Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Use of homophobic slurs ahead.

Dear Blizzard,

Do you remember how I wrote to you a week or so ago to ask why you stopped censoring the word "rape" on the forums?

I didn't even realize, at the time, that you'd removed other words from the filter.

For example: fag.

I don't want to repeat my entire argument from last time, but here it is in short: You filtered the word in the first place because it's a disgusting, homophobic insult.  By censoring it, you discouraged your players from using it and signaled to them that it's not an appropriate word to toss around in idle or angry conversation.  By removing it from the filter, you're giving your players license to use the word whenever and however they wish.  "Never mind, go ahead and say it!  It's cool with us!"

You say that you take harassment seriously.  You claim that players aren't supposed to harass each other.  How do you imagine the word "fag" coming into the conversation in a way that isn't homophobic?  In what context do you anticipate players using that word in a sentence in a positive, friendly way?  And does that imagined context counterbalance all of the negative, nasty, homophobic uses?

I suppose that you'll suggest that if we find someone using homophobic language, we should report that person, and you'll handle it.  As usual, the onus is on the players to clean up the community, and you take a step back from responsibility.  You do realize, of course, that we were already reporting people for homophobic language.  We've been doing that all along.  Before, however, it seemed like we had your support in that; you were discouraging bad habits, censoring the most abused words, using your influence to squelch common, egregious homophobia.  Now, we're in this on our own, and if we don't report it, you won't do a thing about it.  You won't even bother to censor the words.  Remind me, again, how much effort that took on your part?

"Just report the offender," you say.  We all know, after all, how responsive and efficient the reporting system is.

I would love to understand the thought processes behind these decisions.  "It was wrong of us to discourage our players from using homophobic slurs and making rape jokes.  We should let their contempt run free!  Who cares if that makes the gaming community even more hostile to marginalized populations?  We've been using our influence to make WOW more inclusive, and that was obviously a mistake!"

The censor works automatically.  It's a "set it and forget it" sort of system.  Why not leave it alone?  Why make the decision to remove words from the filter?  Who had this idea?  Who decided what to include and what to remove?  I certainly don't want to sit down with a list of misogynist terms and racist slurs and see what makes it through the filter, but I would love to know which other delightful little words you've given your blessing lately.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Again, that little problem I had?  Still a problem.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Notice for discussion of misuse of the word "rape."

Dear Blizzard,

Anyone with a subscription to the game can post on the World of Warcraft general forums.  There's no "are you a decent human being" test to pass in order to gain posting privileges.  While the rules state that certain words and behaviors aren't allowed, you know that some posters will break those rules.  So you gave us a profanity filter.

It was one of your better ideas.  Knowing your playerbase as you do, you didn't stick to the typical curse words.  You also included words like "homosexual," because some of your players are homophobic douchebags.  You also included obvious racial slurs, because some of your players are racist douchebags.  You also included "rape."

I was glad that you chose to censor "rape."  Gamers use it often as a metaphor for general in-game violence. Putting it behind the censor indicated that you didn't want it to be used that way, that you understood that to be an inappropriate and harmful use of a word with great significance to victims and their allies.  It seemed as if you were exerting your influence against misogyny.  I appreciated the effort; it's good to discourage the use of "rape" as a win/loss metaphor.

I've played WOW for years and visited the forums for years.  "Rape" was censored to the extent that we couldn't type "grape" or "drape" or "therapist" without tripping the filter, and forum regulars knew that.  It was understood that "rape" was censored.

Suddenly, it's not.

A little while ago, I noticed that "drape" and "grape" weren't censored anymore.  Cool, I thought.  Looks like the filter's more sensitive now, and can differentiate between "rape" and other variations.

And then I read a post where someone claimed to have been "raped by tigers" in-game.

And I noticed that the word "raped" was right there, uncensored.

You removed "rape" from the filter.

I could try to interpret this generously and assume that your reasoning was, "Hey, our players are mature and sensitive people, they don't need to be censored like this, we aren't giving them enough credit."  But we both know that's not true.

No.  No, your playerbase hasn't changed.  The word "rape" hasn't changed.  Common misuse of it hasn't changed.  The only thing that's changed is your stance.

By changing your stance, you're signaling to your players that it's okay to use "rape" as a metaphor.  You're letting everyone know that there's no need to be sensitive to victims.

You were doing the right thing.  Then you stopped doing the right thing, turned around, and said, "LOL!  Never mind!  Ugh, what was up with that?!  Why be so sensitive?  Let's go rape some elves!"

You just gave forum posters your blessing to be more hostile to rape victims (and more hostile to populations already under threat of rape, like women and gay men and trans people, all of whom already deal with plenty of other hostile bullshit in the gaming community).  You just removed that minor check that might have discouraged rape jokes and made some posters and readers think twice about rape as a metaphor.  You've mentioned that only a minority of players visits the forums, but even a small percentage of people in such a popular game is a significant number of people, and those forums are busy.  Even if only a small percentage of players visits the forums, turn that around: how many people reading and posting on the forums play the game?  How will this new freedom to misuse "rape" affect conversations in-game?

It would be one thing if you'd never taken a stance at all.  Instead, you chose to take a position and then reverse it.  In that reversal, you sent a very clear message.  Maybe it wasn't the one you intended to convey.

