Can a group be punished for inciting harassment against themselves? Blizzard, publisher of the ultra-popular MMO World of Warcraft, seems to think so.
Recently, gay-oriented news site In Newsweekly noted that a gay & lesbian friendly guild on WoW had been warned by Blizzard not to violate their harassment policy. Sara Andrews had been sending in-game chat messages in order to recruit players into OZ, her "GLBT friendly" guild (gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender). WoW players messaged by Sarah received the following: "OZ is recruiting all levels | We are not 'GLBT only,' but we are 'GLBT friendly'! (guilduniverse.com/oz)"
The response, posted on WoW's forums, sparked outrage & debate (and over 2,500 posts about the subject), and many accused Blizzard of being "anti-gay". There was even an in-game protest where players tried to block a marriage ceremony because the participants were "flaunting their heterosexuality".
Blizzard eventually posted it's official response, which was also reprinted on In Newsweekly:
"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."
But this did little to quell the controversy, and may actually have fanned the flames. Members of Stonewall Champions and The Spreading Taint, both GLBT-friendly guilds, sent a letter to Blizzard expressing their displeasure at the policy: "Of particular concern to us is that the policy in practice punishes players for hypothetical harassment at the hands of another... Rules should exist to punish the harasser, not those who may be harassed."
Yesterday, Kotaku noted that the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, a legal firm dedicated to protecting gay & lesbian civil rights, announced they were looking into the case. Under California law (where Blizzard is located), businesses cannot
discriminate based on sexual orientation.
J: This has inarguably gotten out of hand, and while I can see Blizzard's concern that certain topics do result in flame-wars, this was clearly a case of over-reaction on their part. The policies are supposed to protect players from harassment, not punish those who identify themselves as belonging to a certain group. Especially when that concern is based on harassment that "might" happen.