On Funding and Revenue

A treasure goblin pet named Moneygrubber in Orgrimmar.

There seems to be a lot of talk recently in the community about money. Specifically, who needs it, who doesn’t have it and who really “deserves it.”  I quipped earlier last week that I held a pretty unpopular opinion about how content creators should rightfully get paid for their efforts. With the recent news about Wow Insider laying off a lot of their staff or Gamebreaker soliciting the community to help keep the site afloat, I don’t think there’s a better time to have this conversation.

Now, I am not specifically a business major, so take some of my opinions with a grain of salt on the money front. However, I am a content creator and so a lot of my feelings on payment and funding come from wanting to see people be able to provide content and be somewhat solvent. Now, I understand that not everyone cares about making money at all, much less on multiple projects. Some people have a full-time job that allows them to operate content as a hobby. Some people don’t mind providing information for free. These are all personal choices and I commend that. I operate this own blog at a loss and while some days I wish I could make money writing about World of Warcraft, I am just not at a place to turn this particular venture into revenue.

However, regardless of all that, it is my firm belief that people should be compensated for their time and efforts. It’s becoming more apparent to the culture at large that the Internet is not one large volunteer staff that gives them free stuff. It’s a dedicated labor force that (sometimes) controls the means to production and should be able to see the benefits of. We need to change the popular opinion on content and help people out.

Time is Money, Friend

One of the most misunderstood and important reasons why content creators need some sort of income (unless they are comfortable otherwise) is because people forget that time is a resource. The goblins have the right of it! When people approach any project or see someone asking for money, they do forget that time is a cost. The reason for that is we don’t think of it as something like that is because it’s always there even when we do things we like.  Think of the last time you had someone come to your house to fix something – technicians frequently charge for time, labor and materials. The reason for this is because you spend time doing things. (This is helpful language for reminding you!) Any time you spend doing stuff for free is time you didn’t spend doing stuff for money. (A concept adjacent to this is called opportunity cost and is the reason why people who say that they “make pure profit” off herbs they farmed themselves are wrong.)

It’s confusing to me, sometimes, as an artist who does commissions, why people forget time. Artists tend to negotiate pricing by how much effort is required, factored in by an hourly rate. Most of my pieces should be priced by how long it takes me and what my current hourly rate is but often times I skimp on that and pay myself much lower, almost to the point of being under the minimum wage in our country because that’s just how it goes. It is a sad fact.

Don’t Forget About Labor and Expertise

This is one of the reasons that Tzufit and myself decided to start a Patreon account for our podcast. There is just tons of work and expertise that often go into blogs, podcasts, videocasts and just about anything else you could think of. Whether it’s writing words, figuring out equations for theory-crafting, recording a video or even just learning over time to be a better artist, that’s all work. Same goes for research, editing, and gathering supplies. There’s a real effort put into some of the things we use on a regular basis and you should acknowledge that. I think so many people are wrapped up in getting exposure for their talents (not to mention that many unscrupulous people have profited off of this idea) that they forget that not everyone can do the things they do, or much less want to. This phenomenon goes up in value when you involve talents or skills many people do not possess. (See: theorycrafting, addons, class guides) But all in all, even “unskilled” (this is a misnomer) labor is still deserving and valuable because you are putting in the work for something.

Materials Are Also A Thing

Quite a few efforts, even for fan content, tend to operate at a loss just due to materials. This is because website hosting, editing programs, video games and art supplies are all things that cost money and are required for much of the content people want to produce. Time and labor are the most forgotten parts of overhead (also known as operating costs) but materials also part of that. There’s many different items that go into creating stuff that people pay out of pocket. This is means that you have to be comfortable paying for that with some other source of income or else maybe not continue running a blog or videocast. In that way, it is interesting to see so many people as content creators who are also low-income do it with very little revenue. (I am one of those people and I’m not overly fond of it because I would like to pay for things on a regular basis.)

