General chat.

"But what about all the twelve year olds in Barrens chat, calling one another 'fag' or 'gay' or 'queer'." Separate issue. That's a matter of maturity, as grown-ups hopefully aren't going to speak that way. These people should be reported for harassment, and Blizzard should follow up. If they aren't, they need to. They must state their policy and stick with it.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 2:12:14 PM | link

yap says:

I didn't mean to attack you, I apologize.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 2:20:08 PM | link

RedWolf says:

Galiel and RedWolf: So it is your shared stance that it's wrong for people to wish not to hear language that takes an important part of their identity and uses it as terms of abuse and insult, and that it's wrong for them to enjoy the company of like-minded folks? Tell me, if you're white, do you seek out the company of the Nation of Islam? If you're religious, to make it a point to put up with atheist ranters' attacks on your faith, and if you're a skeptic, freethinker, or atheist, do you treat the harangues of the religiously obsessed as just something you ought to be willing to put up with at any time?

As far as I'm concerned, a guild that preaches Islam or any other real world religion or theology inside an MMORPG is just as inappropriate. Imposing your differences upon others, no matter how subvertly, ruins their gaming experience.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 7:51:16 PM | link

Chip Hinshaw says:

But RedWolf would you agree that there is a bit of a difference between "preaching" homosexuality and simply offering a "meeting place" for folks who have something in common?

I agree with you that a problem arises any time someone uses the platform in a game to push ANY agenda that is not appropriate to the game world. But I don't see anything wrong with saying "Hey, we're all purple here -- if you're purple and want to hang out with other purple people, pst." Yes, I realizes it opens doors for abuse (on both sides), but until THAT occurs there's nothing to mend.

I think this is a case in which the pre-emptive strike carried too much collateral damage.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 8:03:03 PM | link

Dann Dana says:

Chip,

Sara was told to take her advertising out of the game and put it on the forums for her server. Tell me in what way Blizzard has stopped her from continuing to build this meeting place of which you speak.

Like it or not, homosexuality is an incendiary issue. Ask your self this question: How did Blizzard know she was advertising a GLBT-friendly guild in General chat? Answer: Because another user, saw her message, took offense and reported her. Contrary to popular belief, Blizzard doesn't have hundreds of GMs just sitting around watching world chat across all their servers, looking for opportunities to be homophobic. The game's players police the game, and in this case someone saw something they didn't like and filed a report. Blizzard's response? Take it out of the game and put it on the forums. They'd have done the same had a user complained about a Christian guild, a white-only guild, or a Korean guild. A Christian or white supremacist guild is going to be inflammatory, and will get reported. No, formation of a Korean guild isn't an incendiary issue. However, it's off-topic as there are no Koreans in the game world. So, it would also be reported.

I do not understand why people fail to understand that Blizzard is trying to keep the environment free of drama. Sadly, Sara has created more drama by taking this to the press. She is pushing an agenda, and fails to see that Blizzard would have responded the same way to any number of messages on General chat, not just creation of a gay-friendly guild.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 8:21:43 PM | link

Michael W. says:

I do not think Blizzard is evil or homophobic. I want to state at the outset that I don't think there's some super-evil conspiracy of breeders out to shut down teh gayz0rz. So, there you go.

Now, that said...

They've backed themselves into a bit of a logical lambada, haven't they? "We won't allow you to explicitly not break the user agreement because doing so might invite others to break the user agreement" makes about as much sense as someone coming around and telling me I cannot put a No Trespassing sign up on the edge of my property because identifying that invisible line is just inviting would-be trespassers to do their thing in my yard.

Yes, I know, they have very good reasons and they just want to keep the General channel free of non-game chat and keep all the drama of real-life out of the context of the game, yes, yes, yes. I would dearly love to see them tell that to the kid who was running around Stormwind announcing "WTF IS CHICAGO DOING IN PLAYOFS OMFG" on the General channel, over and over. And while they're down there, the other one's got bells on; I do hope they give it a tug just for laughs. Do they all have the General channel turned off? Because let me tell you, that thing might as well be labeled like back when I played on a roleplaying MUX.

