In-Game Harassment: Ignorance, Silencing, and The Mary Sue
Today I’m going to interrupt my archaeology series to talk about a more urgent topic: in-game harassment I’ve faced this past week. In between opening GM tickets and screenshotting offensive tells, it got me thinking about player ignorance, stereotypes, and the continued gender disparity in WoW. By coincidence, the new feminist blog The Mary Sue published an article recently on women and harassment in-game; I couldn’t disagree more with its advice.
I’m going to share a few pointed examples of player harassment and ignorance, link the screenshots instead of sugarcoating things, and then dissect why a recent article over at The Mary Sue bothers me so much. (Warning: NSFW language in the screenshots.)
How would you feel if a guild begged you to join for several months, and then mid-xfer told you to cancel because they were worried you’d be overly friendly to men? And you end up $25 poorer because your bank alt is already over? That happened to me a few years back.
After my guild in Sunwell died, I looked for a new home. A guild that had previously tried to poach me a few months back still needed a rogue, so I applied and was instantly accepted without even an interview. Except, when I whispered them a few days later on my bank alt for a ginvite…I was told not to xfer.
I was declined because they were worried about past manipulative experiences with “young girls.” As a college graduate well above 18+ age policies many guilds have, I smelled a shoddy excuse.
I later pieced together that the guild was concerned that my application references were too enthusiastic, wink wink. They whispered a friend from my old server to go along with rumors; they wanted to use his name in their juicy story they concocted. Got a good sarcastic laugh out of that when he pasted me the conversation.
What the guild didn’t do? Speak to me directly and hear my own voice. They went with their incorrect gut reaction and reacted in an unprofessional manner. They told me I had one of the strongest-written applications ever but they had to decline me based on their personality hunch. And I was out $25 and a month of accessing my bank alt—thank god my main’s xfer was slow or else I’d have been stuck a month unguilded on a random server. The kicker? The guild prided themselves on being tolerant and friendly, especially towards women. Yet they couldn’t talk to my face. GG.
The person responsible for that charming foot-in-mouth no longer plays WoW, so it’s no use dragging that guild’s name through the mud. But the story is valuable. I felt like someone dumped a bucket of ice water over me when that officer whispered me—I had spent most of BC gaining a wonderful reputation on my home server, and now this was all ruined by one insecure officer who slandered me. I could perform well in raids and have good friends from top 10 guilds give recommendations, but instead of working in my favor, they were detrimental.
I seriously debated quitting WoW—the time was ticking on my expiring boss logs, every week I wasn’t raiding I fell further behind on experience and gear, if such an initially enthusiastic guild turned against me, what would a completely neutral guild do? I was scared to app to any guild that had a vent interview and lied about my name on applications to appear more gender-neutral.
With encouragement from friends, I continued to search and found my current guild a month later. When I was promoted to officer several tiers later, I made sure to thoroughly research every application on the guild’s forums as well as every raider-related complaint. I didn’t want anyone to fall through the cracks like I did thanks to ignorance and insecurity.
Unfortunately, many players lack the ability to reflect and analyze. Instead, they fall back on simple and offensive explanations. When the in-game harassment and this article surfaced this week, it brought back those old feelings of anger loud and clear.
This Week’s Harassment
As an officer for the server’s top guild, sometimes it’s fun and epics as I ride around on exclusive mounts with realm first titles. Most of the time though, I’m handling vent interviews before raid, strategy tells during raid, bots on the forums, and social minutiae on off-nights. Other times, I get to be the person that handles most of the gkicks. This week, I’ve more than earned my keep as an officer in doing what’s best for the guild in the face of personal harassment.
We recently cleaned house on several casual members and a raider that were being disruptive. Pure and simple, they were not fitting the bill for a progression guild that values maturity and low-drama. Letting such issues slide is only a cancer–there’s a reason the guild has been raiding at a high level since Molten Core, and the success story does not involve arrogant raiders holding the raid hostage. If I had to come up with a non-WoW parallel for my guild, we’re Tadfield, a glitched respite that remains comfy and homey as similarly-ranked guilds crumble due to drama.
It made perfect sense to remove these offending players—but that doesn’t mean the aftermath was fun to deal with, especially when the removed players resorted to sexist clichés and outright lying.
