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Blizzard Plays It a Bit Too Safe

Blizzard has been making news this week with a recent warning issue to Sara Andrews, a World of Warcraft guild leader, to stop advertising or recruiting for her guild. The guild in question, called Oz, is a "GLBT friendly" guild, meaning its members are open to the possibility that their guildmates may be of an alternative sexual orientation, and will not engage in insults or other derogatory behavior. Blizzard, however, feels that this sort of thing has no place in the game. A company rep responded to the controversy on the game's official forums:
We encourage community building among our players with others of similar interests, and we understand that guilds are one of the primary ways to forge these communities. However, topics related to sensitive real-world subjects -- such as religious, sexual, or political preference, for example -- have had a tendency to result in communication between players that often breaks down into harassment.

Blizzard's point is that discussing sexual matters in open chat leads to harassment, but the guild in question was not discussing such matters in open chat, they were merely informing other players that a guild exists where they can have such discussion in private, precisely to avoid running into the problems Blizzard claims will occur.

A Shacker and World of Warcraft player named James S. was aware of the guild in question. "I used to play on that server. Advertisements were merely of the form '< Oz > is currently recruiting members! We are a GLBT friendly guild!'," he states. "From what I recall (correct me if I'm wrong), nothing inflammatory or offensive." When I contacted him for further comment, he made the important point that MMOs are by their nature social games, and it is only to be expected that many players will want a place where they can speak freely, especially through private channels, about their lives.

Some may say that such guilds have no place existing in a video games at all--it's a game, why bring sexuality into it? Well, the reality is that the best and most enjoyable guilds to be in are the ones whose members have a strong rapport, who can feel free to shoot the breeze in guild chat, and who enjoy chatting while performing what is, in many cases, repetitive gameplay. When I was a more regular WoW player, my guild was that way; somebody might mention something that happened with his girlfriend that day in the context of a conversation, and it was just part of the overall flow of our guild chat channel. If a male player was in guild chat, and brought up his boyfriend in the exact same context, he'd probably have to deal with a lot of backlash and, since these games take place on the internet, plenty of negative comments.

It seems perfectly reasonable that a guild made up of members who will not hold prejudice against that type of conversation--and it's worth reiterating that, as Andrews points out, the guild is "'GLBT-friendly,' not 'GLBT-only'"--would want to inform other like-minded players about the guild's existence.

As far as Blizzard goes, I certainly do not believe, as I have seen suggested elsewhere, that Blizzard is somehow anti-gay or pro-bigotry. The company has a clause in its terms of use prohibiting "language which insultingly refers to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players." In their attempt to protect players, the company has played it a bit too safe. In the case of Andrews' innocuous advertisement, it's tough to find any insulting language. In fact, language insulting to gays (and any ethnicity, and disabled people, and so on) runs rampant throughout chat channels in games like World of Warcraft, completely unprovoked. I see it every time I log in, any time of day, and it's disheartening to see it run rampant while Blizzard mismanages the situation by stopping legitimate guild advertisement. I do not suggest Blizzard institute a zero-tolerance censorship policy to compensate; rather, they should simply allow interested players to be aware of a guild that specifically does not want any part of that kind of insulting chat.

Speaking of innocent sexual language being used in the game, Blizzard built plenty of it into the shipping product, which makes this situation even more absurd. There is a "/flirt" emote with many prerecorded lines of dialogue, including one that states, "Homogenized? No way, I like the ladies!" In fact, when I was just now in the game cycling through the pre-recorded "/flirt" emotes in order to find that one, another male character walked up to me and repeatedly invoked the "/sexy" emote, which appeared to me as "Circuitjerky thinks you are a sexy devil." Should I have reported this behavior to a GM? Somebody could have been insulted!