Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SUWT and the gang wear their bunny ears

It seems we disappointed a blogger out there in regards to how we handled our recent podcast on the issues of the "Bunny Ear" debacle in WoW.

What started as a statement by Tobold, became a disagreement on Raph Koster's website.

We took it upon ourselves to discuss how we felt about avatars on SUWT this past weekend, and it may even have come off that we thought it had something to do with maturity..at least this is what Anjin at Bullet Points wrote..

"Dismissing points of view as immature because they differ from yours is counterproductive and potentially dangerous."

First, I do wish to state, that as bloggers, podcasters, gamers...this is what we do all the time anyways. Have different viewpoints. I do not believe we pushed off those beliefs as immature. But, maybe as we have aged and played these games, we have moved beyond these feelings of the avatar being more than a playing piece. We just may not have the time to delve into it (at least I do not anymore...).

I had stated how I wished we could get beyond "stereotypes" though and just play the game for the game. Maybe we RP sometimes, and want more from those characters..but we cannot expect the developers to want the same.

Before MMO's, were we ever worried in our single player games what our character did or looked like or was represented? Stereotypes were quite rampant at those times, and as we have progressed in our world, so have the games.

But, here we are with Blizzard offering an achievement that may "objectify" women (if they feel this is what it does to them. My wife for example finds it "awesome" and wants a pair)..thus, should the game be allowed to even do this.

We can go back to my previous post about support though and see it in writing on the wall, plain as day "Warranty is implied as such..."

You as a player give up all rights to those avatars as soon as you log into that game. The warranty states as much. Blizzard is allowed to do what they wish, whenever they wish.

If they wish to objectify women? They do not care. Cut off Gay and Lesbians from advertising their guilds? GONE!...

Stereotypes are rampant in the MMO world. Look at Age of Conan as a fine example. (but I digress, there are ugly people in that game as well as beautiful people..). But guess what? Our rights are thrown out the window upon the first step into that world.

This is what it boils down to. No matter how much we want the avatar to mean something more, the developers stop that all from happening due to THEIR control, their DICTATORSHIP of these games.

Heck we can't even get good support, yet we are worried our avatars are being treated unfairly? Gee, our human selves are being treated worse.

In all honesty, I wish it was a place that we had more control of...but we do not. We pay to access those game servers, and the developer controls the rest of that world. No shouting or screaming will fix it either (well, maybe...like in my case with the support issues in Conan).

But, let me say this. Do we not play these games to enter another reality, to leave our real world behind? Should we be dragging real world rules into those games? Should we be jailed every time we kill those small creatures of those worlds? Every time we use "herbs" should we be under suspicion from the guards?

Just some food for thought...


Tesh said...

Agreed. First, that the whole thing is way overdramatized considering *real* problems, and second, that we are playing in someone else's playground, and have agreed to their terms.

Nice writeup.

Scott said...

Oh goodie, more SUWT controversy? I've been looking forward to hearing you on the show, now there's some bonus controversy to look forward to...

I'll go ahead and plan on syncing the show for my afternoon walk tomorrow when I'm back home.

Anjin said...

Woo hoo! I stirred up controversy! This was a nice write-up, Openedge. I can certainly understand throwing up your hands at the latest overreaction. I do think, however, there is a middle ground between civil rights oversight of virtual worlds and the "It's just a game" position I caught from the podcast.

By the way, I thought you did a great job on SUWT and I hope they have you back on again.

Akely said...

Bah, not much of a controversy methinks.

Anyway: I think the reasone this subject gets a little back-and-forth is the broadnes off it. Are we discussing objectification, immersion, control over our avatars, our rights to controls our avatars, others rights to impose changes to our avatars... or what? I think the SUWT discussion delved into most of these and did a good job.

Myself, I feel that the game I want to play allows me to role-play if I want. That do not, BTW, mean I go around saying 'thee' and 'doust thou'. It means more that I have different playstyles with different alts. One might never kill animals except in self defense. One might do book/lore-quests. Another might do almost no questing. And so on.

Sure, we do give up our rights to our avatars, but is it not so that if we feel that we have to little control of the game, avatars and what-nots we leave. I do.

I think the discussion was meaningful and insightful, as is Anjins points.

Eolirin said...

I actually boggle at both the post and some of the responses.

It's not so much that this is a huge problem, but that this is not something that Blizzard ever should have done either, and it's the sort of mistake you'd expect from a rookie developer, not someone with a line of hugely successful games.

A simple confirmation window would've avoided the entire problem, and yet that option was not taken for whatever reason. Anyone that had spent even a tiny little bit of time examining the history of MUDs would've immediately realized that this could've resulted in some issues with parts of the playerbase, as while it's no where near as egregious as some incidents, there's a lot of instances of players getting really annoyed by control of their avatar being taken away from them.