I hope that you'll reconsider.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. That other little problem I have still hasn't been resolved.

Dear Good Men Project

Dear Good Men Project,

I'd never heard of you before Jill at Feministe mentioned you in a series of blog posts I linked to here.  Reading those posts and hearing other people's experiences with you in comments, I came up with a cloudy but troubling idea of who you are and what you're about.

Suddenly, it became much more clear.

Jill posted a link to a Twitter conversation involving one of your people, Tom Matlack.  She called him your "head honcho," and I see that he's named on Wikipedia as your founder.

Here's what he says in the middle of that Twitter conversation:
@sjjphd my privilege? I grew up with nothing. My parents didn't have enough money. You have no idea what you are talking about.
He's speaking with feminists in a conversation relevant to gender studies, and he doesn't understand what the word "privilege" means in that context.

I don't think that you can get very far in a progressive conversation without examining your privilege.  I don't think that a feminist man who doesn't understand what privilege is can actually be feminist.

If you haven't examined your privilege, if you haven't put forth some effort to cast a critical eye over the patriarchy and notice how you benefit from it, then you don't genuinely understand the deeply entrenched systems of oppression operating in this culture.  If you don't understand how men benefit from sexism, or how white people benefit from racism, etc., you don't understand the patriarchy.  Flailing around in social justice or gender studies circles without understanding the basics of the conversation generally means that you're hindering more than you're helping.

Someone who doesn't understand what "privilege" means in this context can't participate in the conversation in any meaningful, productive way.

He absolutely cannot lead the conversation.

Yet Tom Matlack is your founder.

As far as I can tell, he's male, white, and currently quite wealthy.  I don't know him very well, but let's say for the sake of argument that he grew up cis and straight.  As a man, he benefits from sexism.  As a white person, he benefits from racism.  As a cis person, he benefits from transphobia.  As a straight person, he benefits from homophobia.  And when a feminist in a conversation on gender says the word "privilege," his immediate response is: I grew up poor.  I wasn't wealthy.  As if the advantage of wealth is the only advantage of importance.  As if the economic class we're born into is the only privilege of relevance.

He has no idea, then, how being white has helped him in life.  How being a man has been a benefit.  How being cis and/or being straight is an advantage in a transphobic, homophobic society.  (That's not even to get into TAB privilege, thin privilege, and the rest.)

If you don't understand privilege, you don't understand oppression.  If you don't understand the kyriarchy, you don't understand what progressives are fighting for, or why.  How can you ask what it is to be a good man if you don't understand what being a man means in the patriarchy?  How far can that conversation among men progress if you don't begin with a fundamental understanding of your own shared privilege?

It's a truth that the patriarchy hurts men, too.  Yet a man who doesn't realize that he benefits from the patriarchy by virtue of his very maleness is ignorant and needs to approach gender studies from the very beginning.  A man who doesn't know how he benefits from sexism doesn't know what sexism is.

Your founder isn't at the "What does it mean to be a good man?" portion of the conversation.  He's at the "What does it mean to be a man?" portion.

What sorts of men is the Good Men Project for?  How can you invite all kinds of men to the conversation if you don't understand the dynamics of oppression?  If Tom Matlack doesn't understand his own white privilege, how does he include men of color?  How does he reach out to them to share their experiences and discuss their issues if he doesn't understand racism?

Let's go back to the tweet I quoted above.  During Tom Matlack's conversation with other feminists, he said something which drew Sarah J. Jackson (@sjjphd) into the discussion.  It does not thrill me to notice that while the other ongoing conversations overlap, his conversation with Sarah J. Jackson involves no one else.  I wish that she didn't have to go it alone, that others had spoken up with her as they supported each other.

