Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Keep politics out of WoW

The internet is awash with a story on sexual discrimination of homosexuals by Blizzard. But on closer inspection Blizzard's attitude of not allowing a guild to market itself as being gay and lesbian friendly is quite reasonable. Blizzard is not taking a position in the culture war, it is trying to keep that culture war out of a game into which it doesn't belong.

Frankly, to people outside the USA the American culture war between the moralist right and the liberal left has become a bit tiring, and an object of ridicule. The right is quick to see moral dangers in the most harmless things, for example teletubbies. And the political correct left is as quick as labeling anything they don't like "discrimination". Meanwhile the world shakes it head on how serious people could start to get into a fight about somebody wishing you "merry christmas".

Whatever flak they are getting for that, game companies running MMORPG are wise to keep that culture war out of virtual worlds. There being no sex at all in World of Warcraft, we don't need gay-friendly guilds, nor would we need a NRA-friendly guild, a Democrat-only guild, or a christian guild. These are all concepts that only have meaning in the outside world, while being meaningless in-game.

The only discrimination in a MMORPG which *does* make sense is one of language. The recent story of discrimination against non-english speakers in WoW might well be misrepresented. If a group refuses to take on a 5th player who doesn't speak their language, it is often for the practical reason of communication, not some sort of racism. When I was playing Final Fantasy XI, which has international servers, I was often not invited by some Japanese group, because they didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Japanese. That is totally normal. On the European servers there are lots of language-based guilds, of every European language from Italian to Swedish. Who can blame the Swedes for wanting to have a guild chat in their native language?

By the way, if somebody sends me a tell of "we r goin to SM, u wanna join?", I will discriminate against him and not accept his invitation, even if I would otherwise like to join a group for the Scarlet Monastery. Not for reasons of racism, the writer of the above sentence is most probably white, but for the simple reason that I don't like to group with immature idiots. There is a strong correlation between bad SMS-style English, and bad behavior in a group.
Just out of curiosity, how would you classify the racially coded emotes of the male and female trolls? Have you noticed that they sound Jamaican? They say things like "How would you like some of my jungle love?"

Does this sort of game content intersect with real world racial politics?

What about the girlish emotes of almost all of the female characters in the game? How about the pole-dancing sexuality of the female night elves? Does this sort of game content intersect with real world gender politics?

I love your blog, but I think that the dividing line between "the culture war" and Azeroth might not be as clear-cut as you think.
Regarding the comment "there being no sex at all in World of Warcraft, we don't need gay-friendly guilds."

Check out:

Eldritch Erotica

I think that is another typical example of paranoia. Trolls have a Jamaican accent, dwarves have a Scottish accent. To get them saying silly things, you need to actively use emotes like "/flirt" or "/silly". To nearly everybody in the world that is just an entertaining feature of a game. For an American proponent of "political correctness", a troll mentioning jungle love with a Jamaican accent is racial discrimination. I wonder when the Scots will start to complain about the dwarves. Furthermore the trolls in World of Warcraft are described as having a much older and higher degree of culture and architecture than the humans.

Female characters depicted as sexy or girlish is not "gender politics", it is marketing. Fact is that the sexy night elves you mentioned are the most popular race in the game, so that Blizzard is now using the same form for the blood elves, to give the Horde a sexy race too. The sexiest females are usually played by teenage male players, for obvious reasons. Of course that is commercial exploitation of the natural attractiveness of the female form to the male buyer, but that is the oldest advertising trick in the book, and hardly unique to WoW. Females are in no way discriminated against in the game, a female character has exactly the same stats as a male one. If somebody doesn't like the form or the emotes, he/she is welcome to play a male character instead, a freedom which is considerably easier in WoW than in the real world.

What happens is that many Americans are so used to see everything with culture-war-tinged glasses, that they can't even see a game as a game, everything "must" be politics. And that is exactly what is wrong. MMORPG is a form of escapism, and you can't escape if you carry the real world with you all of the time.
Even cyber sex is just a projection of real world concepts on a game world. The avatars in WoW don't have sex, their players have. Just like two telephones can't have sex, but you can have telephone sets by using them.

You can undress your WoW avatars and move them into positions which are suggestive, and there are a couple of videos about that out there. But actually WoW doesn't know the difference between a male and a female, and there is no reproduction.
Have you ever played on a U.S. server? If you haven't, you wouldn't know the real reason these people want to create gay-friendly guilds.

Log onto a U.S. server, create a character and take the toon to The Barrens (or stay in Goldshire). Spend an hour there reading the general chat channel. Count how many times you see someone use the words "faggot", "gay", "nigger", and other such words. Then, imagine you were gay or black, and tell me how easily you could suspend your disbelief in such a hostile, hateful environment.

