GamesIndustry.biz has an official statement from Blizzard Entertainment regarding their position on the issue of in-game recruiting for gay-friendly guilds. Blizzard states that polarising issues like religion, politics, and sexuality tend to result in conversations that result in harassment. Therefore all such “sensitive real-world” topics are banned from conversation in general chat channels in the game. Apparently, openly recruiting for a guild that is aligned with any religious, political, racial, or other “sensitive” topics is not permitted. Blizzard’s statement doesn’t say that such guilds themselves are not allowed to exist, merely that advertising for them in-game, in public channels, is not allowed.
Blizzard’s actions have garnered the attention of Stonewall a well-known lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights lobbying group (named after the 1969 anti-gay riots in New York), which has called for Blizzard to review its harassment policy to see whether their actions in this case were necessary. Blizzard say that they will clarify the language in their policies in the future.
Ironically, the player was issued a warning for being in violation of the harassment policy in Blizzard’s Terms of Service — not for harassing anyone, but for being a potential target for harassment. If people aren’t allowed to advertise for gay-friendly guilds, which do not tolerate homophobic, hateful language, could Blizzard maybe do something about all the fuckwits who engage in homophobic and derogatory language as common practice? The easy answer to this would be: “Yes, they should do something about that, but they don’t.” However, as mentioned earlier, Blizzard did enforce their policy. According to them, players are not allowed to openly advertise recruitment for gay-friendly guilds in-game, and a warning was issued to the offending player. This action, disageeable though it may be, is consistent with their policy.
The issue of cracking down on players who actually do harass others is a trickier task to accomplish. Obviously, Blizzard cannot patrol the chat channels all the time for violators of the harassment policy. They rely on other players to report bad behaviour. The player who tried to recruit for her gay-friendly guild was probably reported by another player who was offended by her recruitment efforts. The fact that there is so much abusive, derogatory, and hateful language occurring on general chat channels shows that most people tolerate this behaviour. If players didn’t tolerate people using “gay” or “fag” in a derogatory sense, then we wouldn’t be seeing such widespread use of those terms. If people didn’t tolerate others being harassed if someone finds out that a player is a woman, then all the in-game sexist language wouldn’t be happening. The problem is that the players accept the use of hateful language and most of them don’t see anything wrong with it. This acceptance perpetuates an environment that is hostile to homosexual players, to women players, to Chinese players — basically to any group of players who aren’t straight, white males.
So whilst, Blizzard may put forth their best efforts to mitigate harassment, it’s the players who perpetuate and foster this nonsense. Can a few small voices here change the cultural environment of a game? If more people were less tolerant about abusive language, then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a major feature of online gaming.