Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What the Phluck?

Being that the nature of this blog is that it's rather unpredictable, I didn't really get much into the whole About the Blogger type exposition. Just to provide a point of reference for what's to come, I am a queer cisgender woman engaged to be married to a straight cisgender man. These details will be of minor importance later.

I also happen to be a gamer. When I'm playing with my friends, it's not much of an issue. I've made enough of a nuisance of myself that they don't use gay, fag, or anything like it as a slam. I'm still working on my own ableism in dropping "retarded," but unfortunately that is more or less treated as a joke; once in a while I'll get what sounds like a stern reprimand for letting it slip, but it immediately deteriorates into dismissive laughter. I take a small measure of pride in having excised "lame" from my vocabulary, although that very likely has to do with how I was called out on that particular unexamined privilege... There's nothing quite like being brought up short by your friend, colleague, and coworker who suffers from MS and, more often than not, gets around in a wheelchair when you say something that's disappointing is "lame." It sort of stays with you. But I digress; this isn't about my vocabulary. I simply mean to establish that, among friends, I game in a *relatively* safe space.

When I game with strangers, all bets are off. In a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, the chances of grouping with complete strangers at SOME point during the leveling and endgame experience, if you ever care to experience content, is somewhere on the order of 100%. I was going to try to be general, but frankly, I don't know other MMO content and accessibility well enough, so I'm just going to own up and admit that it's warcrack. Within the warcrack model, one could go from 1-85 (the start to the current cap) with relative ease completely alone. Dungeons are not a necessary part of the leveling process, nor are battlegrounds, and group quests may usually be avoided by completing soloable quests of similar level. At 85, however, one will likely be forced to either enter into a cooperative situation with strangers, or be restricted to repetitive gathering tasks and in-game daily chores. That's really about all that's available to you alone. If you're very lucky, you might be able to access some of the grouped content (raids or rated battlegrounds) with your friends MOST of the time, but more often than not, the way the game is designed, you will have to put in some effort outside of that group play time in order to pull your own weight, and, unless you're INCREDIBLY lucky or a conjoined quintuplet that plays together there's no guarantee that you'll ALWAYS have enough friends on to accomplish those smaller goals (5 player dungeons or unrated battlegrounds) in preparation for the group endeavor.

Originally, I had intended to tackle the issue of homobigotry and the perpetuation of rape culture in the heat of player versus player combat (PvP). PvP can be an incredibly vicious sport, where your own teammates are MORE likely to visit verbal attacks on you than the enemy because, in WoW, you can't talk to your enemies due to the lack of common tongue between the feuding factions. I had even begun composing the post; that's where the first three paragraphs of THIS came from. Since this has become the first of the two, the background is more appropriate here than there. However, an experience in one of the aforementioned 5 player dungeons last night lead me to push the PvP post to the back burner in favor of something a little more concrete.

To set the stage, this weekend was my anniversary with my Beloved. Although we are USAmerican, and thus expected to grill out, get drunk, and watch fireworks, we opted for a quieter 4th of July simply because his days off from work are so rare, and he'd been quite miserable on the 3rd, so celebraring our anniversary that day was out of the question. Generally, what we do on our anniversary is a small nod to how we met; we stay home and play video games all day. We have a couple of pairs of characters that we level together; one is a tank and heal pair, and the other is a pair of DPS. As one might imagine from their roles in the party, playing the tank/heal pair is more cooperative than the DPS pair, so we decided we'd spend our afternoon playing them. After a few hours of questing, we decided to start throwing some dungeons into the mix. The first few went pretty well, which was a nice surprise. The last time we leveled a tank/heal pair, he really didn't enjoy the tanking role (I do, but that's another post for another time), but he decided that he really wanted to try it again. One of our friends had his usual raid cancel due to attendance issues (it being, as I mentioned, the 4th of July with all of us in largely USAmerican guilds), so he joined us on a DPS character for a few dungeons. We were all having a good time, and making good progress. Of course, there were more than a few low-level characters that the players didn't quite have a full grasp of yet, but very few were particularly difficult to deal with, and only one actually got mouthy with any of us.