For context, she's a woman of color who describes herself on Twitter as an "Asst. Prof. Researching & Teaching about Media Narratives of Race, Gender & Political Protest."  Here's the comment she replied to and their ensuing conversation.
@hugoschwyzer do you assume all black people are felons since they commit more crimes on average than white people?
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 08:20:33 AM PST 
@TMatlack This analogy is SO spurious. Please don't use it tom argue ur point if u want POC to have any part in what ur doing. @hugoschwyzer
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 09:36:51 AM PST 
@sjjphd @hugoschwyzer groups aren't guilty. Individuals are.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:13:18 AM PST 
@TMatlack men=historically privileged, POC=historically oppressed. Comparing stereotypes 2 make point=inaccurate, unproductive, & ingnorant.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:22:56 AM PST 
@TMatlack It's cool 2 get caught up in a heated debate but using false racial hyperbole in it? Your privilege is showing & I know ur better.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:25:04 AM PST 
@TMatlack And that's with all due respect to the arc of what you're doing at GMP. Sensational & spurious discourse helps nothing.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:26:56 AM PST 
@sjjphd calling all men rapists or all POC criminals equally sexist/racist IMO. I am a white man. Does that make me guilty ?
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:27:36 AM PST 
@TMatlack It is NOT equal because -isms have 2 do w/ the structural power grps historically & contemporarily have over others.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:30:16 AM PST 
@sjjphd my privilege? I grew up with nothing. My parents didn't have enough money. You have no idea what you are talking about.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:32:50 AM PST 
@TMatlack Last time I checked men weren't continuously structurally disenfranchised. You're def guilty of is a lack of racial sensitivity.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:33:13 AM PST 
@TMatlack I was talking about white privilege Tom, it exists and even poor white people can experience it.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:34:17 AM PST 
@sjjphd btw if you actually look at my writing I have been the taking most on GMP about race and sex tracking, the real stuff not judgement
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:35:07 AM PST 
@TMatlack As a POC who wants 2 support what ur doing at GMP I was simply requesting u not use racially insensitive language to make a point.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:36:10 AM PST 
@sjjphd read my work on race, prison etc before you go calling me racist please.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:37:08 AM PST 
@TMatlack I know! Which is why I was suprised u made the comparison u did. I know u know better. Why the defensiveness?
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:37:33 AM PST 
@TMatlack HOLY SHIT I DID NOT CALL YOU A RACIST. I said the racial comparison is spurious, which it is. Your defensiveness is shocking me.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:39:06 AM PST
@TMatlack & it is possible 4 ppl not 2 be racist & still be capable of saying less than accurate/sensitive things re race. #thoughtyoudcare
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:43:44 AM PST 
@sjjphd I was being sensitive to the many black men in prison who feel they were a victim of racism.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:47:52 AM PST 
@TMatlack Um? That's not how it came across. It seemed u were comparing black oppression 2 stereotyping of men. Not the same but #Igiveup
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:50:49 AM PST 
@TMatlack 4 the record I greatly respect what u do. Sad u can't hear from a POC & some1 who studies race that ur comparison was problematic.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:53:58 AM PST 
@sjjphd I don't believe I ever criticized *you*. You tried to educate me on race/gender which I find demeaning since I have my own views.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:58:29 AM PST 
@TMatlack U find fact men aren't oppressed grp & black ppl are, & my trying 2 alert u in good conscience abt prob w/ comparison demeaning?
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 11:42:43 AM PST 
@TMatlack #Icantanymore but hope ppl read ur friend Steve's & my pieces on having convos abt race:
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 11:44:27 AM PST
The entire back-and-forth echoes countless conversations playing out all across the sphere of feminism and social justice.  She points out that his language is harmful to a marginalized population.  She takes pains to compliment him, to soften her critique, to make it a point to acknowledge his efforts.  He replies with ignorant statements.  She tries to educate him and explain what she means (all knowledge he should already have).  He doesn't thank her, doesn't agree with her, but instead explains that he's already got all of this stuff down pat and has been doing the real work on these issues all along ("the real stuff not judgement").  He plays the "I'm not racist" game.  He continues to insist that he's done nothing wrong, that he's entirely in the right, and that he can't be educated.  She continues to try to explain while still offering compliments.  He refuses to listen ("I have my own views").  She gets tired.  He stops responding.  She gives up.

She shouldn't have to work this hard to communicate with someone who considers himself a feminist ("@jennpozner I didn't take it personally. I consider myself a feminist. But apparently that word has many meanings.") and a tireless worker on issues of racism.  He should be her ally.  She starts off with "please" and spends the entire conversation offering him cookies.  She points out, for the record, that she's a person of color who studies race.  She explains all of her points in a way that anyone who's written about race should easily grasp.  Yet he doesn't seem to hear a word she says.  He has his "own views," and he clings to them until he exhausts her and she gives up.

He doesn't know what privilege is, and he doesn't seem to care.  When a member of a marginalized population asks him to reconsider his analogies, he defends himself and argues back without seeming to accept anything she says.  Not once does he agree with any of her points.  Instead, he implies that he's doing the real work while she's not ("the real stuff not judgment" in a conversation where he clearly feels judged), he directs her twice to read his work (when she's already praised his project), he calls her comments "demeaning," and he says, literally, "You have no idea what you are talking about."

He doesn't know the basics of gender studies.  He doesn't know the basics of racism.  He doesn't know what "privilege" is (either the word itself or the general concept).  He doesn't respond well to criticism.

How can the Good Men Project progress when the man at the top thinks that he knows it all already and isn't open to learning?

As I said earlier, if you want talk about what it means to be a good man, you need to start by talking about what it means to be a man.  Part of being a man in a patriarchy means benefiting from sexism.  Understanding how you benefit from sexism means understanding privilege.  You have to start somewhere; try these two posts by Liss at Shakesville.

A final tweet from Tom Matlack:
it's the good "mens" project. women are welcome but the point is to inspire men to be good.
Like many others, I would be very happy to have more good men around.  Most of us would be glad to help.  Many of us have been trying to help.  And when we try, bringing our experience and expertise and years of study to the table, we're told things like, "You have no idea what you're talking about."  Is that really what a "good man" would say?

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Rape Apologists

Discussion of rape, rape culture.

Dear Rape Apologists,

At Feministe and Shakesville lately I've seen discussion of a site called the Good Men Project, where rape apologists and friends of rapists and actual rapists are having a lively conversation about how rape is such an abstract thing, and consent is such a tricky thing, that it's easy for good, well-meaning, decent guys to be rapists.

(More on Feministe: one two three.)

Jill and Liss and tons of feminists all over since forever have been discussing and explaining why all of that is bullshit.  As you can see from the linked posts, studies and stats and everyday experience demonstrate that's not how it works.  But here's my question: what about the men?

