So, Blizzard have issued a warning (one of the official retributions in their system of punishments) to the leader of a guild who posted that her guild was GLBT-friendly. As in, she was not going to tolerate homophobic speech in her guild, or discrimination against members of the queer community. She was establishing it as a refuge from all the “OMFG U R SO GAY” talk that pops up anywhere thirteen-year-olds and the Internet intersect.

So why did Blizzard issue the warning? Because, they say, advertising that their guild is GLBT-friendly might make them targets of hate speech, and hate speech violates the terms of use, so therefore they can’t advertise that they’re gay-friendly. Yes, they actually said that openly not violating the policy might make people violate the policy, so they can’t openly not violate the policy.

Now, it’s important to dial back some of the rumors floating around on this: namely, Blizzard did not shut down their guild, or ban their players. Blizzard has allowed them to advertise the guild as GLBT-friendly on their realms’ forum, and in other discussion boards, just not on the General channel, in-game. Frankly, I can’t see this as a huge infringement of free speech. The guild isn’t banned from advertising, period, and they aren’t banned from existing, and if Blizzard would remove all the noise from the General channels, then, hey, hurrah! (On the other hand, the channel is called “General” for a reason, and if they’re going to let in every other spammy and language-mangling guild advert, well…) Still, I think it’s kind of dumb. In Newsweekly has covered it from the beginning; Terra Nova has discussion of it as well. Worldofwar.net has the whole chain of emails between the guild leader and Blizzard’s Customer Service for public perusal. At Terra Nova, I posted the following in the comments thread and I am cannibalizing my own comment there to be my post here:

I do not think Blizzard is evil or homophobic. I want to state at the outset that I don’t think there’s some super-evil conspiracy of breeders out to shut down teh gayz0rz. So, there you go.

Now, that said…

They’ve backed themselves into a bit of a logical lambada, haven’t they? “We won’t allow you to explicitly not break the user agreement because doing so might invite others to break the user agreement” makes about as much sense as someone coming around and telling me I cannot put a No Trespassing sign up on the edge of my property because identifying that invisible line is just inviting would-be trespassers to do their thing in my yard.

Yes, I know, they have very good reasons and they just want to keep the General channel free of non-game chat and keep all the drama of real-life out of the context of the game, yes, yes, yes. I would dearly love to see them tell that to the kid who was running around Stormwind announcing “WTF IS CHICAGO DOING IN PLAYOFS OMFG” on the General channel, over and over. And while they’re down there, the other one’s got bells on; I do hope they give it a tug just for laughs. Do they all have the General channel turned off? Because let me tell you, that thing might as well be labeled OOC like back when I played on a roleplaying MUX.

I am in a gay-friendly guild. How do I know? Because it’s me (and I’m gay), five of my RL friends who live in my town, two RL acquaintances and two people we’ve gotten to know in-game. (Yes, our guild is that small.) Of those RL friends, I’ve slept with one of them, so I’m pretty sure we’re gay-friendly. I talk about my boyfriend, and on our guild listserv my name is right there being determinedly male, so I am more than pretty sure we’re gay-friendly. It isn’t in our guild description anywhere (do we have a guild description anywhere? we don’t exactly recruit) but that’s because it doesn’t need to be. We all know each other and we formed a guild because we wanted to play with people we could stand. Two of us used to be in a different guild. I was, in fact, one of the founding members of that guild. I bailed out shortly after two college students who are friends RL joined and proceeded to spend all their time calling each other variants of “fag” on the Guild channel and, in so doing, producing endless mirth in our Guild Leader. When I pointedly slapped someone down for calling someone else “so gay,” yeah, it got a laugh and a day’s worth of abstention from doing so, and then it fired right back up. I don’t think they were actively homophobic, either, I think they just don’t think about it. It bothered me enough to move on to smaller but infinitely friendlier pastures.

And yet, I am forced to remember the night I was running around Strangle Thorn Vale on National Coming Out Day. Someone posted a mock guild advertisement on the General channel. I don’t remember it exactly, but a close paraphrasing is: “Holy Defenders is recruiting Christian players of characters of all classes, levels and races. NO HOMOS!!” What was the immediate response? A dozen people exploded, basically; the General channel was for five minutes the bleeding edge of the battle for queer equality. Every single response in-channel was someone telling the advertiser exactly what to do with their “no homos” guild; suffice to say, a precise description might get this comment removed. The poster of the advertisement very quickly apologized and explained that they were trying to make a joke about all the homophobia people hear in chat and that it was National Coming Out Day and, please, could people in Booty Bay stop trying to duel them? That was a moment that surprised the heck out of me. I didn’t even have time to compose something in the form of a response. As I said to my boyfriend later: “The twelve-year-olds of the world all of a sudden had my back. When did I fall asleep, that I woke up and it was the 21st Century all of a sudden?”

What’s my point? My point is that there are plenty of homophobes, yes, and Blizzard probably is saving themselves a huge headache here because there are a bunch of nitwits who would jump all over a guild given the chance. But I also think that they are denying everyone a genuine learning opportunity – denying it to their players and themselves. Has Ms. Andrews reported a higher incidence of in-game harassment? Were her guildies worried that they were going to be harassed by other players? From what she said in her emails to them, her guildies were afraid of Blizzard, not the foul-mouthed, age-defying children on their realm. I think if Blizzard had responded by saying that they were sorry for the misunderstanding and that they would remove the warning and that they hoped Ms. Andrews would reconsider her advertisement’s specificity (perhaps replacing it with an admonishment that hate speech in general is not tolerated, a perfectly respectable PoV because I, too, would like to see all the haters encouraged to shut their pie-holes, not just the homophobes) – or, better yet, if Blizzard had simply round-filed the complaint in the first place and simply never commented – they would have been surprised at the response. In-game, players police the players far more often than any GM. Ignore lists are there for a reason. The profanity filter is there for a reason. I think the wisest thing possible would have been for Blizzard to do nothing and see what happened. I think they would have been surprised. I think maybe nothing much at all would have happened.

Of course, it’s their game, that’s true; and, in all honesty, I’m still playing it and still sending them my gay $14.99/month for the privilege. But they’re being awfully disingenuous if they want to claim that the game is there purely as escape and not to deal with real-world issues. If they want to pretend no one learns about real life from their game, then maybe they haven’t visited their own Auction Houses. Maybe they simply removed inter-faction communication by accident rather than as a way of mimicking the real-world tools of propaganda and demonization employed in times of war. Maybe they stuck in all those quests and storylines about love and loss and passion and hatred and revenge and redemption to give me something to do, just to kill time, and not to draw on the dramatic power of universal themes and common experience in the real world. To claim that they’re just over there, busily filling in gaps in the 4th wall, whistling while they brick over pesky sexuality and hatred derived from such and the casual abuse that comes from simple thoughtlessness, but to let in so much else because, you know, what a pain it would be to really enforce their policies – well, it doesn’t make me think very highly of them, and it really makes me question how highly they think of me; not in terms of my sexuality, mind you, but in terms of how dumb they must think me to be.