I am in a gay-friendly guild. How do I know? Because it's me (and I'm gay), five of my RL friends who live in my town, two RL acquaintances and two people we've gotten to know in-game. (Yes, our guild is that small.) Of those RL friends, I've slept with one of them, so I'm pretty sure we're gay-friendly. I talk about my boyfriend, and on our guild listserv my name is right there being determinedly male, so I am pretty sure we're gay-friendly. It isn't in our guild description anywhere (do we have a guild description anywhere? we don't exactly recruit) but that's because it doesn't need to be. We all know each other and we formed a guild because we wanted to play with people we could stand. Two of us used to be in a different guild. I was, in fact, one of the founding members of that guild. I bailed out shortly after two college students who are friends RL joined and proceeded to spend all their time calling each other variants of "fag" on the Guild channel and, in so doing, producing endless mirth in our Guild Leader. When I pointedly slapped someone down for calling someone else "so gay," yeah, it got a laugh and a day's worth of abstention from doing so, and then it fired right back up. I don't think they were actively homophobic, either, I think they just don't think about it. It bothered me enough to move on to smaller but infinitely friendlier pastures.

And yet, I am forced to remember the night I was running around Strangle Thorn Vale on National Coming Out Day. Someone posted a mock guild advertisement on the General channel. I don't remember it exactly, but a close paraphrasing is: "Holy Defenders is recruiting Christian players of characters of all classes, levels and races. NO HOMOS!!" What was the immediate response? A dozen people exploded, basically; the General channel was for five minutes the bleeding edge of the battle for queer equality. Every single response in-channel was someone telling the advertiser exactly what to do with their "no homos" guild; suffice to say, a precise description might get this comment removed. The poster of the advertisement very quickly apologized and explained that they were trying to make a joke about all the homophobia people hear in chat and that it was National Coming Out Day and, please, could people in Booty Bay stop trying to duel them? That was a moment that surprised the heck out of me. I didn't even have time to compose something in the form of a response. As I said to my boyfriend later: "The twelve-year-olds of the world all of a sudden had my back. When did I fall asleep, that I woke up and it was the 21st Century all of a sudden?"

What's my point? My point is that there are plenty of homophobes, yes, and Blizzard probably is saving themselves a huge headache here because there are a bunch of nitwits who would jump all over a guild given the chance. But I also think that they are denying everyone a genuine learning opportunity - denying it to their players and themselves. Has Ms. Andrews reported a higher incidence of in-game harassment? Were her guildies worried that they were going to be harassed by other players? From what she said in her emails to them, her guildies were afraid of Blizzard, not the foul-mouthed, age-defying children on their realm. I think if Blizzard had responded by saying that they were sorry for the misunderstanding and that they would remove the warning and that they hoped Ms. Andrews would reconsider her advertisement's specificity (perhaps replacing it with an admonishment that hate speech in general is not tolerated, a perfectly respectable PoV because I, too, would like to see all the haters encouraged to shut their pie-holes, not just the homophobes) - or, better yet, if Blizzard had simply round-filed the complaint in the first place and simply never commented - they would have been surprised at the response. In-game, players police the players far more often than any GM. Ignore lists are there for a reason. The profanity filter is there for a reason. I think the wisest thing possible would have been for Blizzard to do nothing and see what happened. I think they would have been surprised. I think maybe nothing much at all would have happened.

Of course, it's their game, that's true; and, in all honesty, I'm still playing it and still sending them my gay $14.99/month for the privilege. But they're being awfully disingenuous if they want to claim that the game is there purely as escape and not to deal with real-world issues. If they want to pretend no one learns about real life from their game, then maybe they haven't visited their own Auction Houses. Maybe they simply removed inter-faction communication by accident rather than as a way of mimicking the real-world tools of propaganda and demonization employed in times of war. Maybe they stuck in all those quests and storylines about love and loss and passion and hatred and revenge and redemption to give me something to do, just to kill time, and not to draw on the dramatic power of universal themes and common experience in the real world. To claim that they're just over there, busily filling in gaps in the 4th wall, whistling while they brick over pesky sexuality and hatred derived from such and the casual abuse that comes from simple thoughtlessness, but to let in so much else because, you know, what a pain it would be to really enforce their policies - well, it doesn't make me think very highly of them, and it really makes me question how highly they think of me; not in terms of my sexuality, mind you, but in terms of how dumb they must think me to be.

Posted Jan 31, 2006 10:10:10 PM | link

Michael W. says:

Oh, dang - that was supposed to read Because let me tell you, that thing might as well be labeled OOC like back when I played on a roleplaying MUX, only I put the OOC in brackets because that's how it was on that MUX, and that made it not show up. Huff!

Posted Jan 31, 2006 10:13:27 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Those WoW players don't like the thought of gay players can always go onto the RP servers. Gay characters are not the same as gay players.

On the theory side, that's what all this comes down to: the difference between players and characters. A guild of female/gay/dwarf/paladin characters is RP-valid, whereas a guild of Shinto/French-speaking/one-eyed/chiropractor players is not RP-valid. If you advertised a guild for GLBT members on a RP-server, you'd be asking for GLBT characters; if you advertised one on a regular server, you'd be asking for GLBT players. If you find the very notion of GLBT offensive, you don't play virtual worlds where it makes RP sense as part of the backstory fiction.

That said, given that WoW has an NPC whose name is an anagram of Ernest Hemingway, an island with the same name as the one in Thomas the Tank Engine and a harbour statue openly riffing off the one in Rio de Janeiro, its RP credentials could perhaps be better...

That was the theory side. On the practical side, if Blizzard allowed a GLBT guild then they'd have problems with players forming anti-GBLT guilds. They'd have problems with people who were anti-GBLT role-playing being GBLT but in an offensive manner. They'd have people forming anti-anti-GBLT guilds to identify homophobic players so they could report/harass them. They'd get this for every strain of real-world single-issue politics and beyond.

It's far easier in such circumstances simply to sweep the whole lot under the carpet and enforce an RP approach even on non-RP servers. You can create a guild of players who are all lawyers or all Manchester United supporters or all RL GLBT, you just don't get to advertise your guild on that basis. It may be important to you that every member of your guild is a card-holding Communist or a Scientologist or a Harry Potter fan or a virtual world researcher, but frankly the rest of us don't want to know.

It looks as if this "we don't want to know" approach is what Blizzard is adopting, albeit inconsistently as they've allowed the advertisement of RP-breaking guilds in the past (ones for all-female players, for example). Oh well, they live and learn...

Richard

Posted Feb 1, 2006 4:51:27 AM | link

F Nostrum says:

I'm not sure how many people here actually PLAY on a mmorpg? To me, this is simple. I don't give a damn who the player is.. really i just don't care. I DO care what the character they are playing is. The point here is that I am male but play characters not related to my real world self. I role play as a female or male and as miser or a braggart. I might also RP as a gay character and i have. I don't want people bringing their real world into a fantasy world.... which is what WoW is.
This also goes for those players who make abusive comments on wow, abusive comments taken for the real world. eg 'you bunch of gays' etc. It’s these people that blizzard is trying to police.

It’s about keep the two worlds separate.

If you introduce real world communities, e.g. a group of players who are all parking wardens in RL and then transfer knowledge of that identity to the fantasy world… you will inevitably get comments, right or wrong, related to the real world and directed at the player and not the character eg “I hate all you parking warden Nazis’ or ‘do you give everyone tickets or….etc” basically it’s either abusive or Out Of Character.

This just makes policing this sort of behaviour a hell of a lot harder then it already is when it shouldn’t have to be. It’s hard enough dealing with the abusive idiots at the moment who can’t seem to grasp what a fantasy word is.

WoW is not a forum, chat room, blog… it’s a fantasy world.

Please just create a character that lives in the fantasy world.. don't tie it to your real self. This is not trying to blank out the realities of human nature, part of which is a mix of gay and straight people, this is about letting those groups evolve naturally online. Just keep the nature of your real world group to yourselves. I and many mmorpg players - just - don’t – care - who you really are and don’t want to know either. If you want to role-play ‘gay’ then great.