These people create these guilds to protect themselves from such garbage. So many times, I've joined a raid group or party, and at some point someone accuses someone else of being "gay" or "a faggot".

If you are European (and I grew up in Greece, by the way), then let me ask you this: how would you like it if a bunch of Germans or Austrians went around yelling into chat channels that all the "fags", "Jews" and "niggers" should die horrible deaths, and made jokes about Zyklon-B and Auschwitz?

You'll tell me that we should report these people, and Blizzard will cancel their accounts. WRONG. A very significant portion of Blizzard customer base are such people, and they would rather alienate the very tiny portion of their clients who are discriminated against, rather than such a large fanbase who hate gay people or black people.

I once reported a very insulting little brat who was saying such things in the General channel in The Barrens (it happens a lot there and in Goldshire, because most teenagers don't have the attention span to make it past level 10 or 15, so they hang out there and carry on annoying conversations betraying their low intelligence and petty hatreds). I then added him to my Friends list, and checked every day to see if he was playing. For many weeks, he was on every single time I logged on. Blizzard never did anything to him because of my complaint.

So these people who feel threatened or uncomfortable want to create a guild where they can chat with others, without having to put up with the General chat channel. Denying them this is discriminatory, because you are FORCING them to put up with behavior that violates Blizzard's TOS.

Also, Blizzard doesn't mind religion-based guilds (there are Christian guilds on some servers). They don't want GLBT guilds because they make their best customers, the hateful, immature teenagers, uncomfortable.
Yes, I played on a US server for three months. And yes, there are immature jerks on both US and European servers, using all kinds of dirty words, usually highly insulting to whatever group is mentioned, be it gays, blacks, or people on a special education program.

And founding the "Gay Dwarves of Ironforge" guild is helping how? It will *increase* the amount of harassment for its members, not diminish it. I always joined guilds of mature players, and all my guild chats were generally free of insults, without any need to label the guild gay-friendly.

You are totally right that reporting people doesn't work. Because WoW customer service in general doesn't work. There is no right-wing conspiracy from Blizzard to protect a hateful large playerbase against a minority, that is just paranoia. You can test it yourself, make a guild with the name "Nigger-Bashers" or "Screw all gays" and see how fast you get banned. It is simply *mentioning* gays in a guild name or description that is forbidden, not being for or against them.

That Blizzard doesn't have enough people to ban everybody using such words in general chat, where they don't leave such a visible trace like in a guild description, is a totally different problem.
It is very difficult to agree or disagree without being biased. The liberal left will disagree, but disagreement doesn't make you liberal left. The conservative right will agree, but agreement doesn't make you conservative.

I can't read the comment from l'emmerdeur without thinking, "What a clueless liberal." Likewise a liberal won't be able to read the original post without thinking, "What a narrow minded conservative."

I am curious as to how anyone thinks that announcing a sexual preference could possibly reduce harrassment from less tolerent individuls. Congratulations on finding a group of like minded friends, but why paint a target on your back?

In your reply to my (anonymous) post, you said the ideas were a "typical example of paranoia."

I think you may misunderstand the definition of the word paranoia, or perhaps you misunderstand the argument that I'm making.

I'm not suggesting that Blizzard or the game designers are engaged in some sort of conscious conspiracy to promote racist and sexist stereotypes. Rather, I'm proposing that they are unconsciously reinforcing stereotypes connected to race and gender.

Each one of us is a conduit for ideas and assumptions about how the world operates. We are all influenced by cultural and political ideology, and the nature of these belief systems is different for each of us.

Even when creating or playing "escapist entertainment," we cannot escape our ideological framework. It is part of who we are, and how we are wired. This network of beliefs and assumptions does not disappear when we enter into the game.

Like it or not, the pole-dancing Night Elf is an example of the airhead, stripper stereotype. The Jamaican-sounding troll making jokes about the length of his extremities is tapping into an age-old racist stereotype about the sexual endowment of African men. The Jamaican-sounding troll talking about jungle love is tapping into a classic racist trope about the "sensual and animal nature" of African men.

The fact that other games promote the same stereotypes, and the fact that teenage male players might enjoy these stereotypes, does not change the fact that they are sterotypes.

It is not paranoid to recognize this. All it requires is a clear head and the willingness to acknowledge this planet's cultural history. (It is not just an American thing.)