It started when a male officer demoted a Friends and Family rank player to a mute rank. He was a recent ginvite that seemed initially polite, but raged when I told him he could not app to our hardmode guild in ilevel 308 cloth gear as a shaman. For reference, our ilevels are hovering around 380 and a simple 5-player heroic requires ilevel 339. After trolling raiders in guild chat, he was demoted to mute rank as a warning. F&F members are in the guild out of the kindness of the officers; if they want to bite the hand that feeds them, they can go hungry.
But which officer got the following message? Not the male officer that actually demoted the player, but me. I received the following tells without preamble during a heroic boss attempt:
As I was dodging tornadoes, I didn’t screencap the blurb where he called me a sissy pasty ass and a dumb ginger, but based on the above tells, I’m guessing you’ll take my word on it.
Later that night, a raider who was sensitive to the above poster’s trolling flared up again with his different, yet equally offensive, brand of trolling. A recent applicant that was initially positive and enterprising, his attitude headed for the south when the progression stress of Firelands began. Multiple chats with officers did nothing and his attitude clashed with other raiders. For one example, since I missed the first week of Firelands due to moving apartments, I attended an alt run to soak up rep and VP. He looted gear to an alt over my main and told me tough luck, even after multiple officers stated that mains stuck going on alt runs got gear priority. We’re the top raiding guild on the server—you don’t do something like that in a progression guild. It both demonstrates a lack of respect for authority as well as personal goals that don’t align with progression raiding.
In discussing the issue with others, I learned that he had shared numerous variations of that night. Caught red-handed while lying, he eventually settled on the following excuse: “There’s a thread made from Blackwing Lair about alts and loot, why didn’t you read it?”
I am a current officer. That thread he was referring to is over five years old when none of the current officers were in charge. Yet he decided to follow that ancient thread instead of three officers explicitly telling him on vent how to handle loot. That was beginning of his quick end.
So when the dust was settling from the flurry of those above screenshots, he began to snark raiders mere minutes later. Several raiders had conversations earlier that day with him which boiled down to “stop being offended at my attitude, my sense of humor is awesome.” While allusions to those conversations could appear innocuous to an outsider, fuses snapped as soon as the humor-related snark began because people were fed up at the blatant disregard. He left the guild—making sure to put in his Real ID message that one should never join a guild with girls.
Slow down a minute. A warning about girls—miles away from the reality that he spread rumors about raiders or flouted officer orders. In the short time he remained guilded after that alt run, numerous players whispered me with complaints–he spiraled out of control. Yet when he left, it was twisted to appear as if only the female raiders were offended by “a single recent comment.” Now to be fair, female raiders did feel silenced by his comments recently–both raiders and RL friends. There was an element of sexism which came to the forefront after the gkicks. But turning it into a full-blown tone argument detracted from the actual concrete problems at the core of our discontent: the absurd lies spread about both men and women, as well as his refusal to take any type of criticism. How am I going to trust someone to follow instructions during a boss encounter if they won’t admit to making any sort of mistake? The officers had noticed his stubborn behavior seeping into raids and affecting his performance.
He applied to a better-progressed guild and said that the girls drove him out of the guild, while the guys had no problem with him. Those new officers ate it up, cracked jokes about it, and accepted him 3 hours later. Wheeeee. It’s a problem that such illogical lies seem to be a perfect solution for him; it’s also troubling that some people believe him easily.
Of course, I got word back he was telling everyone that “all the guys think she’s retarded.” Yes, that’s why I fielded numerous complaints from male raiders about him. After getting word that he was continuing to spread delusional stories through forum private messages, I banned the whole group of gkicked players from the forums.
The arrogance of this player is sickening–how he confidently thinks he can throw out another clichéd and inaccurate trope and people will blindly believe him over hard data. In fact, he threw a fit when I told him I confronted the raiders in question with his lies. If someone is going to whisper an officer about raiders quitting, I’m going to need to investigate it as a recruitment officer. He said I made him look dramatic and stupid, when his lies got deflated. Well, then–how is this my fault?
Last night, the harassment continued–again right when the tornadoes spawn on Alysrazor. If it’s not the tornadoes making me dizzy, it’s waves of rude tells. One of the banned troublemakers, a friend of the raider, began making level 1s and spamming the majority of the guild with threats and insults. Here are a few that most members received:
Other male players received modified tells that they needed to be a man, yell more, and put the women in their place. Clearly, the women of the guild have addled their thinking–if they made independent choices they would *never* support the girls!!