Changing the Paradigm

I wanted to address some of these underlying issues with content creation and revenue/income because I feel that the culture of the Internet has made it all too easy for people to make things for free or for their love of something (which is totally, fine, by the way!) and have people profit off that or otherwise expect everything without recognizing the costs involved. There’s far too many outfits online that make money without involving creators or participators in an equal way and without paying them. There’s a lot of people online, even other creators, who believe that you should treat all your efforts as a hobby and that everything should be handed out with no recompense. It is this presumption that makes creators who do want to ask for money or generate income look like treasure goblins to the vast majority – running off with your money and such. The undercurrent to this is basically saying, “Whatever time, effort or skill you put into this doesn’t matter, and the content you made doesn’t have a monetary value.” Which, frankly, is really upsetting. Audiences getting a value out of something you create means it does have value. Valuing the things you create and other people create, only helps everyone out in the end. It means that the quality of the content goes up, the time the person spends on said content becomes more meaningful and overall, the fact that some people can start to live on their creations has a net benefit of raising the tide so that more people can do so as well.

Another way of changing up how we view monetizing is breaking down who “deserves” to make money off their work. I believe everyone deserves to make money for their work, barring something like being deceptive or outright stealing it from other people. If you don’t want to support someone’s work, then don’t use it. If you don’t like how they how they make their income, then don’t support them. Snubbing someone because they wish to make a living off their time and effort is a pretty mean thing to do. If people want to give money to someone, that’s their choice to do so. But know this – everyone deserves the fruits of their labor. It’s not greedy. It’s fair. It’s work. It should be treated as such.

I do want to reiterate one thing though: if you are comfortable to be able to operate personally at a loss and believe your content should be available to everyone for free? That’s totally cool and awesome! That’s how a lot of open source materials tend to work and there’s definitely a space and mindset for that. However, that doesn’t work for everyone, nor should it. Also, once you start involving other people, I believe the process becomes a lot more murky. If you start to draw revenue for a collaborative effort, I believe all collaborators should be beneficiaries of not just the money but also the direction of the project. This means that if you want to run a fansite with a lot of content, you should be setting up this with a business plan in mind in order to properly mitigate costs as well as pay people for helping your brand and site grow, not just paying them in exposure that looks good on a resume. If you can’t do something solely as your own entity, then you need to compensate people for helping you out.

Create Content, Acquire Currency

But how do people actually make money now?

It’s still a pretty new system, especially online. In the olden days, there used to only be a couple of ways of getting something for something else. You either bartered for equal goods, paid for something or relied on charity or patronage. The new methods online are fairly similar but they tend to take more forms given how technology has developed. However, due to a lot of these methods looking (if not working) slightly different from the old format of making money (“Going to a 9-to-5 job”), I feel that a lot of people scoff at them and combined with our feelings of devaluing content, they are seen as greedy or arrogant.

So let’s break down some of the ways that people have, in recent years, managed to eek out some form of payment for the work and content they provide.

Ads

This is easily the backbone of how websites are “supposed” to make money. The truth of the matter is very few sites actually reap enough revenue from eyeballs or click-throughs to make this work. Ads are the first things to get blocked on any page, even typically non-harmful sites, just due to how annoying they are perceived. The only time ad revenue really works is if you are a large company that can run your own sales department that gets high bids from other companies for specific ads on your network. So in short, if you’re a little guy using Google Adsense or Adbrite, it’s not going to be a sizable portion of your income unless you have a decent amount of traffic.

Merchandise

This has grown over the years as more and more places have sprung up to create products on-demand using other people’s designs, meaning the overhead for getting merchandise and a store attached to your content has dropped. Still, it is a cost that you can incur as a content creator so it might not be feasible for someone who is already low-income, but it is an option. Places like Storenvy and Etsy have also made it possible to operate as a storefront just as one person. There’s also places like Redbubble that allow you to sell your designs with a huge cut of the money coming out to cover production but with no start-up costs required. Gone are the days of solely relying on Cafepress, basically. People tend to like merchandise because it gives them “something” for their money and also shows off that they are a fan of your work.

Donations

This ranges from having a Paypal donation button on your website to donation drives (think NPR or Public Television) in order to support your efforts. Even Twitch streamers sometimes have tickers on their videos showing people donating sums of money. It is a subtle (sometimes) way for a person to allow the audience to chip in a little money towards their efforts (or perhaps purchasing stuff for them off an Amazon wishlist) in order to show gratitude. It’s never a secure method of paying for your work but it often works a bit better depending on how faithful your audience is. People like feeling philanthropic and also giving back to something they’ve gotten entertainment from or used on a regular basis. Some donations even come attached with rewards – a shout-out on that person’s videos or a special bonus piece of content. This, however, is not mandatory, as donations typically are based on the idea that the person gives the money freely to say “I enjoy what you do.”

