Blizzard vs. gaymers

Sara Andrews was recruiting players for her gay-and-lesbian-friendly guild when she received a warning from Blizzard that if she didn't stop doing that, she'd be banished from the game.

Blizzard's argument in making this threat: bringing up such touchy subjects in the game world ultimately devolves into a nasty shouting match that creates a negative atmosphere for all players. By forbidding public discussion of such topics, Blizzard believes the game will be a more pleasant place for everyone. After all, who wants games to be invaded by bigots wielding incendiary placards? (No word on whether Blizzard also recommends that players who have created characters with darker skin tones immediately delete said characters and reroll as unpigmented characters. Darker skin tones invite racist remarks, after all, and we musn't create a negative game environment.)

Here's what an anonymous Blizzard employee who goes by the handle "Caydiem" had to say on the subject:

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.

To promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast. This includes openly advertising a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference, to list a few examples. For guilds that wish to use such topics as part of their recruiting efforts, our Guild Recruitment forum, located at our community Web site, serves as one open avenue for doing so.

If Blizzard believes that discussion of sexual orientation "is not appropriate for the high fantasy setting of the World of Warcraft," (as stated in an email sent to Sara Andrews) then why does the company endorse heterosexual weddings? In an officially sponsored "Group Screenshot Contest," Blizzard chose this photo of a male and female character getting married in a chapel. By endorsing the heterosexual relationships but explicitly forbidding the mere discussion of homosexual topics, Blizzard is in fact discriminating against those who don't march to the hetero-normal drumbeat.

There's even more evidence that Blizzard is being inconsistent. If discussion of sexual orientation does not belong in the World of Warcraft, then Blizzard needs to explain why players who type "/silly" while playing male characters of the Tauren race are rewarded with a pre-recorded voice that says, "Homogenized? No, I prefer the ladies."

The question is not so much whether the company is discriminating (it is), but what its motives are for doing so. Some possibilities:

  1. accident: sometimes individual employees make mistakes or misapply policies. Reporting for In Newsweekly (a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender news and entertainment weekly) Alexander Sliwinski writes, "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."
  2. ignorance: sometimes companies just don't really understand what it means to discriminate against a group of minorities. Sometimes it takes a court case or two to wake a company up.
  3. deliberate discrimination: We can't rule out the possibility that some higher-up at Blizzard is deliberately enforcing a policy that discriminates against the gay community.
  1. The guild that started it all by advertising in chat channels about their LGBT-friendly guild, and were promptly served notice that such advertisements are not allowed.
  2. In Newsweekly broke the news, from there it spread to:
  3. The Guardian Games Blog's Aleks Krotoski notes: "Eh?! This makes no sense, and perpetuates the view that the online space is straight, thus filtering out the very diverse set of people who enjoy a virtual life. It also suggests that they are happy to coddle those users who think it's OK to throw out homophobic epithets, of which--in their view--there must be many"
  4. Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow asks, "Will a game ever give players citizenship instead of just customership? Will players always be willing to treat games as their online homes if they have to rely on customer service ethos instead of the Constitution to assure them of a fair shake?"
  5. Law Geek asks, "So what, Blizzard now has a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy?"
  6. Terra Nova's take includes a strong, mature discussion after a teensy little blog entry.
  7. WoW Insider's Jennie Lees takes a dig at the Xbox Live service, writing, "I don't want to be discriminated against in-game for my gender or sexuality--that's what Xbox Live is for."
  8. Even CNET covers the story.
  9. MMorgy (warning: MMorgy's site banner is PG13) speculates on the impact that such policies might have on the game world: "watch as the interesting people leave due to crazy ass rules, the fun people leave due to creative stiffling, even in guild names, and see how nifty your world is then."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.