Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blizzard to Warcraft Gaymer: Stop Hitting Yourself!

Blizzard runs a massively mutliplayer online role playing game (muh-morp-gee to those in the know) called the World of Warcraft, in which players in a virtual world can assemble as "guilds" which go off adventuring together. One player, Prismatic Echo, attempted to form a gay-friendly guild and was promptly penalized by Blizzard for violating its antidiscrimination policy. Email exhange ensued, which I'm going to liberally quote. You can find the original, complete emails, at least as cited by Echo, here.

Let's go through them together and enjoy the Orwellian nightmare that is Blizzard's harassment policy.

First, Blizzard sends notice of infringement:*
Greetings Sara,

Account Name: PRISMATICECHO1
Realm: Shadow Moon
Character Name: Shimmre

Account Action: Warning

Offense: Harassment - Sexual Orientation
This category includes both clear and masked language which:
.. Insultingly refers to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players

Details (Note - Times are listed in Greenwich Mean Time, GMT):
1/12/2006 8:50 (GMT) Shimmre General - Stormwind City "OZ is recruiting all levels, but especially 50-60s! We are working on our Onyxia Chains and will be doing UBRS and hopefully Onyxia soon! We are not "glbt only", but we are "glbt friendly"! http://guilduniverse.com/oz"

The actions detailed above have been deemed inappropriate for the World of Warcraft by the In-Game Support staff of Blizzard Entertainment. For further information, please view the World of Warcraft Policies and Terms of Use Agreement:
(http://www.blizzard.com/support/wowgm/?id=agm01712p)
and
(http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/termsofuse.shtml).
Prismatic Echo responds:
As you can clearly see, I'm not "insultingly refering" to any aspect of sexual orientation. I'm WELCOMING anyone and everyone to join my guild, REGARDLESS of sexual orientation. My guild is glbt (gay les bi trans) FRIENDLY! It is a place where glbt members can come without being harassed or insulted for their sexual orientation with phrases that are used ALL too often, such as "That's so gay" and "That horde just ganked me! What a fag!". I also state that we are "NOT GLBT ONLY", but we "ARE GLBT FRIENDLY"...meaning that we do not exclude those who are heterosexual. We simply insist that everyone who joins be friendly to everyone else, and keep prejudice talk (which happens all too much in Azeroth) OUT of our guild. How is that insulting? I believe there has been a HUGE mistake! Whoever reported me is the one that is apparently the one with the harrassing issue towards people of a different sexual orientation. They're the people who you should be giving a warning to. I would like to be notified when this mistake has been resolved.
Echo makes a pretty good point here. There's been no insulting language used here. Look at the the Warcraft policy on sexual orientation harassment.
This category includes both clear and masked language which:
Insultingly refers to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players
If a player is found to have used such language, he/she may:

Be temporarily suspended from the game
So what's happening here is that Blizzard is punishing somebody for being non-discriminatory, citing the policy that being discriminatory is forbidden.

What?

Yes, that's right. It's using an anti-discrimination policy to punish people for being anti-discrimination. Now, I'm no lawyer,** but I think there's something wrong about this.

Blizzard responds to Echo's email:
Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding the World of Warcraft account you are using. We appreciate and understand your point of view, yet have to reiterate that all players participating in the World of Warcraft environment are required to adhere to the Terms of Use (http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/legal/termsofuse.html) at all times.
Blizzard's email then reproduces the guild ad which describes the guild as being "glbt friendly". Blizzard's email then offers us the ominous
GBLT is a known abbreviation for Gay Bi Lesbian Transsexual.
Well, I suppose it is a known abbreviation. Eek! Blizzard continues:
With regards to the above account action, please review the World of Warcraft Harassment Policy at http://www.blizzard.com/support/wowgm/?id=agm01719p. As you can see from the above information, using such language falls into the Sexual Orientation category. You will also notice that the suggested penalty for such actions is to "Be temporarily suspended from the game"; however, you were given a warning. Receiving a warning is nothing more than an education in policy for minor issues and a tool our in-game support team uses to track player behavior. While it is not a good idea to ignore a warning and continue the inappropriate action(s), warnings on an account have very few, if any, long-term repercussions.
Again, Blizzard is being ridiculous. The stated policy is that use of language which refers to sexual orientation is banned if it's done in an insulting manner. Echo's guild ad is in no way insulting. In fact, it's quite inclusive and friendly. Also note that Blizzard has taken up a "you should be grateful we don't suspend your ass." tone - charming, in light of the circumstances.

