When most people think about online video games, they think of teenage boys and Angelina Jolie dressed as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. But a growing number of LGBT adults are taking to the (virtual) streets, carving out a home for themselves in what are commonly known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games, or MMORPGs.
With 11.5 million subscribers, the most popular MMORPG is Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft, or WoW. Players can be one of two genders, 10 classes (such as Warrior or Death Knight), and 10 races (like Blood Elf or Human). They can also join guilds, which are like online social clubs (kind of like the houses in the ballroom scene, as depicted in Paris Is Burning ). The second biggest guild in the game is the Spreading Taint, one of a number of LGBT (and ally) guilds. For the fifth year running, the Spreading Taint is organizing an in-game World of Warcraft Pride, scheduled for June 20 at noon. This year it's themed around recognizing the contributions of female-identified LGBT people in the game.
What is the place of Pride in a world of anonymous avatars that can't even have sex? The Advocate caught up with one of the WoW Pride organizers over IM to find out.
Advocate.com:What's your full name?Benjamin Hardin: Benjamin Hardin in the real world. Bigheadben in the game.
How old are you?Bigheadben is level 80 in World of Warcraft [80 is the highest possible level a player can reach]. In what passes for real life, I hope to be there someday.
What do you do in your regular life?Wrapping up a master's in psychology, starting a doctoral program in it this fall.
How long have you been playing WoW, and what do you like about it?Started playing it five years ago in beta and haven't stopped. It is obvious even after only a short time playing the game that the people at Blizzard who designed it have an awesome sense of humor. There is also so much to do, and all of it is fairly robust and entertaining. But it's the other players that make the game. I would have stopped playing years ago if I didn't have Tainters to daily entertain me.
What do you think attracts queer people to WoW and online gaming in general?We are here for the same reasons as everyone else: to have fun, develop our characters, spend some time with friends, and flirt shamelessly.
What is the Spreading Taint, and how did you end up forming it?The Spreading Taint is the name of our family of nine guilds in World of Warcraft. It's part of our umbrella organization, the Rough Trade Gaming Community [an LGBT gaming group]. I think it is important to find a group/guild that matches your personality. We attract a range of folks when it comes to ages, backgrounds, orientations, locations, and play styles/preferences, but the typical Tainter has a great sense of humor, is fairly laid-back, enthusiastic, sex-positive, respectful, generous, and goofy as hell. Also, more often than not, shockingly hot in person. And humble. ;)
So why have Pride online?No reason not to celebrate ourselves, just as we choose to do in real world Pride. Also, lots of our members live in smaller communities that don't celebrate Pride, so this gives them a chance to experience the madness. And I think it is important to remind other players that the person behind the avatar next to yours in-game might not want to hear you say how "gay" something that you dislike is.
Isn't pride about visibility, and online gaming -- to a degree -- about fantasy and anonymity?I think folks create avatars that reflect something about their personality. People who enjoy helping others might play a healer. People who enjoy a lot of variety might choose a hybrid class. A voracious bottom might play a Blood Elf. And just because you can hide who you are in an online game ... why would you want to?
Aren't online games often filled with homophobic 14-year-old boys?That is certainly the perception, isn't it? Sadly, homophobia isn't limited to 14-year-olds or just to boys. The relative anonymity of online gaming lets people be as careless and insensitive as they like, because, basically, they can be. Online-gamer culture was defined early on by straight male teens, but it has grown beyond that now. We have grandmothers, gay boys, trans people, straight men and women, some awesome hot lesbians, bi people, bears, and twinks in the Taint. But there definitely is still the random bad apple from time to time.
What do you have planned for this year's Pride event?For our fifth annual celebration we aim to make it a big gay party. We've got three contests (the Nude Duel Tournament, the Best Pride Float contest, and Azeroth's Next Top Model) with some fab prizes, and we're encouraging folks to participate, be creative, and have fun. We've created Rough Trade Radio to provide Tainters with some campy, classically queer tunes. Rest assured that as usual our parade route this year will be a faggy, laggy gay pixel mess o' fun.
How and why did you choose to theme this year's Pride around female-identified players? The perception of online gamers is definitely male; would you say there are many female identified queer people in WoW?Every gay person understands what it is like to be the minority in a social situation, and because female players are definitely a small but growing subset in online gaming, I want to communicate that the Spreading Taint isn't just a club for gay boys. Our female players rock, plain and simple. Despite the variety of folks in the Taint, we do skew mostly male, and I appreciate that it likely takes a great sense of humor and an awesome set of ovaries to so cheerfully put up with our incessant penis chat. Asking the girls to be the lead float in this year's Pride parade is our version of Dykes on Bikes, kinda.
Are you doing anything special for Pride?This is the first year that Blizzard has enabled us to change the gender of our avatar, so some of us boy characters are going in drag this year for Pride. Partly because it is a Pride tradition in general, but also as love and props to our girl guildies.