Couldn’t put him on ignore because he’d delete the toons immediately after and I’d get ‘player not found.’ And as you can see from the second message, he knew that and revelled in it. Many players opened tickets with Blizzard, and we all got the same form response to make sure to put offending people on ignore. Zzz.
I later got word this third charming individual sent one officer 120 individual mails of level 1 water and told other people I was a rude individual because I never thanked him for the spectral tiger mount he gave me for 100k. That mount guide at Wowhead I wrote with that spectral tiger pic? Was published before he was even in the guild. But he’s operating under the assumption that nobody will question his lies and he won’t get caught.
I am infuriated this week. Not at my guild—they are wonderful. We removed offending individuals instead of worrying that it could affect rankings. We’ve all opened tickets about the harassment. We’ve even gotten a new hardmode kill in spite of their best efforts to distract us.
But the following things make me pause and fume. How a male officer can demote a player, yet it’s assumed that the female player did it for sensitive reasons. How someone can blithely lie 24/7 about serious issues like raiders leaving and assume guildmates won’t compare conversation notes. How a majority of the guild can be irritated by behavior during raid, yet it’s simply easier to target female raiders instead of admitting personal flaws. How multiple people can give stern reprimands about raid policies and it all goes in one ear and out the other, twisted into sensitive girls making rash judgments. How a guild can take a random app’s word about a far-fetched story because it fits their joke comfort zone—a guild that is quick to raise red flags on other apps. How over 10 guildmates opened tickets about this harassment and we were just told by Blizzard to put people on ignore, which was ineffective advice.
I’ve fought the good progression fight for six years and I post popular Wowhead guides on my hard-earned collections, but people will eat tropes up about bad rash players and shady mount collectors. On one hand, this is yet another repetitive post covering familiar territory. On the other hand, it needs to be said precisely because it is familiar territory.
I’m not sure how to proceed from here. On one hand, it’s done. The guild is killing new bosses, the mood is lightened, tickets have been opened, and I’ve moved from venting to analysis.
But the individuals are still running smugly around, secure that they can make another level 1 to troll us on, delete, resurface, repeat. Such is the nature of the internet, but as this corner of it isn’t free, I’d like to see some action for my money. Perhaps an ignore feature that works across accounts?
My stories about shifty players nipped in the bud and Hall-of-Shame apps could fill a whole post on their own, but it’s never fun to see blatant liars believed so quickly as well.
If these above stories have made you pause instead of falling for your friend’s predictable WoW-drama punchline, they’ve done part of their job.
Mary Sue: “Some women take their ire too far”
Purely by coincidence, I came across The Mary Sue, a self-proclaimed “guide to girl geek culture.” The goals are the site are: “highlighting women in the geek world, and providing a prominent place for the voices of geek women.” However, it’s come across some recent criticism on my twitter feeds for mashing up feminism with victim-blaming. In my brief glance at the site, it seems to want its cake and eat it too—I applaud its agenda in theory, but the articles miss the mark by wanting to appeal to the broadest possible audience and mindset, incorporating phrases like “gentlemen, some women take their ire too far.” (This deserves a roundtable-style review at some point in the future.)
Yesterday, I browsed the site to see what the fuss was about, and came across the very relevant article “Woman on Vent.” It’s optimistic and inspirational, but also naïve. It presupposes that we live in a logical world where if we only try hard enough, the world will eventually become a better place. The article posits that the best way to fix voice-chat harassment is not to speak. Read that phrase over a few times and let the absurdity of handling communication software with silence sink in.
The article begins with the author sharing how her fears of being ostracized as a female gamer using voice-chat software were happily proven false. She came across “awesome” guys, guildmates who “never so much as blinked at my gender,” and people caring “not one bit.” She quotes friends that are reported to have been both raid leaders and in hardcore guilds, two descriptions I’ve fit for most of my WoW career. Shockingly (or perhaps not), their advice is the complete opposite of what I would give.
One friend suggests: “if someone is annoying in general I just mute them specifically.” That is a horrible idea. In a hardcore guild, people on mute during a raid will lead to disaster if instructions are ignored. Hardcore guilds foster pretty close quarters as well, so encouraging discord is pretty much shooting yourself in the foot. Another friend suggests “If they get annoyingly clingy, I just mute them and say I was AFK. It’s the internet. I don’t have to be nice to people” This promotes evasiveness and polite lying, instead of taking a stand. And from what I’ve observed? You can’t AFK forever, you’ll have to find an excuse the next day. You are both prolonging your misery while encouraging further behavior your dislike. Acting that way is the epitome of being “nice”—reacting in a non-confrontational way that disguises your upset opinion.