I would argue that it *is* paranoid to deny the existence of these types of stereotypes. This denial seems to cloak an irrationally paranoid fear that acknowledging the political dimension of games will spell the end of our fun.
Call me paranoid, but I think focusing on the political dimension of games does spell the end of our fun.
Of course nearly any game world is loaded with references to the real world. Tauren live in villages that are easily recognized as American Indian, while humans have a medieval European environment. Trolls have a jungle background, but if you opened your eyes you would see that this is definitely an Incan / Maya type of jungle, and not African. And last time I checked Jamaica was not in Africa either, although of course lots of Jamaicans are of African descent.

Why, oh why is using a Scottish accent for dwarves funny, but using a Jamaican accent for trolls racist?

Race or gender discrimination is a bad thing in the real world, because people can't choose their race or gender (although some people try to modify theirs). But in WoW, if you play a troll or a women, it is because you wanted to play one. If for some reason you don't like the dance animation or the accent of the race of your toon, delete it and make another character.

Stereotypes certainly do exist, but you fail to see the funny side of them. Look at any comedy in movies and TV, and you will realize that most of them are based on stereotypes, be it "Will & Grace" or "Legally Blonde". Going on a crusade to eliminate all stereotypes from the world would certainly be anti-fun, as well as irrealistic. And I'd argue it is the wrong priority anyway. The important thing is that nobody is discriminated against in spite of stereotypes, not to eliminate the stereotype itself.
You are all implying that the guild name in question specifically referenced their sexual proclivity or a blatant sexual preference. I would be against that as well. I don't want to see "Gay Dwarves of Ironforge" (although I find it hysterical). It is inapporopriate.

To quote the original advertisement:

"Andrews' original posting read: "OZ [the name of her guild] is recruiting all levels ¦ We are not 'GLBT only,' but we are 'GLBT friendly'! ("

How is the guild name "OZ" in any way related to sexuality or sexual preference - or sex, period?

But advertising that they are gay-friendly doesn't mean guild chat is going to consist of steamy gay cybersex, only that you won't hear the usual gay-bashing and hatemongering.

I told my girlfriend about the "clueless liberal" over the phone as I took apart my friend's new Accuracy International .308 sniper rifle and played around with his venerable H&K .40 S&W Compact. She was as highly amused as I was.

I think what these GLBT people aren't getting across (and that is their own fault) is that they are really looking for an adult, sympathetic environment where everybody isn't looking to out-snark one another or out-insult one another, where they don't have to tolerate being insulted by narrow-minded teenagers with an axe to grind.

I am certainly not one to side with the "Jamaican accents on trolls are racist" contingent.

As for my conspiracy theory, that Blizzard is lax when it comes to enforcing certain sections of its TOS - well, I'd like someone to explain this phenomenon. Why do certain behaviors get sanctioned immediately, while others go unpunished for weeks after neing reported?

Can you point to any place in the above messages where I called for elimination of stereotypes? I merely pointed to them as examples of real world political influences. The phrase "jungle love" and jokes about the size of the troll's equipment are historically grounded, racially-coded references. Using a Jamaican accent for a troll is not racist. Using a Jamaican accent to make a troll joke about the size of his genitals is racially coded at best.

As for the presence of individuals of African descent in Jamaica, "During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 - 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labor."

The history of slavery -- and the racist tropes used to perpetuate it -- does not disappear when you enter into Azeroth. I'm not calling for the elimination of all potentially offensive stereotypes -- not even the trolls' spoken emotes. I'm simply pointing out that it is naive to believe that politics and culture do not play a role in virtual worlds.
l'emmerdeur I apologize for using your post specifically, but it made a good example (I thought) of the point I wanted to make. I don't mean to call you a clueless or a liberal, just as I don't really think of myself as a narrowminded. I can't really clarify what I was saying, so I won't try.

I still wonder why any group frequently targetted by harrasment would want to advertise the thing that makes them a target.

Morgan Freeman was interviewed recently and made an interesting comment about racism (which I think is somewhat related to the topic). I wish I could find the article or remember the quote exactly, but I can't. Essentially what he said was that we should stop the whole black history month thing, because black history is american history. He also said "the only way we will overcome racism is if you stop calling me a black man and I stop calling you a white man."

As someone already mentioned, the guild should have simply been looking for mature adults instead of advertising how they are different from the majority of the population.
Some of you are missing the point that these are GLBT-friendly guilds.. NOT GLBT-only guilds.

Everyone should have the right to advertise a social group that doesn't allow sexuality-based hate language. That is all they are doing, and all that they want. Hell, it's all I want, I'm sick of being in guilds where I have to ignore bigots. I know many GLBT folks who have to be careful what they say about their gender in real life when mentioning in guild-chat their girlfriend/boyfriend, in order to avoid being found out. How is having a guild that prevents this scenario a bad thing?

