People play video games; people like sex. It’s a confluence of interests that’s alternatively skeeved out or titillated followers of the medium for decades, dating back to consensual fun times on old MUDs and message boards on the one hand, to the cavalcade of offensive stereotypes, actions, and ideas embedded in the infamous Atari game Custer’s Revenge on the other. Add in a massively multiplayer component, and—dear god—the ability for players to actually talk to each other, and it’s only going to get more confusing, strange, and, in some cases, painful for participants and outside observers as the years go on.
Motherboard has a write-up this week centered on incidents of online sexual harassment taking place in Blizzard Entertainment’s ridiculously popular World Of Warcraft, centered on an in-game location that’s picked up the charming in-game nickname “rape tavern” from some of its frequent residents. Located near the starting area for human players, the tavern has long been a hotspot on some servers for “erotic role play,” whether in the form of carefully crafted descriptions of textual intercourse, or in the use of a variety of items, dances, and poses to simulate sex. (“Snow cannons,” which fire white globules of material into the air, are apparently a popular feature.)
But while there’s nothing wrong with a bunch of adults getting weird together consensually, the Motherboard piece notes a vocal contingent of players who are upset that many tavern participants won’t take “No” for the answer it needs to be. The most distressing examples include moments in which people overwhelmed by the sexual chaos flee the tavern, only to be pursued, surrounded, and harassed by other players, who later told writer Dominik Schott that the other player’s resistance and unwillingness was part of the sexual appeal for them.
As people critical of the article have pointed out, World Of Warcraft includes a few different ways for players to remove themselves from uncomfortable situations very quickly. But those escape methods won’t be immediately intuitive to new players—including any younger ones who wander into the tavern from the nearby starting location—and in any case, that argument downplays the pain and anxiety that can be produced when you know someone (regardless of how goofy their online avatar looks) is going out of their way to harass you or make you uncomfortable. (Not to mention the way it violates the core tenet of sexual play, online or otherwise: Consent is key.)
By all accounts, it sounds unlikely that Blizzard will do anything to try to curb the behavior of the tavern residents, even if it was really possible; after all, human ingenuity is rarely more industrious than when it comes to finding new ways to make other people feel bad for your own puerile benefit.