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding takes the donations idea and basically relies on the MMORPG principle – everything is better with more people. While donations are not oriented around a single goal, crowdfunding relies on them, as well as rewards and groups of people in order to fund something in specific. Things like Kickstarter (which is crowdfunding based on a creative project that needs money to be produced) or IndieGogo let audiences put a tiny bit of money into seeing something they want in the future and basically becoming producers for said ventures. There are usually rewards attached to sweeten the pot, as well. Crowdfunding tends to work because aggregating a little bit of funding from a lot of different people takes the individual burden of a high cost off any one small group of people. It also allows an audience to directly engage and fund content they wish to use in the future, which re-negotiates some of the creator’s relationship with their fans.

Crowdfunding even works for things that aren’t specifically projects – raising money for someone’s medical bills, for instance. It’s a way of aggregating donations that lightens the financial load.

Patreon is new but operates on both the donations, crowdfunding and then patronage angle: it basically allows fans donate per content creation or on a monthly basis, with some reward levels to keep a project going regularly. I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this site in particular since it is a misunderstood, new-ish concept. In truth, it’s a pretty good way for people who create regularly and consistently to obtain funding and sponsorship on a regular basis versus towards a creative project.

Subscriptions

A lot of this are familiar with this as a lot of pay for a World of Warcraft account and the method here is similar: you pay for access on some level to the content being provided on a regular basis. Many things do this to supplement ad revenue and use subscriptions in order to entice users to get a premium version of the content (see Spotify offering a version of their application without ads to subscribers). Some content is stuck entirely behind a subscription (this is frequently called a “paywall” and also has been used heavily by the adult market for a very long time) with some “free” content given to hook people into paying. This seems to be more and more the way that larger content providers are securing income but often still operate at a loss.

Commercial Sponsorship

This is more and more a thing in high-end raiding and competitive e-sports but still applies here. A company chooses to invest money in a group of people or individual who has high notoriety in order to advertise for them. They pay for some of their operating costs, materials as well as advise on some level to keep the group in the forefront. It’s a way to supplement any income someone may be making from elsewhere but it tends to be contingent on performance (whether that be winning competitions or otherwise staying in the limelight.)

Corporate Backing (Also Known As “A Real Job”)

As internet content becomes more and more profitable as a media source, larger media corporations are starting to notice that websites for content are profitable. This means that more and more businesses are investing in content sites or starting content sites themselves. It might not be the early 2000s and the “dot com” boom, but as more and more manageable paths for revenue start to become available, it is possible to start a business online and do well. Whether it is an established company investing money to a start a site or run one that initially was for free, it can lead to people who produce content to actually make a wage or reliable freelance income off their content. This is considered one of the holy grails of being a creator, as it means that you can have that as your day job and not do something you hate. Downsides to this? If the company that was paying for everything suddenly decides that they need to tighten the belt, you are often the first people dumped on the street.

An alternate way that companies frequently “give back” to content producers, specifically in the arena of new media providers like YouTube or Twitch, is a partner program. This is a way for someone using their service in a lucrative way either because of ad revenue or attention to get a cut of the money that the company makes off their content. It’s a symbiotic relationship that doesn’t directly make the content creator their employee but also gives them more incentive to keep using their content delivery system.

While not exhaustive list, making money from your content is valuable and there isn’t one way of doing it that is more ideologically pure than others. Whatever route you choose or choose to support someone using, feel good that you are saying, “Hey, this Thing is great!” Treating people’s work as someone valuable is a good step towards a better Internet, one where many of us can make a subsistence doing stuff we actually love doing.

Be kind to a content creator today!

 

 

 

Respect: Advice for my Fellow Cis People

ACM carries five bags of rice.

It’s not hard work to treat trans players with respect.

Note: “Cis” is short for “cisgendered” and is a gender identity where a person’s perception of their gender matches up with the biological sex they were assigned at birth.

You can imagine my facepalm when I read the Drama Mamas column yesterday and saw that they had answered a letter from a trans woman in the audience.  This column in particular tries its best to give good common sense advice to most WoW-related social problems but usually goes off the rails whenever a really serious subject is concerned. It’s terribly problematic to read advice that doesn’t treat the subject matter compassionately, but in the case of the trans woman, goes so far as to insinuate a lot of awful things.

