Column: Video gaymers

By Eric Naing

Players of the popular online role playing game World of Warcraft have learned that not even the virtual world of Azeroth can protect them from reality. Game developer Blizzard Entertainment is facing a firestorm of criticism after banning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender gamers from disclosing their sexuality in the game.

World of Warcraft user Sara Andrews was threatened with the charge of “Harassment – Sexual Orientation” by Blizzard after she advertised her gay and lesbian friendly guild. Blizzard claimed that Andrews had violated their “Terms of Use,” saying that “advertisement of a ‘LGBTfriendly’ guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise.”

Blizzard later vowed to update the “Terms of Use” and justified its position by claiming that “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.”

A picture of an in-game wedding on the World of Warcraft Web site shows that Blizzard seems to have no problem endorsing heterosexual relationships so why not homosexual ones? Whether intentionally or not, Blizzard is endorsing discrimination against LGBT gamers (which is illegal in California, the state where Blizzard Entertainment is located).

It is clear that Blizzard’s intentions were not malicious in that they were simply trying to prevent harassment. Unfortunately, their actions won’t do anything to stop the problem of harassment in online video games. They are enforcing the virtual equivalent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a hypocritical policy that does little to address the real issues.

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    Of course, online harassment in video games is not only targeted at the LGBT community. Sexism and racism are also rampant. If you spend just a few minutes on practically any online video game, you’ll quickly be inundated with extremely vulgar words. Chinese players have even been discriminated against because they didn’t speak English.

    Sara Andrews should not be blamed for inciting harassment by publicly saying she is LGBT friendly. The problem with Blizzard’s stance is that it serves to punish those who may be the victims of harassment instead of those who do the harassing.

    And where does it end? If all things LGBT are deemed too sensitive to be in the game then what about gender or nationality that are currently allowed to be discussed? If you ban players from mentioning anything that may incite harassment, you’d have to ban pretty much all references to reality.

    Believe it or not, the world of online video gaming is populated by more than just 14-year-old boys. People of all backgrounds are flocking to these virtual worlds to have a shoot out with the Covenant or slay the evil Horde. World of Warcraft alone boasts more than 5.5 million subscribers.

    Whereas Pac-Man was just you and a machine, games such as World of Warcraft and Halo are connecting players from around the world. The days of Pong are long behind us. Video games are now more than just escapist entertainment; they are growing more sophisticated and are quickly reflecting our world and the various people that live in it.

    Blizzard is insulting the intelligence of gamers by discriminating under the guise of promoting a positive game environment. Other online games such as NCSoft’s City of Heroes have freely allowed the in-game expression of sexual orientation without any problems.

    Blizzard has the right to enact whatever policy it wants but it may be hurting itself in the long run. Banning players from discussing their sexuality betrays the social interaction and communication that is the heart of a game such as World of Warcraft.

    Blizzard’s claim that “advertising sexual orientation is not appropriate for the high fantasy setting of the World of Warcraft” simply doesn’t hold water. And honestly, what could possibly be more gay than a fantasy world of elves and dragons?

    Eric Naing is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected].