Playing with Pride: Marginalized Players Claiming Space Through Community Building and Equity Enforcement in World of Warcraft
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Video game culture has been soundly criticized as being the privileged domain of heterosexual, white, male players and it has been criticized for marginalizing those players who do not meet these criteria. In current games studies research, the ways marginalized players navigate, challenge, and reshape online gaming environments to suit their own needs has received very little academic attention. In the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft developed by Blizzard Entertainment, two groups of LGBTQ players (and their allies) have created an alternative community to that of the mainstream. While the mainstream World of Warcraft community is plagued with oppressive heteronormativity and homophobia, this alternative community is based on equity and inclusivity. Utilizing a Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis, this thesis examines player-created texts, several official World of Warcraft forum threads, and Blizzard Entertainment’s legal policy documents in three distinct yet interrelated sections. First, drawing on Judith Butler’s (2009) notion of precarity, I argue that LGBTQ players have been positioned as precarious subjects in World of Warcraft culture. I then demonstrate how this precarity is mitigated within this alternate community through the active promotion of an LGBTQ community presence in the game, and through public community building events such as an in-game pride parade. Second, I discuss the importance of community, citizenship, and shared identities in establishing meaningful and inclusive social policies. This is done, in part, by drawing on Benedict Andersons’s (2006) imagined communities and Celia Pearce’s (2009) communities of play to demonstrate the contrast between the mainstream World of Warcraft community and the alternate community. Third, I suggest that regulating and enforcing the language players use in-game and in the forums is essential for promoting equity in World of Warcraft. By preventing the use of hate speech and thus limiting the harms that can result from it, marginalized players are afforded the opportunity to engage fully in the (social) gaming experience.