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.

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