Remember, there are people behind those avatars, and even if they're just playing pieces to some, they're not to others. Being aware of the needs of the various different segments of players types that make up your overall playerbase and meeting them as best you can is what Blizzard is supposed to be doing as a service provider, and calling them out on it when they completely ignore an entire section of their population by making something nonconsentual that they could have easily made consentual is not bad or wrong. It's necessary. Otherwise that part of the population quickly finds itself ignored and no longer has a home.

There really is no excuse for making a mistake of this nature. It was predictable, and easily avoidable, even without removing the actual effect. It's bad design.

(Also, the tangent about being jailed for killing NPCs or allusions to drug use completely miss the point. There are game rules, and digital constructs, and these are easily distinguishable from real world things, but the avatars of other players are not so easily distinguishable; they are on a certain level, the representation of the player behind them. It doesn't matter if you see avatars as game pieces, it only matters if the person you're putting bunny ears on doesn't. For those that view their avatar as an extension of themselves, Blizzard violated an unspoken assumption about how the gameworld functions; up to this point, it was not possible to non-consentually alter the appearance of another player's avatar, there was a certain sanctity to the avatar. This shattered that. Had it been clear from the outset that such things occur in the game world, there would have been less of a problem; people that had an issue with it would probably not be playing in the first place. But there was no such clear message, because the game doesn't allow for that as a general rule.)

Openedge1 said...


there's a lot of instances of players getting really annoyed by control of their avatar being taken away from them. I think this is the real gist of the issue.
Upon reading the User Agreement it is abundantly clear that Blizzard takes away all rights of that avatar entering their servers.
You have no right to that 3d avatar once you login.
It would be nice to have more control of that world, but you and I do not.
The only way we as players CAN control our avatar in that situation is to take our fees away from that company so that their dictatorship ends.
But, as long as you login to their world, you live by THEIR rules and their devices/mechanics of gameplay.
I am far from against the reason people are upset..
I just see the reality of the situation.

We have no rights in those worlds, and will not until we as players question those user agreements.

Good luck with that when it comes to Blizzard...the Russia of MMO's.

Eolirin said...

It doesn't matter what the EULA says, Blizzard has built a game in which it is impossible for anyone to interfere with your avatar's looks, and then in one event, they change that. That's bad design: you don't change the rules on your playerbase suddenly and without warning, and they have every right to get annoyed when you do.

Blizzard is a company that exists to make it's playerbase happy, and telling them when they're upsetting you is perfectly fair, and infact important. Feedback lets them make a better game. If they choose to do wrong by their playerbase, it shouldn't be because the playerbase didn't speak up.

As simple as that.

Openedge1 said...

And yet, notice how it is not that simple.

Blizzard did not care, and the EULA allows them to act this way.

And the only way it can be fixed?


Akely said...

Your simple and drastic sollution kills discussion, Openedge1.

Akely said...

Oh, forgot this: :-)

Openedge1 said...


Right. It is as "simple and complex" as that...


Eolirin said...

It's very easy for you, on the outside, to say that Blizzard doesn't care. You're still missing the point.

If no one says anything because the assumption is that Blizzard doesn't care, it's impossible for Blizzard to care; they'll never know what the playerbase actually cares about, so it'd be completely impossible for them to ever respond to it.

And besides that, an exploration of these issues allow other designers to learn from Blizzard's mistakes as well.

Shutting down the discussion because Blizzard "doesn't care" is wrong on just about every level possible.

Openedge1 said...

I am sure all the shouting will make a progress toward Blizzard listening, but it will not change much of anything.
The next time something happens, they may blow it off, or discuss..hard to say.
What I am saying is I still think people got more than a little flustered over something so trite as Bunny Ears..
Try a more realistic game though if you are in need of a more realistic world view though is my opinion.
(Bet there would never be bunny ears in Conan...lol)

Eolirin said...

It's not about the bunny ears, and it's definitely not about realism. If there were a one week event in Conan where you could add a scar to another player's character without their consent, it would raise exactly the same sorts of issues with some people, especially if that scar was in some way demeaning, or could be viewed that way at least. It would violate the same expectation; you cannot change other people's avatars in Conan normally. The response would be similar, though maybe not exactly the same. Blizzard didn't help anything by "sexualizing" the situation.

A lot of people view the avatar as an extension of their person. Maybe not even the majority, at least consciously, but enough. That makes it a very personal thing to them. The event basically said "no, your avatar isn't protected the way it has been up till now; for the week other people can intrude on that very personal space in a way that can be viewed as demeaning." This is understandably disturbing; for some putting the bunny ears on the avatar can be viewed as putting the bunny ears on the person. And if they find that image disturbing when applied to their person... well... the response is to be expected.

But really, there's so much room for interesting discussion to arise out of a clear examination of why this has annoyed people. It raises not just the question of player association with their avatars, but also questions about player expectation, and what you can and cannot violate when it comes to unspoken rules. That's why it should be discussed heavily, and if some people are compelled to do so because they've had a strong emotional response to the issue... well, that just means it's more likely to be discussed.

That's why it's not right to try to brush it off as nothing. There's so much here that's very valuable to examine.