Challenge Mode: Confronting Bullies and Users of Offensive Language in WoW
I want to take a step back from druids, crummy puns, and game mechanics and tell you fine folks a story. I imagine that many of you will be able to relate, though I wish that weren’t the case. I was bullied as a child. I’m not sure why it happened, though I suppose I was sort of a weirdo: I liked robots and books and leggings with stirrups. But I can’t claim it was because of my sexuality or my socio-economic status or the color of my skin. I was bullied because I was…me.
Obviously I turned out okay. It “got better.” I eventually learned that I didn’t need to bury my quirks and interests to make people like me, because those people really weren’t worth my time. But for most of my childhood, I was a truly miserable human being. One day, after I came home with my glasses fogged up from crying, something about a group of children calling me a human dictionary[i] and throwing icicles at me, my mom said, “You really need to stick up for yourself. Take a stand, bean bag.”
Later, when an eighth grade girl on the bus pulled my glasses off my face and stomped them into ruin, I remembered my mom’s remonstration. I balled my shaking hands into fists, and I punched her in the face. Have you ever witnessed a perfectly silent bus full of middle schoolers? My principal sure hadn’t. After I sorted things out with my school’s administrators,[ii] the school bus altercation assumed legendary status: no one bothered me again. I learned that if I finally challenged my tormentors in a public space, I could reveal that they, too, were vulnerable. I could shame them.
I’m not advocating violence. I was in the sixth grade when all that happened, and I wasn’t quick or confident enough for a clever repartee. What I am suggesting is that confrontation and education are necessary elements involved in addressing bullying, harassment, and abusive language. I feel that we are obligated to become moderators of our safe spaces, whether that’s at home, in the office, or in Azeroth. There are risks, of course. You could be hurt, physically. You could be fired. You could lose friends. You might be harassed more. At the very least, you might get vote kicked. I can’t tell you your acceptable-risk threshold—you’ll need to figure that out on your own. But I would like to explain how I deal with harassment and ignorance online—in WoW, specifically.
At first, I started expressing my disapproval for abusive, homophobic, misogynist, ableist language (or for names like “Sirrapesalot”) by reporting each offender for language. It’s easy, it presumably starts to create an electronic “paper trail” for that individual, and it also automatically blocks that person. This method can be an excellent tool for immediately obliterating offensive individuals from your space, especially if they’re simply trade trolls or people encountered in passing. Unfortunately, you’re also not confronting this person about his or her poor behavior. They may eventually be slapped with some sort of warning or ban from Blizzard, but they likely won’t understand why.
I started to feel dissatisfied with reporting. It’s too anonymous, and it doesn’t provide the offender with any sort of immediate feedback. If there’s a repeat trade offender, a raid member in an LFR, or a five-man player shitting up the instance channel with “You’re a pussy faggot” or “A fucking retard could play better than you,” I immediately stop what I’m doing and start composing a tell. I’ll be blunt, explain that their language is hurtful, completely unacceptable, and will be reported to Blizzard, and then I immediately put that person on ignore.[iii] Do not give them the opportunity to respond: you’ve challenged their behavior, and they’re probably going to be upset about it. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, the initial anger will subside, and they’ll eventually come to the realization that they can’t act like an asshole with impunity.
Sometimes, if the language is used in a conversation manner rather than as something directed at a specific person, I’ll craft a different sort of response. I’ll explain that while it probably wasn’t his or her intention, language such as X or Y can sometimes create barriers or end up being really hurtful—it doesn’t engender a sense of an inclusive community. I may even acknowledge that it’s difficult to train oneself to remember how words can cause real pain, and that I hope he or she will try to keep all this in mind in the future. And then I wait. Usually, I don’t get any response—whether this means that individual is ashamed or doesn’t care, I can’t really know. Occasionally, though, this conversation opens a dialogue, which is almost always positive—it gets the wheels turning. It even provides you with an opportunity to offer helpful resources. But if I receive a hostile response, I quickly follow my above protocol and ignore that individual immediately.
I have this instinctual desire to keep confrontations private; that way, I can minimize the damage if the conversation gets out of control. That being said, addressing offensive language, bad behavior, or general creepiness in a public space calls attention to it and underscores it as problematic—you’re unequivocally letting someone know that he or she crossed a line. Everyone gets to see how ignorant it is, and even if they might not agree with you at the moment, you’ve given them something to think about. Maybe they don’t know what “ableist” means, and they end up looking it up and learning something.
But what do you say? I don’t think it’s useful to level with, “I find that offensive.” You’re going to get a hey, great, I don’t really care that your tender sensibilities have been “offended.” Instead, I think it’s more productive to say, “That kind of language hurts people” or “That language perpetuates stereotypes that are really damaging” or “I really hope you wouldn’t say that kind of thing to your friends and family members who might be queer/disabled/women” or “If I heard someone say that to me in person, I’d call the police or get a restraining order.” I’d also recommend challenging their premises with humor and hyperbole.[iv]
Problems at Home
What if the creepster/offender lives in your guild? What if this is someone you have to deal with all the time? It’s important to address this on a case-by-case basis (and remember that your personal safety is paramount). If someone is using language you think creates a negative environment, you can pretty easily have a one-on-one conversation about how to move forward. Talk to that person in the same fashion you’d talk to a friend whose behavior you wanted to challenge, and make it personal. Try not to paint that individual as a shitty person, even if that’s how you’re feeling at the moment—we’re not all magically enlightened. Many people are hugely unaware of the privileges they have in their own life, and it can be important to take it slow.
If, however, someone is pointedly harassing you or someone else, you should bring it to the attention of your GM and them know that A) it’s not acceptable B) it makes the guild look terrible and C) you (or someone else) feels unsafe and unwelcome. At that point, you’re placing the burden of confrontation on someone else’s shoulders—and that’s okay. Your GM should be willing to advocate for a positive, progressive environment. If they’re not, you know that it’s time to block the offender and move on. Remember: you deserve to be treated with respect. Don’t let an oppressive guild atmosphere ruin your enjoyment of the game—even progression isn’t worth that.
In the event that the harassment continues, make sure you document it. Take screenshots and open tickets as soon as it occurs. Call Blizzard’s Customer Service number at (800) 592-5499 and say that you’d like to report threatening behavior. Let them know that if they are unwilling to take punitive action, despite your documentation, you’ll be bringing the matter to your local authorities. If you can help it, do not allow this behavior to escalate.
Keeping It Real
Ultimately, I believe in Real Talk, and I try to espouse it in all aspects of my life. It’s about being open and honest, even if being open and honest has the potential to be hurtful—especially initially. It’s not an excuse to say shitty things to people, but is rather a plan to continue to challenge yourself and others to be more compassionate and emotionally engaged. It’s about discourse. It’s about confronting adversity, in plain language. It’s about being clear and direct with regards to your desires. It’s about creating a culture of exchange and explicit consent. And you know, sometimes it gets me in trouble, especially at work. But I think it’s so important to my own personal integrity that I keep at it. I hope you do too.
How do you deal with bullies, offensive language, and in-game harassment?
[i] Which I now realize I should have taken as a compliment.
[ii] Thankfully, the principal was someone who understood that I was a kid with good grades who never got into trouble and was simply pushed to the breaking point. These were also the days before zero tolerance policies.
[iii] The assumption, here, is that this person is knowingly using loaded language to make someone feel bad and will presumably turn that language on me as soon as I give him or her the opportunity to do so.
[iv] Unfortunately, I often feel like I’m never quick enough on the draw for this; my dude mans is often a lot faster. He also really doesn’t give a shit what other people think about him.