My two-day boycott of my fantasy life

11 February 2006 | arguing on the internet, queer, worldofwarcraft | 1 Comment

A couple weeks ago, news came out that a GLBT player of World of Warcraft was given a warning for making an announcement about her guild on a public channel because she announced that the guild wasn’t “GLBT-only” but definitely “GLBT-friendly.” The classification? “Harassment: Sexual Orientation.” When she asked for clarification, the response was something along the lines of “we don’t allow discussion of controversial matters in public chat, including topics like religion, politics, and sexuality.”

No sexuality in a game with commands /kiss, /flirt, and /silly, the last one having some sexually-related jokes. I mean, “I heard if you cut off an extremity, it’ll regenerate a little bigger. Don’t believe it.” Hello? And that’s on the tame side.

If you follow the story of what happened from there, you’ll see an unsatisfactory round or two with Blizzard’s customer service team, some additional commentary about gay marriages in-game, a statement by a community manager, the involvement of and a letter from Lambda Legal, and finally an apology and statement of intent to rectify and improve the situation from Blizzard.

Wow, that was exciting. While all this was happening, I was trying to follow the deluge of weblog posts, forum threads, comments, and articles to piece together what was going on. My first instinct was that this was all a big mistake. Blizzard always came off as a gay-friendly company to me. In World of Warcraft, my male character could flirt with other men, kiss male revelers during the Winter’s Veil holiday event to get holly and mistletoe, and basically do everything the straight fictional characters could do. Even wear a dress (and to note, he owns two. That white summery thing and a slinky black number). If Blizzard didn’t want any of these things happening, it’d be pretty easy for them to code in gender-specific limitations to certain actions and items. I’ve seen it done in other games, so I know it’s possible. I just figured some poorly-trained GM probably saw Sara’s guild announcement, issued the warning, and made a bad call. It happens. It’s a low-paying job and they’re probably not given the resources to always do their job properly.

Still, if the Terms of Service was written to disallow mentions of queerness in public channels when there was so much straightness going on, then that’d be unfair, and I’m not down with the unfair. Some folks were talking about cancelling their accounts, and that seemed a viable option. But I know a bit about the economics of boycotts, and they’re only really effective if they last over longer periods of time. WoW players get billed by the month in the smallest chunks, and some players buy subscriptions in three- and six-month chunks for a discount. (I fell under the three-month chunk plan myself.) When you cancel your account, you get to keep playing until your month/three-month/whatever chunk of time is up. If this whole thing blew over in a week, most people cancelling would still be playing during that time, and assuming they reinstated their accounts once Blizzard cleared things up, there’d be no impact whatsoever.

So I posted to one mailing list I’m on that I wasn’t cancelling yet, that I was still reading opinion and gathering information and waiting to see what Blizzard would do before deciding to cancel or not cancel, and immediately got responses saying things like “If you have any pride in yourself, pull your money and call for a boycott.”

So did I mention I could /kiss the other guys. Fucking hell.

From there, list discussion devolved into boasting of activist histories, accusations that others had no pride in themselves, a couple tantrum-sign-offs, and while a lot of good points were raised, no one, or nearly so, was actually doing their research and actually looking into it. These were people who had never played the game and didn’t know that there were tons of gay groups which had existed for over a year with no problems from Blizzard staff. If they did do their research, it didn’t help that the story was getting over-inflated and people were falsely reporting that there could be no queerness and no safe spaces for queerness in the game whatsoever. (Although for the record and for fairness’ sake, both those webloggers have since revisited the issue or updated with better information once this whole thing got cleared up, dig it.)

Watching all of this happened, seeing people go off half-cocked while half-informed, made me feel years older. It reminded me a lot of myself, of what I, up until recently, would have done. And I hope won’t do anymore. It’s just not helpful.

At any rate, at some point between Caydiem’s post to the WoW forums and Blizzard’s apology, I decided that it was still an unfair situation if the ToS could be interpreted in the ways it had been, so I checked to see just when I’d be rebilled for my subscription. I checked on a Sunday, and it turned out my subscription would renew for another three months on that Tuesday. So, just in the off chance that this thing was going to draw out for a ridiculous (by today’s standards) amount of time, and feeling like Caydiem’s statement did nothing to address the potential imbalance, I cancelled. That Monday, I logged onto Cenarius for one last game with my guildies before my account was frozen. We hit Zul’Farrak, caused a lot of damage, I dinged 52, good times. I told my guildies that I’d probably be back by the end of the week, because there was probably no way Blizzard would let this fly.

When I cancelled my account, Blizzard gives you a textarea where you can describe why you’re leaving them. It’s all very “Dear John” except there’s a character limit. Due to that, I had to be brief. I put down:

I’m cancelling due to the policy regarding “Harassment, Sexual Orientation.” I’m sure you’re aware of the press one Sara Andrews has been getting and the case she and her legal advisors are putting together. After reading through much public opinion and customer relations made public to try and get to the truth of the matter, I’ve come to the opinion that the policy is biased against GLBTs, even if not intentionally. As a gay man, my conscience leads me to cancel until a satisfactory resolution is reached.

By Tuesday, an apology and clarification had been issued, and by Thursday my account was back up and running. A two-day boycott. Wow, I’m glad I participated. The cost of two days of play time works out to be about a dollar. That’s sticking it to them where it hurts. But hey, it could have all happened differently.

And the latest turn of events—much to the chagrin of all the internet people wailing that sexuality has no place in online games, I’m sure—is the new in-game event, based off of St. Valentine’s Day, in which you can profess your love for NPCs and woo them. And the guys can mack on the guys, and the ladies can mack on the ladies, you bet.

In the meantime, and even since before any of this brouhaha surfaced, I’ve been working on a new resource for GLBT WoW guilds and players. So now I have to find the time to get it off the ground. A little scary since I’ve never run a community before, but someone had to do it.

1 Comment

  1. Fuzzylogic said on 23 Mar 2006 at 5:59 pm:

    Well done.

    But in my oppinion WoW and Blizzard should go to hell. This is not the first and would not be the last Management/PR mistake the company makes.

    My oppinion: The hell with them and their cursed moneyaking machine. Other MMORPGS will surface and I’m sure they’ll be more sensitive to this and other issues. They just have to… Who says times are not a-changing? 🙂

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