Yeah, I went there.

You see, arguing on a site called the Good Men Project that "Nice Guys Commit Rape Too" (actual title!) is a really nasty insult to all of the actual good, nice, decent men out there.  Talking about how it's so easy for nice guys to be rapists and how good men slip up, too, lumps good men who've never raped anyone into the same category with actual rapists.

This guy is a rapist:
When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know.
Compare to:
Last summer, I was at a party and had two drinks, which is a lot for me because I drink very occasionally (2-3 times a year) and am also on medications that amplify alcohol’s effects. I was half passed out on the couch, and a dear friend of mine, a man who I know has in the past been sexually attracted to me, came in and found me on the couch. What did he do? Did he stick his hand up his shirt? Did he get on top of me? He’d been drinking, after all! No, he fucking got me a glass of water and talked to me until I was awake enough to rejoin the goddamn party.
My brother hung out with a really wild crowd a few years back, and after partying with them one of the roommates told me I was welcome to go crash in the bed downstairs. What he didn’t tell me was that that bed had an owner who showed up a couple of hours later very, very drunk. I woke up to the guy saying “alright!” and crawling in next to me; he threw an arm around my waste, cuddled up to my back and promptly fell asleep. The next morning he brought up the idea of having sex over a glass of water. Turns out the creep who’d told me where I could sleep undisturbed told him he had a girl waiting in his room for him. He wanted to get laid, was informed that he had an invitation for sex, but because he wasn’t a rapist he put the matter on hold till I was fit to respond. He missed out getting his dick wet, but he was also spared the guilt and moral confusion that these accidental rapists claim to be so tortured by.
I drank myself blind when I was young. I drank until I had multi-day hangovers, and I was drinking in bars with other people who were–wait for it–also drinking. Some of these people, in retrospect, almost certainly had drinking problems. They were drunk, I was drunk, here’s what happened: we made stupid jokes, fell off barstools, flirted outrageously. On one occasion, I threw up and passed out in the bathroom (I know, I know: I’m very sophisticated). And yet–I know this is amazing, it’s going to blow your minds–not one of my drinking companions raped me. Not once. Not the bartender who found me in the ladies’ room and drove me home. Not the guy I had a crush on, whom I had to call once to find out how I’d gotten home from CBGB. Not the 6’2″ amateur boxer who was the bouncer. Not any of them.
Your narrative of "rape is a terrible thing that good guys accidentally fall into" and "drinking makes consent too blurry for anyone to negotiate ever" and "mixed signals" and all of the rest of it is disgusting, contemptible bullshit.  The difference between the tales of "I had a wild night of drinking and dancing and good times" and "I had a wild night of drinking and dancing and then someone raped me" doesn't hinge on the number of drinks, it hinges on the number of rapists.

Good guys aren't rapists.  Nice guys aren't rapists.  Rapists are rapists.

As EG explains:
And I’m not saying that all of these guys were good guys. Some of them were real assholes. But you know what they weren’t, at least with respect to me? Rapists. It’s a pretty low bar to clear.
With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Note for racial slurs.

Dear Blizzard,

I'm having some trouble with your customer service.

The other day, I was wasting time on the World of Warcraft website.  I decided to see what was going on in the PVP world and which classes were on top.  Looking over the top-ranked teams and players, I noticed something deeply unpleasant.

I contacted customer service.  (I'll post my initial complaint in full here, in the interest of accuracy.  I'll break it up into paragraphs for easier readability.  Names in bold if you want to skim.) 
On this page, there are several arena team names which are completely inappropriate and break naming regulations. Rank #21 "iskall suk my deek" from Illidan, rank #22 "purpledrank is fo nagas" from Illidan, rank #23 "We pop Cherrys" from Kirin Tor, and rank #28 "iwnaputmybeefintourtaco" from Stormreaver. While you're posting highly ranked teams for the world to admire, please make sure that they're not a disgrace and embarrassment to the entire community. 
In the 2v2 bracket, rank #8 "shat on ur face" from Stormreaver, rank #18 "Helen Keller VS Traffic" from Stormreaver, rank #18 "cap yo shiz" from Kirin Tor, rank #24 "DAYUM DATASS" from Stormreaver, rank #35 "team nignig" from Stormreaver, and rank #44 "naga needs points" from Illidan.
In the 5v5 bracket, rank #22 "Shytsnmasterbations" from Stormreaver and rank #35 "Fandom Ruckin Comp" from Illidan.
On the "Rated Battlegrounds" page, there is #9 Jackslowfuk from Blackrock and #15 Rapiesroofie from Mannoroth, not to mention all of the player names listed which end in "LOL" or otherwise break the game's naming conventions. Please enforce your own rules for your own game.
Then I wrote this post.