I think one of the most critical things you can do with regards to a trans person in your guild is making the guild a comfortable place for them to play in, regardless of whether or not they want to disclose or “come out” about being trans with you. This means a lot of things like making it a place where you don’t use slurs or other disrespectful language, letting people talk as little or as much as they want about their identity and generally undoing a lot of problematic types of thinking.

First off, a trans person is allowed to represent themselves precisely how they wish. Point blank – whether this means disclosing to you or not. They are not “lying” or not being “non-transparent” if they don’t tell you they are trans.  It’s not your business. If they feel comfortable doing so, awesome, but it’s not required. There is this narrative that a trans person’s gender identity is some sort of “falseness” to the gender they express themselves as, when it’s not. If someone says they are a woman, then they are a woman. End of story. You don’t know a person’s situation and it’s unfair to make someone “validate” their identity in that way.

Secondly, don’t give a trans person shit if they presented as one gender and came out later as another. A trans person coming out can endanger them to a certain extent. Trans individuals are attacked, harassed, stalked and killed on a regular basis and many times will not disclose for their own well-being and safety. If someone decides to transition while in your guild and they wish to share this info to you, make the space more comfortable for them but don’t announce it for them or otherwise. This process is a personal one and should always be on that person’s terms. Simply listen, ask what you can personally do to make them feel more comfortable in the guild and stick with that.

Thirdly, this means respecting and being sensitive to your guildmate’s needs. You need to make the guild comfortable for them, not the other way around. Ask your guildies what pronouns they use if you are unsure or use gender-neutral ones like “they” when referring to someone if you don’t know. Misgendering, even unintentionally, can be hurtful and should be avoided. Apologize sincerely if you do!

Being sensitive also means that if they don’t wish to use a voice chat, respect that. In the case of the Drama Mamas column, the letter writer was worried because she wanted to tank for the guild’s raid but that meant speaking on Vent. If someone doesn’t want to speak, then let them be quiet. As someone who raided progression and still continues to raid with main tanks who do not talk on Mumble, it can be done. Conversely, if someone does want to speak, be respectful. Don’t expect someone to sound a certain way and don’t ridicule someone for sounding “different” than their name suggests. Everyone’s voice is their own.

Finally, remember that this is not about you. It is about their feelings and not yours. They are allowed to be angry, upset with how stuff plays out in your guild. Expecting them to take everything “with a smile” while you catch up to treating them how they ought to be treated is unfair. Listen to what people are saying and respect their wishes across the board.

I think Jasmine W, a trans woman and commenter on the Drama Mamas column, summed it up pretty well:

As a Trans* gamer (and wow player) myself, i hope i can provide some insight. there are several reasons why a person can seek to inform their guild that they are Trans*. As Meer said everyone ends up talking about their RL selves and it can help keep issues down, second and more importantly, member’s of the Trans* community seek support for one of the hardest times of their lives. there’s also the fact that people who have no issue with people based on sexual orientation, sex, or race, do have issues with gender identity which can go into another issue entirely 

it can be very jarring to hear a male voice over your (insert VOIP client here) and by ingrained habit you start to call them the gender you heard over the headset. for a trans* individual, though you may not mean it, that not only can be but IS very rude and offensive, so the OP would rather head the drama that could start because of not saying anything and then being hurt by being open about her and her partner it also helps to make sure it’s a guild they can lay down roots with and make a “home guild”

 the only choice about being Trans* is that you choose whether to LIVE and transition or DIE because of all of the stress, hatred, ignorance, lack of support, and other things, and once a person does start to transition, then they face much WORSE, when you find out all the things a Trans* individual has to go through, you’d be impressed with the strength of character we have, and also why there’s a 41% suicide rate among Trans* people because of everything that’s given up.

Everyone has a responsibility to make the gaming world as safe and supportive for our community’s trans gamers, if not everyone at large.

 

 

Patch 5.0.4 – Thoughts So Far

Anne Stickney and I hang out in Dalaran

Tuesday night I get a series of frantic Twitter messages and IMs inbetween my computer having a gigantic hissy fit.

“Oh my gosh, GET ON WOW!” 

So I hop on and get told to come to Dalaran, where I promptly get /hug and /love spammed by a friend of mine who now is on “my” server via cross-realm zoning.

I know y’all have been the recipients of “Navispamming” but I think I might be one of the first people to get “Annespammed.