And as for that raid leader? Also recommends the ignore feature. An officer that feels the need to put members on ignore is doomed to fail. If you dislike someone that much, you should not be guilded with them. Ignoring someone is admitting defeat, that you have no control over a player’s actions but are reliant upon their presence in the guild. That raider I kicked suggested earlier this month I put him on ignore. I said that I would remove people in the guild before doing that.
There’s other advice like:
- If your boss is a jerk, try to find someone above or around your boss who is not a jerk.
- If someone insults you, find someone else to play with.
- Things aren’t that bad. If someone’s a jerk, ignore them. Being a woman doesn’t get in the way of my ability to play.
- So here’s the problem with Vent: Some people are mean.
- It’s just going to take some time.
On a positive note, the article later does admit to oversimplification at points. But the only solution is that harassed people should go out there in spite of these issues and take control. And I am—which is why I was a target in the first place. I run my guild how I want it to be run, with equal doses of humor, progression, and respect. As far as WoW goes, I can confidently say I’m good at what I do. I do many things, and I do them well—progression raiding, achievement points, rare mount collecting, Wowhead guide writing. One part wants to breathe a sigh of relief—whew, you’ve proved yourself, you’ve ‘earned’ the right to voice your opinion as an authority. The other part says that I’m buying into the system–I don’t need to act perfectly in order to feel entitled to an opinion.
Saying that I’m a vocal person who enjoys gaming does not mean I have more of a right to express my opinion over someone with self-esteem issues. We should be examining the people who are at the root of problems—in any situation—instead of shifting blame to those who are forced to react. Following the advice of this article, we just shift blame away from the perpetrators.
The article touches upon how the opinions of male gamers fit into this all—a tricky subject, to be sure. It was challenging dealing with the offensive players in my guild—they tried to paint all the issues as a classic battle of the sexes, when in reality it was rudeness towards many male raiders as well. It’s hard to view their recent harassment as anything but sexist—yet when summarizing the story to others, I haven’t wanted to lose sight of the original issues or fall into the ‘us vs them’ simplification.
The article talks about a “quieter phenomenon,” that of male gamers putting up a “resistance against aggressively us-versus-them female gamers.” I do think that painting any group with broad brushstrokes is counter-productive to fixing discrimination, and that’s why I’ve taken pains to keep my own guild story nuanced instead of disintegrating into ‘guys vs girls.’ However, that is precisely how the article pits the sexes-—chill dudes who feel misunderstood vs neurotic women that just need to patiently get out there and ignore the “bad apples” until things get better. Instead of telling male gamers to understand the internalized sexism many female gamers face, the article is all about proper behavior.
Also this article seems to think that simple ignores work perfectly. This isn’t a world where things are that easy. “Some people are mean” is an analysis that won’t cut it for me. Some mean people apologize, and some never catch on and that’s where the article’s logical universe unravels. Do you think behaving like a steel-clad paragon of focus is going to make an obtuse person wake up and change their attitude, even gradually?
Answer: it won’t.
I’ve been playing WoW for six years and I’m not content to see situations repeat themselves—to be conveniently shoehorned into a harmful trope–and simply shrug and conclude that “it’s just going to take some time.”
It is absurd that some people have a gut reaction to blame female officers and to infantilize their motives. It is absurd that other people assume lies about female raiders will be instantly believed—and depressing when that comes to fruition. Blizzard’s responses to my situation are naïve at best, uncaring at worst. And articles like “Woman on Vent” make the situation worse, reinforcing the notion that if you only kept your mouth shut and made spineless AFK excuses, this toxic environment will slowly go away.
If you have felt stereotyped in-game, I hope this article has made you feel less alone. If this is a topic that has percolated in the back of your mind, I hope you are armed with better analytical tools now in the future.
There’s a lot of ignorance out there. Go out and do something about it.
This goes without saying that it’s worth checking out our comment policy and all first-time posters are automatically screened–it’s nothing personal. Names of level 85 whispers intentionally blurred in the screenshots. Many thanks to @anafielle, @Esoth, @fallen_tree, @technophobia, and @wowcynwise for their thoughtful beta feedback.