The big news on the Blizzard front yesterday was that they’d decided not to have a BlizzCon in 2012; that is, the large fan convention at which the titan ha ha insidery Blizzard joke of the gaming community makes the biggest of its big announcements. The reasoning was that with three games/expansions expected to drop within the next year and a half, the company’s time would be better spent working on them and, moreover, they just didn’t have anything really exciting and new to show.
But there was a tidbit of smaller news that we feel is still important to highlight. Blizzard was successfully pressured to remove “homosexual” and “transsexual” from the list of words that the in-game profanity filter of World of Warcraft automatically blocks.
World of Warcraft‘s profanity filter defaults to the “off” position, and when turned on, automatically replaces certain words with cartoon-typical exotic punctuation. A recent bug, however, resulted in the filter being turned to the on position at every log in, consistently showing a lot of players who’d never tried out the feature exactly which words it did and didn’t permit. This is undoubtedly what caused a lot of people to realize that the profanity filter doesn’t let you say “homosexual” or “transsexual.”
Blizzard’s attempts to keep drama out of the game have not always been the best when it comes to the LGBTQ community. Allow me to quote myself in explanation:
The idea that banning the use of LGBT terms entirely is a good way to protect users from harassment is one that has a number deep flaws in it. Primarily, it doesn’t work because you can’t tell someone that they can’t do something on the internet.
Otherwise, banning a term that a minority uses to describe itself in many ways renders that minority invisible and incapable of fully representing itself. Blizzard ran afoul of this problem in 2006, when one of its moderators threatened to punish a player who was advertising her World of Warcraft guild as LGBT friendly, because of a context neutral ban on using LGBT terms in public chat channels [in order to prevent harassment]. After a considerable amount of controversy including a letter from Lambda Legal, Blizzard publicly stated that the player would not be penalized and that the warning was a result of “unfortunate interpretation” of their harassment policy
Secondarily, banning words that communities use to self-describe symbolically removes their ability to self-identify, which is also a pretty crap idea. LGBT friendly guilds have become numerous enough in WoW to put on a yearly in-game Pride Parade on the Proudmoore server what better server name, really? complete with plenty of pink shirts and tabards.
Blizzard reacted quickly as soon as the issue was pointed out, with a community manager responding: “We’ve reviewed our filter list and there are a few words there that should not be blocked as profanity; we’ll be removing them in a future patch.” This is not entirely inconsistent with Blizzard’s policy towards offensive content. For example, the company has made clear in community statements that it relies on players to know and report violations of its naming policy no offensive content, no names of actual celebrities or famous fictional characters or Blizzard NPCs, no sentences so that it can enforce the naming policy, rather than spending manpower on seeking out all the think-they’re-so-clever Anigavs and Sineps. Not to mention all the deathknights named Arthazz.
Even if it’s a feature that very few players actually use, you’d think that Blizzard’s own curated profanity filter would deserve a company review now and then, if only to keep up with the times and remain relevant to parents whose children play. When that future patch hits perhaps with the expected update next week, World of Warcraft will not imply that “homosexual” or “transsexual” are dirty words for the first time since its launch in 2004. Would this be a good time to mention that the seven letter F word and it’s oh so charming diminutive are not masked by the profanity filter? Apparently it can’t be used to harass players like “homosexual” can.