Op-Odd: Speech in Azeroth

There’s a menace that has become deeply entrenched in very way of life that we all enjoy across the world of Azeroth.  A menace that spouts profanity, hate, and things best never said to another living being.  From my earliest experiences in World of Warcraft, this problem has existed.  To put it simply, no matter what incarnation of WoW you’ve ever played, there has always been a chat channel – at least one – that has been a wretched den of scum and villainy that would make Mos Eisley look like a day care center in comparison.  For the moment, this channel is called ‘Trade Chat’.

Where else in Azeroth can you find a rant about how the president of the United States should be *bleep* *bleep* *expletive deleted* with a *bleep* up his *expletive deleted* and then find people have a rousing but profanity filled debate about it at two in the morning?  That the simplest requests for information are responded to with personal attacks and claims of vulgar actions against one’s mother that apparently took place last night (despite the fact that surely such actions would have awoken your sleeping dog and startled the rest of the house to alarm, so you think you would have heard about it).  Yes, there is a rotten, foul stench to the trade chat these days and people are quick to claim that Blizzard should step up to tighten the reigns and exert extensive control over what can be said on the trade chat channel.

Of course! How simple. Just have Blizzard monitor the trade chat to keep it clean from offensive material, or to keep the LFG requests in the seldom used LFG channel, or to keep it only to trade interactions.  As you can see there’s already some issue as to what needs to be policed by Blizzard. Some don’t mind non-trade talk in the trade channels and some people do.  Some people don’t like trade chat is used for people who are recruiting for PuGs or filling that last spot in their raid and others are completely fine with this.  So ultimately, you’re going to be stepping on toes either direction you go.  Not to mention the fact that policing trade chat is above and beyond the on-call GMs that already employed.  Trade chat police would have to be able to watch and control the trade channels 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – with the exception of when the realm is down for maintenance.  Combine that with the fact that there are over 200 realms each with their own trade chats in just the United States alone, and you’ve got a money sucking operation hell bent on ensuring that the channels only be used for whatever the predetermined purpose would be.  So designating enough moderators to cover every single realm across the planet, for every hour that it’s online, is a taxing experience.  Now imagine a possibly overworked, completely unloved and unappreciated moderator being in charge of what you can and can’t say in their channels?  Oh yes, I see this ending well.

I must raise a point that I have to be extremely careful with my wording here.  There’s a great temptation to call the action of policing and blocking messages in trade chat ‘censorship.’  In my opinion, it is not.  Censorship is an action dictated by the government. If the supreme court or FCC decides that something should be silenced or not be made available to the public due to its content or nature, that is censorship.  If a store decides to not carry a book because of its risque content or Blizzard decides to crack the whip on what is and isn’t allowed in the trade chat, that is the decision of a private business.  It can cost them customers, but it’s not censorship.  It’s kind of like how since Blizzard owns the servers we play on and the forums we post on, it’s not covered by free speech.

More importantly, the problem isn’t new.  Before the trade chat, there was the global defense and realm-wide LFG channels.  Same problems, only not restricted to the cities.  Trade chat is just the current incarnation of this problem and the problem isn’t global channels. After all, if you decided to block all the non-trade talk in trade chat, it would move to the LFG chat.  If you stop it there, then there is no global chat channels for open talk.  After all, the general chat channels are city specific, the defense channels are zone specific, and while some might see the fact that you can’t communicate with people between cities except to trade or LFG as a perk, I have no doubt that a lot more people will be *bleeping bleeped*.

The real problem here is a matter of human nature, something that’s much more difficult to regulate.  It’s actually two problems.  The first is the well known Gabe’s Theory that insists that given both an audience and total anonymity, the most sensible person can become a complete ass.  The second is a gut reaction people seem to have, an utter lack of ability at points to let something go.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, part of you wants to go out of your way to make that guy miserable or to exert the same asshatery to someone else as it’s apparently okay for someone else to do it to you.  These two aspects of human nature, when combined, create the volatile powder keg known as the trade chat.  A goblin would be proud.

So does Blizzard need to step in?  No.  Just no.  There is no way that Blizzard exerting control over the trade chat will do much more than utterly *bleep* the *bleeping bleep* out of the player base and suck giant wads of cash out of Blizzard’s pocket to do it.  So is there a solution to this problem? Yes, an easy one, but you’re not gonna like it: Surrender.  Give the trolls the trade chat.  Seriously.  Spread the world to start a separate custom made channel for trade business.  Make it clear that this channel will be for only those who want to sell and trade goods.  Will you have the occasional jerk who will want to dip in and harass you legitimate business people?  Sure, that happens in real life too, but as long as the trolls aren’t looking for a new bridge to tease and torture from, you have a good chance that you’re channel will be safe. What if no one else rallies behind you’re channel?  Well, then obviously you’re in the minority about having an issue dealing with trade chat.  Suck it up, use the auction house, and stay the heck out of trade chat for your own sanity.

There’s never going to be a perfect solution to this problem.  I wish people on my server knew how the hell to use /LFR but no one does and the LFG channel is emptier than the Silithus general chat.  The trolls where go wherever they can have the most exposure, and Trade Chat is it for now.  Yes, ignoring them and reporting them is not an acceptable solution to many, but it’s better the alternative. Complete and utter anal [retentive] authoritative control over speech in WoW.