Echo responds:
The offense reads: This category includes both clear and masked language which: INSULTINGLY refers to any aspect of sexual orientation. . .

Yes, GLBT is a known abbreviation for gay lesbian bisexual transgendered, but I am NOT refering to GLBT in an insulting manor. The offense states that you cannot use language that refers to sexual orientation INSULTINGLY! It does NOT state anywhere that you cannot refer to sexual orientation period. We do mention that we are GLBT FRIENDLY, which is NOT against the rules and regulations because we are not insulting anyone for their sexual orientation.

I suggest that someone speak with a manager or someone with authority About this matter, because this situation can and will be taken before a court of law. My guild members are now afraid to recruit because of YOUR misunderstanding of the offense which you've given. If you can show me where it says that we can't mention sexual orientation at ALL (not just "insultingly"), I will agree to this offense. Until then, I would like the situation handled properly and a reply when this is done.
Blizzard finally gives a more reasoned (if in no way reasonable) explanation for their adverse actions in their response to this email:
Thank you for your follow up e-mail regarding the warning issued to your account. While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a "glbt friendly" guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise.

If you will look at our policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy is to "be temporarily suspended from the game." However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty was reduced to a warning. As previously communicated, a warning on an account has very few, if any, long-term repercussions.
So now Blizzard's theory is that if you're out, you're a target, and instead of punishing people who would then harass you, you yourself ought to be punished for being a target of harassment. It makes yer head spin. Whether you agree with this policy or not, it is in no way represented in Blizzard's Terms of Use, which only punish insulting language, not language likely to cause insulting language to occur. Note also in Blizzard's response their assertion that they're being lenient in their nonsensical application of the harassment policy.

Also in this response, they bring up the issue of intent, noting that Echo has no "malicious intent". That's true. It's also true that Echo has no intent whatsoever, because Echo never intends to "Insultingly (refer) to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players."

Echo writes back
Yes, but I willl continue to advertise for my glbt friendly guild because it's NOT against the policy. . . and if I get reported again by some bigot that doesn't like seeing a glbt friendly guild advertised, and I get my account suspend. . . we'll have SERIOUS problems. Therefore, I need to be assured that this will not happen. . . so that I can reassure my guildmates that they will not be in trouble for recruiting for my glbt friendly guild. I refuse to recruit any other way, because there are WAY too many people on WoW that use REAL anti-gay terms and I do not want those people in my guild. If we cannot settle this via email, I would like a phone number so that I can speak to someone in person. Thank you.
Blizzard then makes a revealing mistake in its reply email:
Thank you again for your follow up e-mails regarding this issue. We have reviewed this case and have determined that advertising for a guild based on Sexual Orientation is not appropriate for the World of Warcraft. As such, any further violations will affect your account as described in our "Penalty Volcano" located at: http://www.blizzard.com/support/wowgm/?id=agm01714p.

We thank you for your time and anticipated cooperation with our position. Please feel free to contact us again should you have any further questions or concerns.
First, a penalty volcano? What the fuck? Second, note that Echo's advertisement was not for a guild based on sexual orientation but rather tolerance for sexual orientation. In fact, Echo's ad explicitly says that it's not "glbt only" but rather "glbt friendly". I should further note that in an email exchange partially reproduced in this In Newseekly article about Blizzard's idiocy contains the same misunderstanding.
Also to discriminate against other players, such as not allowing any heterosexuals into the guild simply because of their sexual orientation, could cause extreme offense to a large percentage of our players and should be avoided.
Echo responded to Blizzard's email to her with another "WTF?" and a threat to go to the ACLU, to which Blizzard sez:
Thank you for taking the time to write in. While I respect your position and understand your perspective in this matter, please keep in mind, that according to our Terms of Use
(http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/legal/termsofuse.html), you may not:

