The video game industry is affected by the legal world far more often and much more deeply than you can imagine. (Unless you are a lawyer, in which case you know the trials and tribulations of conforming to all sorts of regulations and laws around the world, just to release a video game.) Just look at how much Blizzard had to change Wrath of the Lich King for a Chinese release! The Lawbringer aims to give you a look into the pop topics that relate to the games we love and play every day, with some practical advice to help you avoid some of the more nefarious and potentially surprising issues that crop up alongside virtual worlds.
This week, The Lawbringer gives you some basic tips on dealing with internet harassment, in game and out. The sad fact is that there are people out there looking to ruin your day, and not just by corpse camping or spamming trade chat. Hopefully, with a little knowledge on your side collected from people who have already had to walk this rough path, you can successfully fight back.
Ah, internet. You bring us so much life-enriching and fascinating entertainment, as well as unmitigated, brutal disasters. As much as we try to hide from and fight against the atrocities of the internet while still living our virtual lives, people remain resourceful. Internet harassment has been growing as a problem, from high school kids who are now using Facebook and the vast array of social networking tools to sabotage their peers, to parents who are harassing youths with horrible consequences. Every tool created has a dangerous side. The key to avoiding and dealing with internet harassment is knowing your options and the right people to talk to.
World of Warcraft is, for the most part, a safe place. Every day you log on and, usually, the only unfortunate harassment players deal with are trade chat taunts, that jerk paladin stealing your titanium node, or a corpse camper. For many people, however, Azeroth is just another place that harassment occurs in a much deeper, darker scale. The last thing players want when entering a virtual world is to have their real life harassment follow them.
Help your friends: Documentation
Here's the quick business on how to support someone you know is being harassed. Be a good friend and document public harassment. Documenting repeated harassment is key when dealing with harassers. If you see a friend or guildmate enduring undue harassment in game, screenshot it, log it and keep detailed documentation, including time stamps of the harassment. I promise you that will go a long way.
When you are the victim
The absolute first thing to do if you are being harassed in game is to document and record the harassment, including time stamps, as completely and thoroughly as possible. Keep a special folder of screenshots for this very subject. A little planning during the early stages of this type of abuse can go a long way when you have to make your very real and very serious case to the GMs or law enforcement, as we will get to soon.
Do yourself a favor and look over the Blizzard In-game Harassment Policy and pinpoint your issues. Your particular brand of harassment is probably listed, and knowing how Blizzard refers to these actions has can help you write a better email or ticket.
Politely ask the harasser to stop talking to you in game. Make your stance known -- you want nothing to do with this person. Document your intent and document the reply. Then ignore the player. If that player then tries to circumvent your ignore by creating new characters, messaging you on other characters or having other people message you, you must report this to a GM. Circumventing an ignore is a GM-reportable event that will earn you quicker help. Document the ignore circumvent! Again, a little documentation goes a long way toward showing the severity of the repeated and continuing harassment.
Make note of where the harassment is taking place; public or private channels incur different levels of attention. The public channels feel much more important than the private means of contact, considering it is impossible to remove someone from the public channels, as opposed to ignoring them or leaving the public channel. It is my theory that you should not be forced to leave a public channel used for commerce, trade and group/raid creation because of personal harassment. Blizzard seems to agree, as recently they have decided to proactively control harassment in the public channels on the Moon Guard server, infamous for its Goldshire Inn, off-server erotic roleplayers who harass Moon Guard denizens in public.
Building your case with the GMs
Remember to take special notes when the GMs assist you with your claims. If this is a repeated harassment issue, make note of the fact that your case is open and ongoing, and let the ticket and other GMs know who has attempted to help you in the past. "Harassment" and "Ongoing harassment" are two different categories in Blizzard support. Including the words "ongoing harassment" when your claim is such can produce better and faster results.
Building this case record is again one of the best ways to show the severity of your harassment and the constant harm that is occurring to you in game. You are paying to have fun in World of Warcraft, not to be subject to this little troll outside of socially acceptable player interactions such as PvP, griefing and so forth. We are talking about verbal harassment, threats and other forms of harassment -- don't go complaining to the GMs about that titanium node again.
A friend of mine who has been the victim of such harassment in the past has told me that contacting GMs through the GM harassment email has been a quicker avenue of relief and action than tickets, which can get bogged down in the system among the multitudes of "guy ninja'd my solace in ToC!!!", "all these addons I downloaded from google sponsored sites gave me trojans" and "how i make fish happan?" Direct email should only be used for the worst cases of harassment, and I guarantee that if you do not abuse this system, it can be kept clear for those cases that require much more immediate attention.
Continue to take the high road, as it were. Do not engage your harasser. In fact, go out of your way to continue playing to the best of your ability. The old adage of "do not feed the trolls" is apropos -- harassers might just be attention whores, egging you on for any response. Take the high road.
More serious misbehavior
Things get trickier and uglier when your harasser moves out from the fantasy world and into the real world. Tools like the WoW Armory and Real ID have become concerns in the privacy community because of their occasional, tenuous connection to the real world, upsetting people who would prefer to remain anonymous in a virtual setting. If you ever wondered why people were so up in arms over the Real ID fiasco earlier this year, just ask someone who has been the target of internet harassment. Any new piece of information that can identify you, either directly or indirectly, can be detrimental to your online life and a treat for your harasser.
Try to identify your harasser. If this person is harassing you in a direct manner outside of the game, he is probably leaving clues. Most people don't understand the concept of proxies or server routing, so keep detailed documentation of everything and anything that is said in public and private. Most harassers are people that you potentially know or have access to your online life. If you can narrow it down, the better off you will be when you have to identify this person to get them off your back.
Now it's time to ramp up the defense on your end. If the harassment is getting so bad that you can't turn an internet corner without this person popping up to hurt or harass you, your options open up. Your first option is to lawyer up -- lawyers know more about this stuff than anyone, since they do it for a living. Find someone specializing in internet crime or internet harassment. Do your research, and always remember that lawyers come with a cost. Usually, at the end of all things is a lawyer, so in most instances of some kind of crime, lawyering up isn't a question of "why" but "when."
Your other option, assuming that you are in the United States, is to follow the advice of the U.S. Department of Justice and head to the Justice Department's reporting cybercrime webpage. It is imperative at this point to have your documentation available of the type and severity of the harassment. Call your local police precinct and see if they have some type of harassment or cybercrimes unit. If not, it's worth a call to your local FBI office. The FBI deals with interstate harassment issues and can hopefully help you with your issue.
The most important thing to remember is to stay calm, confide in your friends for support and build your case. The key is documentation -- save and screenshot times, places, words, repeated phrases, threats and everything in between. A little preparation goes a long way. It sucks having to deal with this particular brand of harassment, especially in a game you play for fun, but it is beatable and defeatable.
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law, send Mathew an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is also the law in 43 states (maybe) to listen to the WoW Insider show, the best weekly WoW podcast in the entire universe, according to the Supreme Court case Awesome v. Sauce.