I really don’t see that anyone has a right to impose their world on to a fantasy world.

So how about a guild for role-playing gay characters? It should be fine. But WoW now has such a large audience that it’s attracted people from all walks of life. Open minded, narrow minded and those who know how to role play. I make the distinction because this is essentially a role-playing game, whether you are open minded or not. And the point is that it now has a large percentage of players who just don’t get it and these players are made up of open-minded tolerant people as well as narrow minded fools.

So a line has to be drawn, albeit a fuzzy grey one. And blizzard has to do it. Is it going to favour the sort of people who want the game to be nothing more then an animated chat community? a fantasy world? Or a compromise? Life, real or otherwise is always a compromise.

Maybe it HAS to be gay characters but not specifically gay guilds just as there are straight characters but not specifically straight guilds.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 7:06:36 AM | link

Naomi Clark says:

Honestly, F Nostrum, that comment makes me wonder whether you've played this *specific* MMORPG or not. The incident in question did not happen on a RP server, which are pretty much the only servers in World of Warcraft where there's a significant expectation of unbroken in-game fiction and in-character roleplay. The general chat channels, especially, are not a communications medium that you can listen to and feel like you're immersed in a fantasy world with no presence of the real world. Real-world references abound, whether it's pop music or sports or player's mothers making them quit playing. At least that is my experience on a couple different non-RP servers.

People form guilds for all sorts of reasons, many of which lead back to finding people who you can compatibly play with. One kind I've seen advertised a lot is a guild that's explicitly for people who don't have a huge amount of time to play but are interested in organized activities like raiding, and the recruiting often talks about having jobs and other committments. This also tends to select for adults, and so forth. This kind of "finding people like you" are extremely important for a positive gameplay experience and for the kind of stronger-tie play-group that are the building blocks of a huge community.

On some servers (RP servers) this kind of discussion tends to happen outside the actual game, because discussion of the real world is prohibited. But on most servers, it happens wherever and nobody bats an eyelash. It's only *certain* kinds of people looking to find each other that end up prohibited because of the threat of harassment by angry rule-breaking players who can't keep their personal opinions of others to themselves. So there's definitely a double standard there.

It's also worth noting that in-game immersion is not one of the reasons cited by Blizzard for their disciplinary action against Sara Andrews. They have said repeatedly that they did so to keep her from "inviting harassment" and from "inciting certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game." In other words, they don't want a flame war, and they don't want Sara Andrews to get flamed over her comments. But apparently, they have no problem with her comments themselves, and invited her to make them elsewhere (in a less frequented, isolated corner). If flaming is really the problem, why blame someone who's not flaming? Shouldn't there be rules against harassment and flame wars? Oh wait, there already are; Blizzard is apparently trying to take a short cut, which may be more economical for them, but comes at the cost of some players' ability to do what most players want to do: find others with similar playstyle and compatible social mores to play with.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 9:45:12 AM | link

Timothy Burke says:

Last summer, I was part of a panel that included some Terra Novans talking about the long-term legal and social implications of MMOGs.

I specifically brought up what I thought was a good illustrative example from World of Warcraft. I was in Stranglethorn Vale one evening when a player on general chat suddenly started complaining about an instance group that had gone bad. Ok, that's a relatively common experience. Then the player said, "It's because Player X [the one that the speaker blamed for the misadventure] is a Jew." The general chat channel went silent. The speaker moved on to start talking more general anti-Semitism.

Ok. Now what? The game offers a number of paths, some of which are distinctly unavailable to us in the real world.

First, you can absolutely, almost as a matter of virtual physics, block all communications from a player you don't want to hear from using /ignore. This is potentially more than just a personal convenience: a player who is on many people's /ignore lists begins to be a player whose sociality and thus in-game capacity is seriously diminished. If the entire chat channel goes bad, you can leave it, and in the case of general chat, you're probably not losing much by doing so.

Second, you can potentially organize substantial in-game sanctions against such a player using informal or non-game-mechanical social capacities. A player who becomes known as a loot ninja, for example, is in serious danger of exclusion from many groups. A player who gains a reputation for quitting instances after getting what he wants and leaving his group high and dry may suffer the same. Why not a player who is overtly bigoted? It's certainly possible to imagine such a sanction.