Yet of course keep in mind Blizzard allows Christian-only guilds to form.. no problem! Not just Christian-friendly, Christian-only!
"As for my conspiracy theory, that Blizzard is lax when it comes to enforcing certain sections of its TOS - well, I'd like someone to explain this phenomenon. Why do certain behaviors get sanctioned immediately, while others go unpunished for weeks after neing reported?"

Thats the only really easy question in this thread. :) Basically if you mention anything forbidden (which includes anything sexual) in a general chat or any other transitory chat, you have a really high chance to get away with it. Either chat is not logged at all, or the logs are so huge that nobody ever looks at them. Only if a GM is watching the chat at the moment, will any sanction follow. The famous "reporting" of people does nothing, exactly like the reporting of bugs does nothing.

But if you put the very same words into a permanent text, somebody is going to check it, and come after you. The guild name is the most obvious, but there is also a guild description in the guild interface, as well as MOTD. Any of these you have a high chance of getting caught when mentioning something inappropriate.

Mentioning sex, straight or gay, for or against, in a guild description will most probably get you banned. You *are* allowed to advertise your guild as not allowing any form of hate-based language. You are not allowed to say it is "GLBT-friendly", nor are you allowed to specify "no nigger bashing in guild chat", for the same reason: By spelling it out, you just invite the hate.

And here is the Morgan Freeman quote, to which I totally agree. Calling something by its name is discrimination, and positive discrimination only produces negative discrimination. We have a chance to play in a hate free environment, because nobody can see that we are black, transsexual, or a martian. People shouldn't be allowed to drag the real world inside the game by destroying this veil.
Tobold, I agree with your last post. Blizzard could easily fix this by giving us a much larger or unlimited ignore list. A few months of play would provide for a very rich filter excluding such bigoted asstards, and remove the need for such guilds.
I'm a gay WoW player. I'm from the United States. I play on US servers. And, as ugly and musclebound as they try to make the Males of the races, I still have a soft-spot for them : D

But the point is, I think that the degree of Hetero-normality is rather large. The interactions with any sort of sexual (even in a joking way such as flirting or otherwise) are MEANT to happen between a male and female. I don't particularly care because it's a game.

The one thing that gets me is that everything, no matter what it is, is gay. Not stupid, not lame, but gay. That bothers me, but that's also the internet. I can't do anything about it so I don't worry about it. I do, however, think that those who say that there is no gender in WoW are wrong, there are differences between the genders, even if it is just suggested or implied.
As a flamingly blatant heterosexual, I agree with Bank, I don't like everything being "gay". Call a spade a spade (hehe, sorry for the the blatant sterotype). Stupid or idiotic are perfectly good words, but we have the teen talk of "gay".

USA is, unfortunately for some, a free country, where anyone can hate anyone, and can say it. Let's all take a lesson from Bank. It's a game, based on hetero-dominant culture. There are stereotypes, and those stay with us. Enjoy what you can, try to ignore the rest is my advice.
I was raised conservative but tend to sit on the fence and simply poke into what I feel like on whatever side I feel like.

Some simple points to make here.

1) I've played on a US Server for almost half a year now. There's occasional rubbish but hardly an overwhelming wave of hatred streaming through the entire server threatening to destroy everything decent. It is also generally used in general insult not as a way to put down a certain race or lifestyle. From what I've seen, the morons who throw out the insults don't really know the person they are insulting.

2) It is a silly marketing move by Blizz to remove an "innocent" form of lifestyle advertising. However, if a lifestyle which is against the law begins to show then it becomes a problem. I am not offended by the gay community, I am offended by the pedifilic community. And, not saying the two are the same, but when you are just looking at a name of a Guild (or any org) the lines can blur very easily. Blizz may be taking the safest way out on that end of things. Or maybe the easiest is closer to the truth.

3) People get way too offended way too easily in this day and age. Same thing happened when the new(er) Star Wars movies were realeased. Jar Jar sounds Jamaican so Star Wars is a racist evil franchise. I noticed the Japanese wern't up in arms about the greedy aliens that sounded Japanese.

4) Companies have the right to serve or not serve whatever customer they choose. Keep that in mind. You have the right to use or not use a product or play a game that you find offensive. I.E. I find it a bit offensive to make popular stealing cars and killing cops and, as such, I don't buy the GTA series of games though I love the hell out of the gameplay. I find the themse offensive and, as such, no money to Rockstar Games. It really is that simple.
Oh, of course, you also have the right to complain on a blog about whose the most mistreated :)

"Yes, there's many kinds of disgrace. There's the kind where your son is a bit weird and kinky and then there's the kind where you let your son die because you were embarrased by him. And if you don't sign this treatment form, I'll go to every dumplin stand and nail salon downtown and let them know about your disgrace."
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