World of Warcraft Incident Highlights Challenges Faced by GLBT Gamers

World of WarcraftScene from World of Warcraft

There is a war being waged within popular Internet role-playing games. This war has nothing to do with the alternate realities and mystical creatures within the games, but with the puzzling stances on harassment and homophobia displayed by those who create and play the game.

The inequality GLBT players face in online gaming came to national attention last month when a player advertised a GLBT-friendly guild (group of players) within a game, and was reprimanded for doing so. That gamer was Sara Andrews, the guild was called Oz, and the game was World of Warcraft, which is operated by Blizzard Entertainment.

According to In Newsweekly, which first reported the story, Andrews received an e-mail from a WoW game master citing her for “Harassment–Sexual Orientation” and threatening to ban her from the game after she posted a GLBT-friendly recruitment notice within a general chat section of the game. She was told by Blizzard to stop recruiting within the game and that her post violated the game's policy against harassment.

Thinking it a misunderstanding, Andrews responded to the game master's e-mail saying that she was not trying to offend or exclude anyone. But Blizzard upheld their decision to issue a warning to Andrews, telling her, “the advertisement of a 'GLBT-friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise.”

Suddenly, the policy that was created to protect queer players and pre-existing guilds (like Stonewall Champions and The Spreading Taint) was being used against them. It seemed that Blizzard was trying to prevent harassment of GLBT players within WoW by making GLBT players invisible.

“We recognize that stopping harassment is extremely important,” said Brian Chase, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, which works for GLBT rights, “but the way to stop the harassment is to stop the harassers, not insist gay people be quiet.”

But Blizzard's confounding harassment policy does not seem stop the harassers, and WoW itself seems to be operating under a double standard. According to Andrews, gamers can use keyboard commands to make characters say things like “Homogenized? No way, I like the ladies!” “They state that they don't want mention of sexuality in their game, for fear it may cause people to harass others,” said Andrews. “Yet they have things like this in the game already that (were) put there by them.”

Andrews also noted that derogatory language is common in general chat forums, where she posted her recruitment advertisement.

“It seems OK for general chat to be flooded with, ‘That's so gay!' yet advertising for a GLBT friendly environment where we don't have to deal with such language is deemed inappropriate,” noted Andrews.

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