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WoW Rookie: How to deal with disruptive players and hate speech

I received this letter from a reader last week. It made me stupid-happy but also incredibly sad. You'll see why immediately, I think:

My 9 year old has medical conditions that keep him from having many friends or going outside to play. He has to be homeschooled. For entertainment and to give him a feeling of exploration and adventure, we play warcraft. Other people can be very cruel in real life, so warcraft is a nice escape from that.

But wow has gotten nearly as bad. you can't hardly be in Tol Barad or Orgrimmar without hearing "ni$&@!," '$#%," and other hateful language. using the LFD tool is just as bad if not worse. My son plays a prot paladin/holy paladin so that any group he gets in will have a healer or a tank as needed. But the number of "fag elf" accusations we've seen in LFD is discouraging.

I'm not even counting "noob" and "you suck" in all this.

We're really thinking about moving on if things don't get better. What can we do about this?

hope you can help,
a mom

You can see the happy and the sad in that -- happy that our beloved game can help a family; sad that we as players can have such a negative impact. My initial reaction was to hope this was being blown out of proportion. After all, I tend to get riled about slurs and hate speech myself and do so very quickly. Maybe A Mom was being oversensitive?

While it's fair to say maybe kids shouldn't be in the game, families absolutely have a reasonable expectation that they can play together.

Data tells the truth

I wanted to be sure. Since I received the letter, I kept track of hateful slurs and speech I saw in the game. Now, one week on one server is hardly a statistically significant portion of the WoW experience -- but still, starting somewhere ... I kept track of each example of hate speech and normalized it across my play time.

This is what I found about frequency. This includes the trade and general channels in the cities, as well as the raid chat in Tol Barad:

  • Slurs about sexual orientation 1 every 2 minutes
  • Racial slurs One every 3 to 4 minutes
  • Misogynist language One every 1 minute in general, but almost none in Tol Barad
I didn't bother tracking generic cursing because it was so prevalent. So while I wish it weren't so, there's plenty of hate speech flying around in general, trade, and Tol Barad. I didn't track PUGs because that's so binary; you come across PUGs where hate speech isn't even an issue, but sometimes you get PUGs where it's non-stop.

In the end, I can definitely see why A Mom would be concerned about exposing a growing child to this kind of language. The question becomes what you can do about it.

Chat filters

World of Warcraft has built-in chat filters. These filters are your first line of defense. They don't catch everything; creative folks are constantly changing curse words, finding new ways to say the same old junk. Using the chat filters won't do anything to stop the offensive chat, but they will garble the words on your own screen. Chat filters are not a total solution, but they will help.

Ignore list

Become good friends with your Ignore feature. All you have to do to ignore someone is right-click the name in your chat dialogue and choose Ignore. That person will not appear in your chat window and they won't be included in PUGs you join through the random Dungeon Finder.

If someone's language is bothersome to you, don't be shy about hitting Ignore and moving on with your life.

Report Player

You can report a player the same way you ignore them. It's hard to get a good sense for whether Blizzard prefers you to report players or simply ignore them, but I tend to report particularly offensive hate speech and then immediately follow up by ignoring them.

In a sense, Blizzard can't take action about these problems if no one reports them. If we want the GMs to handle a problem, we should notify them of it.

Avoid hot spots

This tip is probably the most important for avoiding children's exposure to inappropriate discussion: Avoid the place where that language is most common.

You tend to find problematic behavior congegrated in the capital cities, especially Orgrimmar and Stormwind. Goldshire in Elwynn Forest is strictly off-limits except when you must level through it.

Sadly, Tol Barad sees a lot of hateful language, which is somewhat part and parcel of a contested PVP zone.

Turn off chat

Lastly, feel free to turn off general and trade chat. Find yourself a good, family-friendly guild to hang out with and stay away from the general populace chat channels. This is probably the best way to control what your child is exposed to, since the only chat you'll see is with these friendly folks.

WoW is a pretty awesome game. But with any game so huge, you'll inevitably come across some folks who just don't know how to behave in public. The best way to minimize exposure to those folks is to simply avoid and ignore them.
Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from how to control your character and camera angles when you're just starting out, to learning how to tank, getting up to speed for heroics and even how to win Tol Barad.

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