Blizzard, the company that runs the massively popular online multiplayer World of Warcraft game, has banned the practice of gay/lesbian/bi/trans players mentioning their sexuality in their guild-descriptions.
Gameplay in World of Warcraft (WoW) hinges on cooperation and guilds; many missions require several players to complete. The game, then, focuses on intense social interaction, and has benefitted tremendously from players who move large parts of their social lives to the game.
But players who have advertised their guilds as "GBLT-friendly" have lately been warned off by Blizzard moderators, who cite a rule against sexual discrimination in censoring the players. When pressed for explanations, they offer the genuinely bizarre excuse that if queer players are allowed to tell other players about their sexual orientation, that it might arouse discriminatory or unkind remarks from those players, and that would violate the anti-discrimination rules of the game.
Online games are incredibly, deeply moving social software that have hit on a perfect formula for getting players to devote themselves to play: make play into a set of social grooming negotiations. Big chunks of our brains are devoted to figuring out how to socialize with one another -- it's how our primate ancestors enabled the cooperation that turned them into evolutionary winners.
But real life has one gigantic advantage over gamelife. In real life, you can be a citizen with rights. In gamelife, you're a customer with a license agreement. In real life, if a cop or a judge just makes up a nonsensical or capricious interpretation of the law, you can demand an appeal. In gamelife, you can cancel your contract, or suck it up.
Will a game ever give players citizenship instead of just customership? Will players always be willing to treat games as their online homes if they have to rely on customer service ethos instead of the Constitution to assure them of a fair shake?
Andrews explained that there was an obvious misunderstanding and that she was not insulting anyone, but merely recruiting for a "GLBT friendly" guild.
The response from Blizzard was, "While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a 'GLBT friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise. If you will look at our policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy is to 'be temporarily suspended from the game.' However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty was reduced to a warning."