Blizzard, culture and protesting by absence

Although I’m somewhat distanced from World of Warcraft and, therefore, Blizzard at the moment, my blog-feed and Twitter feed have alerted me to the lawsuit the company is facing in California regarding the endemic sexism and terrible treatment some female employees have faced. It’s unacceptable for gaming companies to have such a ‘Bro Culture’ in this day and age, but then it should have been unacceptable for a long, long time but sadly I’m not surprised. Roger has a detailed post up on this culture and how it is reflected outside of one game or company.

I’ve watched Blizzard closely over the years because of this blog and always found the aspects of presentations by key staff at public events, like Blizzcon, to be somewhat stereotypical, if not outright obnoxious. All the chest-thumping “For the Horde” roaring at the crowd, the focus on competition in almost all aspects of the game, and the “MMO player must equal heavy metal fans” leaves me feeling on the outside culturally; all so very ‘masculine’ (a singular, narrow definition of that word) and testosterone filled. This highlights a weird disconnect growing between the increasing diversity in some aspects of content in the game versus the continued male-dominated presentation of the game, e.g. the representation of more diverse characters, in contrast to the inclusion of ‘Bro Culture’ style humourous elements (the inevitable poop jokes and quests in Shadowlands).

Roger’s detailed post on this culture and how it reflects, in the UK, wider society’s dominance by the ‘Boys Club’ culture is spot on. But it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a US or UK company is like this. I’ve worked through similar experiences to those he writes about – in teams dominated almost overwhelming by men, with drinking and bad behaviour in and out of the office being the accepted norm.

Players saying they are surprised to read the complaints should take a long hard look at the society they live in (especially if in the USA or UK, but elsewhere too) as they are likely to find a mirror-reflection there. Although it should not be a surprise, it should be challenged and the company does needs to change. I welcome more visibility for diversity in characters in a game, but the company culture needs to reflect this same diversity and not just pay ‘lip service’ to it for extra income.

As for protesting, I’m in the awkward situation of not actually playing any Blizzard games for the last three months, so quitting in protest is not an option. I can post on my blog and social media platform to raise my small voice against this reprehensible culture. As Naithin wrote, speaking out is the bare minimum to effect some kind of change. I fear we are mostly just statistics to a company of this size. I may feature in some percentage or sub-total of the overall playerbase that has “played regularly, but hasn’t subbed for a while”. This situation makes me less likely to return to WoW in the short-term future, but that’s an invisible choice where stats or feedback are concerned. I will barely impact any stats or reporting for the company, at least in regard to this controversy. But I believe Blizzard needs a root and branch management shake-up: here’s hoping the law-suit will have the necessary impact, even if individual protests likely will not.

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