Tom and I met playing World of Warcraft. Well, to be more precise, we met on Twitch while he was streaming World of Warcraft. One dark and stormy night in Vancouver, I decided to look for my sister’s channel and had no clue what the website even was. Instead, I found Tom. Or rather, “Demandred”.
Four years later, we were happily married, living in Washington, and enjoying our life surrounded by cookbooks, cats, and all the nerdy things we could possibly get our hands on.
Well. Except WoW.
In July of 2021, we packed up all of our World of Warcraft posters, t-shirts, books, and other paraphernalia. We closed down apps and Discord channels devoted to the topic. It wasn’t just us. Nearly our entire community followed suit. Whereas we had been dedicating two nights a week to raiding and more to running Mythic+ dungeons and Random-BullshitTM with friends, we couldn’t find a way to feel morally okay with continuing the game. We just didn’t see a place for ourselves within an environment ripe with allegations of harassment, discrimination, and a toxic workplace culture for women.
Many of our favourite streamers agreed and took a step backward. My World of Warcraft loving mom also stopped playing. This was heartbreaking, because I knew how much she loved adventuring with her beloved Hunter.
Surely, something will be done to fix this, we thought. We leaned into playing Magic: The Gathering and Final Fantasy XIV and continuously looked for any positive developments from Activision-Blizzard.
What ensued was an embarrassment to the entire organization. The company seemed to have been brought kicking and screaming to conducting any positive transformations. Yes, they instilled Jen Oneal to help lead to the company after J. Allen Brack
was booted left to pursue “new opportunities”. She left shortly thereafter due to an unfair pay discrepancy between her and her co-lead, Mike Ybarra, that had been left unaddressed for months.
Another example is that a mere four days ago, Activision-Blizzard was hit with yet another lawsuit regarding, you guessed it, sexual harassment in the work place. It still feels like the company is trying to deny any wrongdoing and brush these incidents under the rug, hoping people will forgive and forget.
I understand why many of my friends haven’t returned to the game. Tom and I thought that Blizzard would make a concentrated effort to publicly celebrate the achievements of their female staff, players, and affiliates. Instead, it feels like they tried to win us over with sparkly dragons and an entirely overhauled crafting system.
The idea of engaging with World of Warcraft in any capacity is undeniably a difficult and complex subject. On the one hand, the game is how Tom and I first met. Key game locations such as Stormwind, Grizzly Hills, or Dalaran are all akin to memories of home. The familiar interface and the faces of the characters we’ve known for years brings a certain amount of comfort to an incredibly topsy turvy last few years. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who feel this way. On the other hand, the idea of supporting execs who seem to be in denial over their intensely problematic past is absolutely nauseating to think about.
In Taliesen and Evitel‘s August 17th, 2021 weekly reset video, Taliesen points out that Blizzard is a better place than it was before due to the sacrifices and efforts of the staff, the women coming forward with their grievances and trauma, and the change that all of this has instilled.
Furthermore, no WoW dev/staff has called for a boycott on the games. People stepping away from the situation can make the struggles for the improvement of the game and video game culture, in general, a bit worthless. Many people with the company are still advocating for change and positive developments. Taliesen goes on to point out that if the people who care about these issues and the treatment of women leave, that “just leaves the assholes” and that’s a pretty sad prospect for all the work and investment that has been poured into improving the situation for the community as a whole.
Although Taliesen made some solid points, I found it difficult to personally own the words of someone who makes their income off of providing WoW content. Streamers and content creators who have their livelihoods at stake could be tempted to find justification to continue playing – wherever they can make that argument.
For someone like myself, the situation isn’t as dire. I don’t depend on WoW for financial stability.
In order to arrive at some sort of informed decision, I reached out to someone who wrote one of the most read articles during the height of The Shit Storm. I’m not providing their name, because at the time that we had our discussion, I wasn’t planning on writing this blog post and didn’t indicate that I would be citing them.
However, they pointed out that the company “can and is” still being held accountable. Change is happening. While this person couldn’t state that Activision-Blizzard is an exceptionally good and moral company now, they urged players to have hope. Good people within the company are still working hard to create effective change, and they’re still asking for and need support. In a way, this journalist echoed Taliesin’s arguments for continuing to support the change that is being developed – however slow it is occurring. It made me feel better to have a second opinion. One positive change is the new social contract that was introduced in order to curb toxicity. While I think a bigger deal should have been made over the announcement of this feature, it’s still an excellent development to begin setting the tone for a healthier atmosphere.