My support ticket received a reply (my emphasis in bold):
Hey there! 
Sir Game Master Ranlim here. I hope this message reaches you in good spirits!  
Thank you for taking the time to submit a petition about those arena teams names. At Blizzard, we encourage and appreciate the role of the gaming community in keeping World of Warcraft a safe and enjoyable environment for all participants. ^_^ 
I want to let you know I am going to be personally investigating this mere moments from now! Following said investigation, I will take all necessary and appropriate actions to address this matter, as determined by our policies (which you can see here:  
With the release of Patch 4.3.4 there is another way to report violation that will also provide a detail contextual report that will assist us to take appropriate action on them. This can be done by using the in-game right-click report option.  
To report bad language, a bad name, spamming, or cheating:
1. Right-click the player's name in chat.
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
To report a bad name or cheating you may also right-click report using the player's portrait. To report a player this way:
1. Right-click the player's portrait
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
Thanks again for your help! It means a lot to us. <3 
Game Master Ranlim
Customer Services
Blizzard Entertainment
Great, I thought.  Ranlim's on it.  He'll take care of it.

I waited.

I checked the PVP pages again.

The names were still there.

I re-opened the ticket, keeping it simple:
They're still there.
I came back later.  The names were still there.  I checked my ticket.  (Emphasis mine.)
Helllo :) 
Once again we will need you to do this below in order to action these players as we do not take action on names like this and it needs to be sent in differently. 
Please do the following for the names bellow. 
To report bad language, a bad name, spamming, or cheating:
1. Right-click the player’s name in chat.
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
To report a bad name or cheating you may also right-click report using the player's portrait. To report a player this way:
1. Right-click the player’s portrait
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
While no response to the report will be possible, rest assured that we will investigate and take appropriate action to address the issue as they come in. 
Game Master Pyroidia
Blizzard Entertainment
"Right-click the player's name in chat?"  "Right-click report using the player's portrait?"  Those are in-game actions only; my problem is with names listed on the website.  I made that clear; my initial complaint begins with a link to the arena teams page.  At this point, I began to doubt the sincerity of that soothing "rest assured that we will investigate and take appropriate action to address the issue as they come in."  I was not assured.
Please read my initial ticket more carefully. These are names on the website. I cannot right-click to report names featured on the website; I am not in-game. The first CSR who replied to the ticket claimed to be looking into it. What happened to that?
As you can imagine, after that your customer service representatives began to read more closely and provided more accurate replies.  (Emphasis mine.)
If you encounter such names in the game itself, negatively effecting your gameplay experience, please report them to us. 
We cannot accept such reports from examinations of the armory. The opinion of a realm itself, and players who encounter such names from within the game are the required impetus for our investigation into whether a name is requiring a change or is a vioaltion.  
An additional technical reason for this workflow, is the beta functionality of the armory itself. It is not updated regulary or instantly (even requiring actual characters to log into the game before an update occurs often times), meaning such reports via 'armory hunting' are at times out of date or innacurate.  
Thank you for your time and patience. Should you need further assistance, please hit the Need more help button below. For any game play questions, please consider visiting our official game forums. 
We now have a one stop shop for all your customer service needs. Ever need to review how a petition was handled? Submit one out of game? Stop by your new 'Support' section of Bnet today to see all the new features available! 
Game Master Mykyroro
Customer Services
Blizzard Entertainment
Oops!  No, instead, I was accused of "armory-hunting."

The link I supplied at the very beginning of my first ticket was not to the armory.  I didn't have to "hunt" through anything to see those names.  They're showcased by you in the main body of your website.  They're the top-ranked PVP teams and players featured in the PVP section under "community."  I didn't look them up; you showed them to me.  You offered them for all of the world to see as the kinds of players we should strive to emulate and overcome.

I don't blame the Game Masters specifically.  I don't blame Pyroidia or Mykyroro for their poor customer service.  I blame you and the corporate policies you set in place and the corporate culture you establish.

You should have a watchdog system set up to catch at least some of the worst names.  While I agree with encouraging the use of the "right-click to report" feature, you should allow GMs to accept other kinds of reports as well.  If someone with an atrocious name runs past me in-game and disappears or logs out before I finish right-clicking and reporting, I should still be able to report that name.  How many reports does it take to get a GM's attention?  Names with obvious racial slurs should only have to be reported once before you take action.  I don't believe that your GMs have poor reading comprehension; I believe that they're rushed, harried, overworked, and too intently focused on closing tickets to be effective at their jobs, and I can only guess that it's because you're emphasizing closed ticket rates over genuine customer service.  Do you see why that's maybe a problem?

You rely on your players to clean up the game for you instead of taking an active approach to it yourself.  You install a new feature and then won't allow any other method of communication to be used.  You set up RP naming conventions and then don't enforce them, and when we ask you to, we're ignored.

In the last GM's message to me, I was instructed to "hit the Need more help button below."  Handy advice, but that proved to be impossible.  Someone closed my ticket so that I cannot reply or re-open it.  If I want any hope of action on your part, I'll have to start all over from the beginning.  Is that really the best method of customer service?  Discouraging us until we give up?

I don't know what happened to the first GM's efforts to help.  I don't know why the conversation deteriorated to accusations of "armory hunting."

I do know that "team nignig" is still proudly listed as a highly ranked team, though.  I suppose that's not a problem, right?  According to your GMs, you need "the opinion of a realm itself" to decide whether a name's inappropriate or not, and you couldn't possibly tell, without taking a realm-wide poll, whether or not the name should be changed.

That's the worst of this.  The racist, misogynistic element of gamer culture is loud and proud.  You know that it's a problem, and I would hope that you would want to counteract it, to make cleaning it up a priority.  The more welcoming gaming is to more kinds of people, the more subscribers you'll gain, right?  But when staring proof of it right in the face, when being asked to clean it up, your employees are too busy insisting on irrelevant protocol to help.