But third, WoW, like many MMOGs, offers the opportunity to petition a GM to intervene. The problem is that Blizzard knows as well as we know (it's already been mentioned many times in this thread) that this sort of management of expression doesn't scale at all well. It requires GMs to make many decisions about what constitutes a reasonable complaint. If it becomes known that almost any complaint will be deemed reasonable, players begin to use reports to the GM as proxy tools of player-vs-player combat. So it behooves any MMOG management to set the threshold for "reasonable offense " very high to discourage player reports.

What Blizzard just did is set that threshold selectively low in one particular case. This is from a pure labor and management perspective a stupid thing to do. But it's more than that: unless they meant to set it similarly low across the board, it effectively endorses the position that the mere mention of GLBT identities is in fact *more* offensive than the usual general chat chatter in many zones about how a certain monster just raped a group, or about how one character wants to see another's tits, or what have you. The vast majority of players in WoW just ignore or bypass speech that they find annoying or potentially offensive. That should be the standard which applies, whether it's some guy in Barrens chat talking about how fucking gay it is that someone ninja-looted an item or some guy talking about his new GLBT-friendly guild. It should take a lot for a GM to say, "Any reasonable person would be offended by this". Any other standard is going to be in practice hypocritical and in pure managerial terms a badly-scaled nightmare.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 11:12:49 AM | link

galiel says:

For the record, I don't necessarily share Redwolf's opinions on this issue. Not sure why I was lumped in there (except that some people don't read very carefully), since I didn't even express an opinion about the appropriateness of the player's behavior or express an opinion about political correctness. Rather, my comments were exclusively about what is the most effective way for developers to learn from a situation like this. I suggested that an authoritarian approach may not be the most effective one, and that, instead, there may be lessons to be learn from the way civilized free societies deal with the inevitable conflicts between freedom of speech and freedom from harassment, the latter being a particularly subjective experience least amenable to automated or rigid solutions based on predetermined rules.

I continue to be amazed at how determined MMO developers are to exclude the one unique asset we have that single-player games lack--the ability to tap into the collective wisdom of naturally intelligent beings.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 11:17:43 AM | link

Ditchwitch says:

"The GBLT peeps are not bringing politics, or beliefs, or a statement, or whatever else to the game. They would like to be in a guild without the constant pain of dealing with people that hate them. How about believing them on that?"

Oh boy, of all the perspectives I've seen on this issue this one nails it on the head! The bigotry in WOW is the worst, whether sexist or racist of any space I inhabit, digital or analog. In a real way this isn't Blizzard's fight. It's up to the players to alter the culture, and that will only happen if large numbers of players decide that these virtual spaces can and should transcend the cultural level of a jr. high school locker room.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 12:57:23 PM | link

Artheos says:

Ditchwitch> The bigotry in WOW is the worst, whether sexist or racist of any space I inhabit, digital or analog.

True enough, but the resolution certainly isn't to stick our heads in the sand and hide from it either. Or segregate ourselves from it either.

The best way to educate and inform is through small groups, in a huge society such as WoW, that can be effected through guilds, not by isolated the affected people, but by integrated and educating those that aren't informed.

Of course, I'm an idealist, what do I know!?

Posted Feb 1, 2006 5:08:39 PM | link

galiel says:

Ditchwitch, environment affects behavior. Rules affect behavior. Affordances affect behavior. Culture affects behavior. All these are things over which developers have varying but significant degrees of control.

Take the same people and put them in an Olympic stadium in pre-war Yugoslavia, and they will behave quite differently than on the wrecked streets of post-disintegration Serbia. Same people, vastly different behavior.

To absolve developers of all responsibility for the games they develop and blame the players for, essententially, doing what the environmental affordances, rules, gameplay and story-culture encourage them to do, is simply poor design sensibility.

It is also futile. As products designed to make money, the "futile" part should draw some interest or at least merit some discussion.

Posted Feb 1, 2006 5:15:15 PM | link