(i) Transmit or post any content or language which, in the sole and absolute discretion of Blizzard Entertainment, is deemed to be offensive, including without limitation content or language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable, nor may you use a misspelling or an alternative spelling to circumvent the content and language restrictions listed above;

Please remember that it is up to our sole and absolute discretion whether or not to allow certain types of language in the game. While some language in and of itself may not be offensive, it may incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game. As such, I am afraid that I am unable to reduce, reverse or otherwise amend our previous decision.
This response makes no sense. Blizzard's stated discretion is over whether some language is offensive. And Blizzard turns around and says that the language discussed is not offensive. Which means that, according to Blizzard's stated policy and Blizzard's stated interpretation of the language used by Echo, there was no violation of the Terms of Use.

Blizzard says in this passage: You can't transmit offensive language. We have discretion over what's offensive language. Your language isn't offensive. You have violated the policy.

It's fun to speculate on what could violate this amazingly broad policy. There's a provision in the harassment policy which forbids language that "Negatively portrays major religions or religious figures". According to the Echo decision's logic, any language which references a religion or a religious figure should be punishable, as it's just inviting others to be negative. So Blizzard should punish people who say things like, "I have a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus", as they're just asking for people to criticize the lord. To be consistent, Blizzard should ban the words "Allah, Jesus, God, Yahweh," in addition to their apparent banning of "reason".

There's been an official response, which reads:
Apologies for the length of time it took to get this information out to you.

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.

We will be clarifying some of the language in our game policies in order to help avoid such confusion in the future.
You'll note again that Blizzard continues to confuse glbt-friendly with glbt-only. That is, Echo wasn't soliciting players for a guild "friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference". Echo was soliciting on the basis of tolerance. Echo was trying to get a guild together of people who don't call each other "fag" all the time or complain about things being "gay."

Also, sexual "preference"? preference?

In closing, I just want to note a couple of things. There are two issues here. First, there's the issue of whether Blizzard should restrict players from advertising GLBT-friendly organizations. That's one debate, and I think it's pretty obvious that they should allow GLBT-friendly in-game organizations.*** Quite apart from that debate is the issue of Blizzard's Terms of Use, which are being applied in an arbitrary and illogical manner. Players are being punished based on shifting and nonsensical interpretations of the rules are being told to be grateful that Blizzard's not being more extreme. And finally, according to the above cited In Newsweekly article, there are at least two gay guilds in WoW, and one of them is called "The Spreading Taint." Which I think is totally awesome.


*All citations herein are edited for formatting. Additionally, extraneous content's been exised. All rights reserved. Your mileage may very. Never piss into the wind.
**I'm a 2L and none of my opinions have any legal foundation, are not legal advice. The sentiments I express here are solely those of a human being with good conscience and, as such, cannot be construed as advice from a lawyer.
***Tolerance for differences of sexual orientation is a wholly good thing.

3 comments:

Fishfrog said...

Wow that was a long post. But anyway, isn't Warcraft played exclusively by hyper-heterosexual adolescent boys? I think Blizzard was probably right to restrict the group as it was clearly intended as a gag to get a bunch of tolerant adolescents together and then make fun of them mercilessly.

But seriously, Blizzard's representative here doesn't know what (s)he is talking about. And when will we do away with the phrase "sexual preference." Although I personally choose to be heterosexual based on nothing more than a mild preference not to be targeted for harassment, most others obviously do not "choose" their sexual identity.

warm fuzzy said...

this is one long post, man.

Anonymous said...

WoW is screwed. They opened a can of worms by declaring themselves monitors of all thought and speech in their world. A ridiculously difficult task which can't ever be effectively handeled. Especially when every action they take is in response to a report/complaint by some person who never has anything to lose. Nevermind that the term harrasment is grossly overused and missapplied. You'de have to be an idiot to feel 'harrased' by echo's initial advertisement. And I'm saying this as someone who is basically anti-gay...as far as the pro-gay political agenda goes. But some little jerk, or frustrated husewife, ot whatever...decided to be insulted and reported her. And Blizzard ALWAYS takes the side of the initial complainer. And like any good beurocracy...they never back down.