That leaves the racism and misogyny of gamer culture featured on your website for all to see.  Because as far as you're concerned, properly filling out form 32, section B, paragraph 5 is more important than censoring racial slurs.

Or do you think that "purpledrank is fo nagas" genuinely refers to the in-game humanoid and "iwnaputmybeefintourtaco" is a compliment?

With love,
Frank Lee

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear Fearful Men

Dear Fearful Men,

I understand your concerns.

You only want to have a conversation.  You just want to ask a question.  You simply want to make a point.  Yet you know that, as soon as you do, you'll be attacked, piled on, ganged up on, by those terrible, mean, aggressive, violent, abusive women.

So you preface your comment with something like, "I know that I'm going to get hit for saying this, but."  Or you end your comment with, "*ducks*."

And when you see another man say something you know those violent feminists will be upset with him for, you offer him an airlift out, for his own safety.

It's reasonable.  After all, with those violent bands of women roaming the streets, no man is safe these days.  I can't even tell you how awful it is for men to go out in public anymore, with all of the threats, the cat-calling, the street harassment.  Women are so aggressive, so violent, so likely to attack.  And when you men are assaulted, you get blamed for it!  You're told that you should have behaved differently, that women can't help themselves, that it's in their nature to be so aggressive and it's up to you to soothe their savage instincts.

And when you men do manage to speak up about the issue, when you get together to discuss the prevalence of woman-on-man violence, when you share the story of your assault, there those women are again, butting in aggressively, putting their two cents in and adding, "Now, don't gang up on me for saying this, but..."

What do they even mean by that?  Don't they get it?  Don't they know that, statistically and in your personal experience, you're more in danger from them than they are from you?  That they're more likely to assault you than you are to assault them?  What's the point of making a comment like that in the first place?  It's to put you in your place, isn't it?  To remind you to be nice, to be polite, to be sweet, to placate them.  You don't want to make them angry, after all.  You don't want to rile the beast.  You'd better play nice, and smile, and offer them cookies for showing up to the conversation at all.  After all, it's generous of them to try to join in the discussion, to try to help out, when you're the ones with the problem, you're the ones getting hurt, you're the ones who need help.

It's awful, isn't it?  It's ridiculous, when the victims of violence and rape and assault are treated as if they're violent, they're aggressive, they're abusive.  It's entirely backwards.  It's an insult to reality.

If women really wanted to help, after all, if they really wanted to contribute to the conversation, they'd just do it.  They'd approach the conversation with genuine openness.  They wouldn't assume a hostile audience.  They'd understand why they might face a hostile audience, and they'd watch their step accordingly.  They'd do more listening than demanding.  They would acknowledge that, according to the statistics and to your lived experiences, women are much more likely to assault men than men are to assault women, so even joking comments about ducking after saying something that might be received poorly is in bad taste, especially given the topic of conversation.

I guess they're not interested in respectful, sincere dialogue, though.  It's easier for them to accuse you of creating a hostile environment, of blaming you for their lack of participation, of setting up the situation so that you're at fault if they don't want to continue the conversation.

It's a terrible situation.  I hope that they realize what they're doing, someday, and stop it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Racial slurs to follow.

Dear Blizzard,

The "player versus player" aspect of World of Warcraft involves a large portion of the playerbase.  The game's best PVP players are involved in internationally broadcast championships.  PVP is an important enough part of the game that there's a section of the website dedicated to it.

If you click that link, it'll take you to lists of the most highly ranked PVP players and teams.

A few of the team names listed today:
iskall suk my deek
purpledrank is fo nagas
We pop Cherrys
shat on ur face
Helen Keller VS Traffic
cap yo shiz
team nignig
naga needs points
Fandom Ruckin Comp
(For anyone reading over my shoulder, "naga" is a kind of water-dwelling humanoid creature in the game.  It also just happens to sound similar to a racial slur.)

A couple of the more egregious player names:
I would guess that these lists are automatically generated, but it would behoove you to keep an eye on them. This is a public website, the face of World of Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment.

Playing on an RP server and running into characters named "Huntard" and "Monkslol" is bad enough.  Seeing "team nignig" on the game's website is a disgrace.

I wish that you respected your game enough to ensure that its rules weren't broken.

I wish that you respected WOW's community enough to help us fight this kind of behavior.

Please, at least respect your reputation enough to take action.  Add something behind the scenes to flag names with certain letter combinations.  Become more assertive about responding to reports.  Read what's posted on your own website.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Parks and Recreation

Dear "Parks and Recreation,"

Something pretty terrific happened in the TV world this week.

Leslie Knope refused to call someone a bitch.
"I need to protect a sweet couple from a sex-crazed librarian who makes me question my stance on using the b-word. I dunno, maybe just this once. No, Leslie, fight it. FIGHT IT."
Part of being a feminist means checking your language.  Our culture inundates us with negative stereotypes and negative terms for women.  Being a feminist means policing our language to scrub it of those themes and terms.

Once you've advanced your feminism game, it's easier.  Once you've eschewed those words, you don't find them on the tip of your tongue anymore.  And some of us never used them to begin with.