I took about a month after this conversation to deliberate. Blizzard isn’t making things easy on players to return. Rather, every individual must do intense mental work in order to decide if re-subscribing is the correct choice. It would make a lot more sense if, through Activision-Blizzard’s actions, they took away a chunk of this burden. Instead of quietly making systematic changes at their organization, they should be loudly and very publicly celebrating the transformation and the achievements of their staff members and letting us know how they intend to do better. Unfortunately, in this regard, they’ve been absolutely negligent. It’s like they don’t want the frat boy portion of their player base to judge them for caving in to demands from all those who were horrified over the revelation of abuse and discrimination towards women.
Nevertheless, on (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, Tom and I made the decision to return. Although we’ve been let down by many recent news stories about the company, we still have hope that Blizz is changing from the inside out. When the first few subdued vocals of the character loading screen poured out of my headphones, I felt excited and relieved. Excited for future adventures to come and a renewed engagement with people I previously loved tackling content with. Relieved to be returning to the comforts of game-play that have aided me through two university degrees, a couple of breakups, countless jobs, meeting my husband, and moving to another country. Similarly thrilled about the prospect of playing together again, my sister immediately re-subbed and sent me the new cat mount that I’d been dying to have for the entire five minutes that I’d known of it’s existence. It felt like Christmas had come early.
My WoW loving mom is less confident in giving Blizzard another chance or any more money, opting to dip her toes in the water first with some trial game-play. This is okay too. Both of these reactions are just as valid as the other.
For all of the positive changes that are being made, there is an equal number of unsettling news items popping up on a regular basis. I hope that this is just part of the process of taking out the trash. However, taking a cautious approach in regards to who and what we are supporting is something to be commended. It’s important to honor our feelings of outrage, discomfort, or even heartbreak over a company that has permeated so many facets of our lives. The betrayal caused by the executives at Blizzard is still just as real today as it was when it first launched. Their level of accountability has been entirely unacceptable.
Tonight, Tom and I spent the night in Discord running dungeons while laughing with old friends and new ones. We weren’t sure if we should return, but our desire and nostalgia for our gaming community won out. What ensued was a re-vitalization of our Discord server, time spent with friends that had dropped off of our radar to a small extent, a renewed enjoyment for spending time at home in our comfiest clothing with our favourite snacks close at hand and a shared joy in our virtual achievements.
For me, World of Warcraft has always been about community. The face of that community may shift and change over the years, but it’s always been a way to connect with friends, coworkers, and family alike. Many people on my social media accounts are people that I originally met playing WoW. It felt a bit unfair to myself to turn my back on a game that has enriched my life in so many ways. A game that I know has enriched so many other people’s lives and provided joy and companionship where otherwise, there might not have been much to have. I’m not saying that my decision is final and that I won’t change my mind at a certain point. However, I’m feeling relatively confident in seeing how the next few months pan out.
Activision-Blizzard is still an intensely problematic company and the decision to return to a game like World of Warcraft remains deeply personal. My experience and perspective can’t solve this question for anyone else. However, I’m hoping that my journey can at least shed some light on how to go about processing these issues and help another prospective player identify what factors are most important to them.
Blizz has a long way to go, but I feel hopeful that it’s worth it to stick around for the sake of the friendships that I’ve made and the content that has continually comforted, challenged, and inspired me. At least for now.
“What can I do?”
- Read and follow news from ABetterABK who are employees of Acti-Blizz who are working for change. https://twitter.com/ABetterABK
- Read a comprehensive timeline to help inform your decision making process. One example can be found at https://www.destructoid.com/activision-blizzard-lawsuit-timeline-industry-ceo-bobby-kotick-report/
- Follow news from https://www.wired.com/tag/activision-blizzard/ to keep up-to-date on how the story is progressing.
- Discuss the situation with your friends, family, and guild mates to gain further insight and raise awareness over the ongoing issues.
- Add your voice to the demands for change by making a post on social media and using the #EndAbuseInGaming hashtag.
- Follow female game designers and lend them your love and support! Two of my favourites are FelOlivia and SarahCotner. I find that seeing their posts and how they discuss their work aids my understanding of the situation as a whole.
- Engage with websites such as https://feministfrequency.com/ to further encourage more thought and critical discussion about how women are portrayed and treated in video games and gaming workplaces.