Then we landed in Gnomeregan. Very nearly EVERYONE hates this dungeon anyway, and we were no different. But, given the choice between a half hour deserter debuff and moving forward, we pressed on anyway. After a few minutes, one of our DPS dropped group. No big deal, we got back in the queue to find a 5th and kept right on moving. Interestingly, the DPS we gained was the same class as the one we lost, and one of us commented to that effect. Hir response was something along the lines of, "And I'm sexy, too!" at which we all chuckled at the time (well, my fiance, our friend, and I, anyway, we were in Vent together). We continue going about our merry way, chatting both in vent, just among the three of us, and in party chat. Soon, however, things took a turn for the very uncomfortable.

B, whose name I should probably not have blanked out, given that it's relevant to the conversation, is my fiance's toon, K is mine, and W is our friend. I considered censoring the offender's name, but given what it is, a) it says something about hir personality, and b) it will probably be force-changed by the time I post this. If I'd have been thinking at the time, I'd have expanded the chat window to capture the entire conversation, but I'm relatively certain that anyone with a modicum of decency can grasp why I was distressed by this interaction. When ze was only asking if my fiance's name was Brandi (hard to tell for certain if ze meant player or character, but one rather suspects player because all of our character names are quite clearly laid out in text), W and I both joked that ze was hitting on my fiance, and little did ze know that the character's gender didn't match the player. This seems to happen to my fiance often because when he plays female characters (which is less than half the time), he usually gives them feminine sounding names, like Tabithia. Ordinarily it's farily easily deflected, and the pursuing party will buzz off on being informed that a) the player isn't interested and/or b) the player's gender doesn't match the character.

It was the last part that set me off (I can only assume that the hunter was beating hir on damage to have elicited the comment that WASN'T awkwardly like hitting on my fiance). It was so out of left field, unwarranted, and unwelcome that I nearly put up a vote to have hir removed from the party. Instead, I asked our friend W if he thought I was overreacting in finding the comment over the top. His response in party chat came paired with a very skeeved-out sounding "buh, no" in voice chat. I followed my >.> with a comment that B was spoken for, and could zie please back off? Of course, as I should expect by now, the response was a nonchalant "who, me?" attitude, and I was being "mean" for suggesting that zie was acting like a creeper by making such comments unsolicited. I also very nearly launched into a full blown tirade about how just because someone presents, in the real world or a virtual one, as female is not license to objectify hir for your own amusement. How, as a woman in real life (as opposed to just my character), I am sick to death of living in a culture that thinks that rape is something that should be joked about. Again, I restrained myself. Beloved and I were drinking, and I didn't want to wreck my buzz by getting all angry at some mysoginistic twit that happened to get placed in my dungeon group. After a few more minutes, probably when it became clear that I wasn't going to apologise to hir for "being mean," zie dropped group as well. Oddly, we got yet a third character of the same class, but this one didn't make creepy, uninvited sexual comments. We finished the dungeon and set about to chasing down dinner, realising it was nearing 11pm and we hadn't eaten.

In the spirit of things I should expect, I will (potentially) stop you short right now and say that no, I'm not some kind of prude. Among friends, suggestive humor is fair game, and is laughed off because we are comfortable with each other and ourselves. If someone says something that crosses a boundary, it's called out, apologies are made, and we move on with our lives. Hell, if we let our banter bleed into some channel that includes people outside of our circle, we will apologise and confine ourselves to a more private space (unless of course the other party is laughing right along with us). There are understandings and concessions among friends. Strangers who are willing to be understanding and/or make concessions may become friends. Strangers who perpetuate damaging cultural mores will not.

This blog exists largely as a testament to my refusal to settle for the status quo in a culture that devalues damn near everything that makes me who I am. I'm no superhero, but I'm not about to stand idly by as someone makes three other people (if not four; the hunter didn't do much talking either) uncomfortable by making completely unwarranted sexual comments in group chat. The fact that the victim in this story was my fiance makes it more personal, but it doesn't change my reaction. If zie had been creeping on a random party mate I'd never met before, and would likely never see again, I'd still have said something. It's not because I'm uppity, and it's not because I'm repressed. It's because it's the right thing to do, and because no one should have to deal with harassment.

Over time, there will be followups on this issue, being that gaming is one of my main hobbies and, try as I might to keep it under wraps, sometimes people find out I'm a woman. Just the fact that I feel the need to hide my identity is indicative enough of a larger problem, but still. This isn't an isolated incident. It's an endemic issue in the gaming community, and one that can really only be fought from within. The GMs can't intervene all the time.