But for most of us, we go through a phase (sometimes a long phase) where we find it hard not to slip from time to time.  That word is just so fitting and it's just so cutting and you're really pissed off and you know it's wrong but in this one case it seems so, so right.

For some people, the word is "bitch."  For others, it's something else.  You know that you shouldn't say it, but it pops out from time to time.  It's hard to give up; nothing else says what you mean in quite the same way.

But it's important for us to stand firm.  It's important for us not to fall into the easy insults the patriarchy so eagerly recommends.

That's why I love this moment so much.  For one, it rings so true.  That's a real moment, a recognizable moment I know so many of us have echoed.  For another, Leslie doesn't give in to temptation.  She fights it.  She stays true to her principles.

It's easy to have those moments of weakness.  I'm proud of Leslie for standing strong, and I'm proud of "Parks and Rec" for giving us this win.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear WOW Player

Dear World of Warcraft Player,

You invite someone to group with you.  For the sake of this letter, let's call her K.

K doesn't respond, because she has no idea who you are and doesn't see anyone with your name in her immediate vicinity.

You whisper an embarrassed apology, explaining that you sent the invitation by accident.

(This is odd.  The two of you weren't in the same guild, same zone, or same chat channels.  How did you invite her by accident?  By misspelling her name?  Not likely, not an unusual name during off-peak hours.  By right-clicking her name and hitting "invite" by mistake?  But why would you have had her name on-screen in the first place?  You would've had to do a /who search for people of her level or in her zone or something, and why would you have done that?  The two of you were on different zones in different continents and at different levels.)

She says that it's fine, accidents happen.

You talk about how late it is and how tired you are.  She agrees that it's late and says that she's tired, too.  You mention having a daughter.  You call K "sweety."  Since most players seem to assume that other players are male unless otherwise told, K assumes that you think she's a guy, so you must be someone who calls anyone and everyone sweety.  Since most of the straight men she knows don't call other men sweety, she goes by stereotypes and assumes that you must be a woman or a gay man.  (While she thinks that it would be terrific if straight men addressed other men as sweety, that's not part of K's experience.)

You ask her what time it is where she is.

She hesitates to reply.  After all, she knows not to give out personal information on the Net.  Still, you seem to be some friendly, chatty woman (or a friendly, chatty gay man) and it wouldn't hurt to be friendly in return just this once.  So she mentions what time it is where she is.

You ask if she has a child, too.  She says no, she has a dog.

You say that you're divorced.  You ask whether she's married.  She says that she's single.

You tell her how old you are.  You ask how old she is.  She's uncomfortable with this Q&A on personal information.  She begins to think about how much she's already told you.  You know her time zone, you assume that she lives alone (you've already made a comment about her being "lonely.")  You know that she has a dog, and that simple fact has been used against her before, when someone threatened to harm her dog.  She tells you that she's not comfortable giving out personal information on-line.

You tell her that you understand.  You refer to yourself as male.

She starts to wonder what's really going on here.  You contacted her out of the blue with an excuse she was willing to accept in good faith but which honestly seems very shaky.  You began to call her "sweet" and "sweety" far before you had any indication of her gender, which suggests that you assumed her to be female from the start, but why would you assume that about someone you accidentally contacted at random, when the overwhelming consensus among players seems to be that the default WOW player is a guy?

You began to flatter her early in the conversation, when you knew nothing more about her than that she's a human being who plays WOW, types in complete sentences, and doesn't reply to accidental invitations with, "Fuck off, n00b."

Now you begin to press for her age a second time, after she's already told you that she doesn't want to discuss it.  You push for her to admit to an age range.  When she tells you again that she's not comfortable disclosing that information, you begin to talk about hugging her, inquiring into the kinds of hugs she prefers.

Throughout this conversation, she's tried to be friendly, because she wants to be polite.  She's been told all of her life how important it is to be polite to people, especially as a woman.  She's also been told that it's her responsibility to protect herself from "stranger danger," so she's also been a bit removed, so as not to seem too encouraging.  It's a weird dance and she hasn't been happy with any of her replies; they all seem too forward or too cold.  She can't simply relax and have a good time, because if anything happens, even something so simple as you posting this chat log on-line later for everyone to have a good laugh at, it'll be her fault for not saying the right things in the right way.

She doesn't know who you are or what you want.  You claim to have contacted her by accident, but that doesn't make logical sense.  You continue to push for personal information even after she's asked you not to discuss it.  She has reason not to trust you.

Is it any surprise that she stops replying?

Here's a tip for you.  Act like you want to get to know her as a human being.  Instead of wheedling her age, gender, and location out of her, start with what you already have in common: the game you're both currently playing.  Ask how long she's been playing, if she's into raiding, if she's into pet battles, that sort of thing.  Tell her how you're enjoying the new expansion and which achievement you'll work on next.  Instead of telling her how "sweet" she is after thirty seconds of polite conversation during which you really learned nothing about her except that she's capable of pulling off decent grammar and punctuation, get to know her as a person so that you can learn whether she really is sweet, or sarcastic, or a complex human being with various personality traits which don't all fit under generic assumptions.

I don't know why you assumed her to be a woman.  Maybe it was her character's race, her class, her name?  (Maybe you're the alt of someone she knows, which makes this entire situation even slimier.)  Playing the "accidental invitation" game is conniving and starts the entire conversation off on a bad foot.  Why not be honest?  Whisper people and tell them that you're bored and sleepy and want to talk.

Don't lie to women to get them to interact with you.  Don't press for details when someone has already set boundaries.  Don't drop generic compliments so early they're meaningless.  Treat women like human beings you want to get to know.

The woman you contacted would love to have a boyfriend who plays WOW.  But it's more important to her to have a boyfriend who respects her boundaries.  If you won't respect her limits about conversation topics, she has no reason to believe you'll respect her limits about anything else.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear Ke$ha

US pop star Ke$ha says she wants to be a gay man because they are 'magical people'.
The Tik Tok singer whose latest single Die Young is out now told Britain's Gaydar Radio that she feels a strong bond with gay men.
Asked if she would like to be a gay man, she answered: 'Are you joking? Yes, I do.'
Ke$ha added: 'There's just an energy to a gay man.
'It's not really comparable to any other people. You guys just exude just this happiness.
'Pretty much my whole touring party, as far as, like, the dancers, it's a lot of gay, beautiful, beautiful men. And they're just gorgeous. And their love of life is amazing. They're just, I don't know, just really magical people.'
-GSN, via
Dear Ke$ha,

I believe that when you talk about gay men being magical, beautiful people who love life, you mean to be complimentary.  I believe that you mean well.

But that was a really harmful, bullshit thing to say.

Gay men are not more or less energetic, more or less happy, more or less beautiful, gorgeous, or magical than anyone else.  They don't love life more or less than anyone else.  They are, in fact, comparable to other kinds of people.  You've created some separate, special, unique category for them, removing them from the general population of humankind, as if they're magical fairy creatures here to be beautiful and celebrate life and sparkle.

Gay men are just people.  Some gay men are old.  Some gay men are ill-tempered.  Some gay men are racist and/or stupid and/or ugly.  Some gay men are felons.  Some gay men are abusive.  Some gay men don't use their turn signals.  Some gay men have disabilities.

On Shakesville today, Liss posted some photos of some of the new couples getting married in Washington and Maryland now that same-sex marriage is finally legal there.  In comments, lizziepet said:
I shared the Buzzfeed link that had the photos of Jane and Pete-e on Facebook yesterday, and one of my friends was like, "Well, that's not what I was expecting." "What were you expecting?" "Not old people." "Because only the young and hip can be queer? o.0"
Do you understand how this is relevant?

You're separating out gay men from the general population and shoving them into a "magical" box.  You're denying them the fullness of their personhood.  They don't get to be irritable or unkempt or unpleasant, like anyone else does.  They don't get to be fat or old or depressed or ugly.

Let people be people.  We talk a lot in feminism about intersectionality, because anything that hurts people with disabilities hurts women with disabilities, anything that hurts people of color hurts women of color, anything that hurts trans people hurts trans women, and so on.  All women aren't minor variations on the same theme, and all gay men aren't, either.

Gay men are people.  Some people are happy, magical, beautiful, energetic people who love life.  Some people aren't.  Pushing "positive" stereotypes isn't helpful, it's harmful.  If you genuinely want to be an ally, you'll stop.

With love,
Frank Lee

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Doritos

Some Crash entries are so unique they deserve extra kudos. We received many whacky (sic) themes from this year's entries, now help decide which of these odd and oddly spirited ads made by you deserve a Nacho Average Ad Award.
-Doritos "Crash the Superbowl" ad-making contest
Dear Doritos,

I was over at Shakesville today and learned that you're hosting a contest!  What fun.  It's great to see you encouraging people to be creative.  I'm sure that your "Nacho Average Ad Awards" have received a lot of terrific submissions.

The spirit of the contest seems to be to have some zany, outside-of-the-box fun, with awards for "Best Glass Shatterer" and "Sweetest 'Stache."  Funky and non-traditional!

Oh, and an award for "Best Supporting Babe."

How very, very traditional.

By "babe," I assume you mean "sexy young woman," since the accompanying image is of a pin-up mudflap sort of shape and there's a separate category for actual babies under "Best Pint-Sized Performer."

You only list eight categories of awards, yet you had to make room for misogyny.  You could have made the eighth category something like "Best Stunt" or "Most Creative Product Shot."  You could have pushed the "wacky" vibe and gone for "Best Use of a Shoe" or "Best Gratuitous Lip-Smacking."  But you went for "Best Semi-Important Hottie."

The most important, interesting role for women, then, is to be sexy.

Men seem to be the default here.  There are awards for pets and infants and "babes," but no role for best dude, best bro, best supporting guy.

The babe is a "supporting" babe, of course.  No main roles for babes here!  Don't take up too much camera time!  The pets, the infants, they might be the star of the show, but we don't want the women to think that they're important, or anything.

What a great award.  Of all of the women who strive to meet the patriarchy's current beauty standard and were shown in Doritos ads but kept largely on the sidelines so they wouldn't get uppity, you were the best.  You were the best!

Sexism.  Misogyny.  Women as secondary, as support.  Women as eye candy.  This is not "unique" or "wacky" or "odd."  This is traditional and old and tired.  We've seen it before, trust us.

With love,
Frank Lee