The Good

So far, Patch 5.0.4 has been more surprises in a good way than in a bad way and I for one am happy about this. Every time a patch comes around, I often feel like the incredible amount of bugs, lag, and complaining outweighs the good, but surprisingly this hasn’t been the case this week. I’ve found that most of my experiences so far have been relatively pleasant, pain-free and actually enjoyable.

Mage mechanics for fire seem to be relatively stable and honestly take the spec from something I already loved despite its flaws straight into nearly flaw-free. I know that I might have more complex feelings once I hit level 90 and have access to Rune of Power (which takes our mobility down some, by design) but for right now, it is a fairly nice experience. Inferno Blast fixed a lot of the problems that I had with streakiness between Hot Streak procs and Impact. Inferno Blast solves the gamble of procs and gives you a concrete choice for your gameplay: do I a) spread my DoTs b) do I make Hot Streak happen or my favorite, c) do I do both at the same time? I’m still learning how to signal myself when Inferno Blast is off cooldown, but that is a UI/add-on solution. On top of IB being amazing, Combustion is also rather fool-proof. Rather than the cooldown that fell into a black hole of optimization and “perfect use” that it was, it is now a fairly simple to use. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it resets the cooldown on Inferno Blast, meaning any time you want to use Combustion and spread it to multiple mobs, you now have a free Inferno Blast to do so. Easy DPS, if I do say so myself. It takes a lot of the intense finesse that fire mages had to work with out of the equation and gives us concrete, solid choices to make over our own DPS. I can’t see this as anything but amazing.

The talent system seem spare, but in the case of my mage, it seems rather useful in giving me utility, mobility and fun elements to my play, regardless of my spec. I like having a slightly different spec than other fire mages. I’m still not used to us having Arcane/Frost talents as baseline (I am still struggling to use Deep Freeze, well, ever) but it is really interesting to Blizzard back on my bars and getting Chilled on mobs. Counterspell having a silence attached is nice as well. Their design to bring all of us closer together as mages rather than divided by our intrinsic natures is awesome.

Shared achievements aren’t perfect, necessarily, but I am still loving them all the same. Having my alts all have access to my efforts on my main has been a lot of fun. Level 22 riding around on an Amani Warbear? Okay, sure. Let’s do that. My druid having “Guardian of Cenarius” title? Totally amazeballs. EVERY ALT HAVING THE INSANE TITLE? EVEN BETTER THAN AMAZEBALLS.

New Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery are beyond amazing. I took a tour of them on my mage (so I wouldn’t die staring at the ceilings) and I’ll be doing a blog tomorrow or next week about my findings. They are just the right mixture of new design, old bosses, streamlining and storytelling. I’m exceptionally pleased with the all-new lighting rigs, textures and music. Oh my gosh, the music. So moody and just…right.

Mages didn’t get as many vanity glyphs as every other class, but I can’t help but love having an extra “transformation item“:

Using Glyph of Illusion to duplicate how Shade looks.

“It’s me, but with a legendary I’ll never have!”

Everyone in my guild has been having a lot of fun with their various class abilities, talents, and glyphs but I think the top winner of “most fun” goes to Glyph of the Stag:

Guildmate rides me as a stag across Westfall.

So far, most of the 5.0.4 changes have been really fun, even without things like pet battles in the game yet.

The Neutral

I figured “neutral” was a better way of illuminating things I have mixed feelings about rather than “bad” which is a less objective way of framing things.

Cross-realm zones have obvious appeal to them: it was really a wonderful bright spot midst bugs and broken add-ons to get to hug someone that I’ve never “met” in-game before. Stuff like cross-realm zones brings the idea of a server community outwards a bit (there’s already been “Hello to/from Cenarion Circle!” threads popping up) but it also does tend to increase the amount of people you will bump into. Prior to this, I was mostly used to running into one set of people fighting me for nodes, or rares. Now it’s a whole other larger set and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m sure overall it is good for most people, but I tend to be a fairly solitary person when it comes to questing and doing things out in the wilderness.

Goldshire is also cross-realm. Think about that one a while.

Re-learning every single class that I play in-game is something that’s going to take me a long time, if not most of the time we have left until Pandaria. Most of my experience with a class is leveling them and now everything has changed. I have a hard enough time grasping a class I’ve played for seven years (I looked at my arcane spec and had no actual idea what I should be doing) let alone an alt I don’t play every day. The process of going through every alt I have and learning glyphs, picking talents, updating keybinds and learning rotation is something I’ll have to mete out in doses. I’m too overwhelmed right now. I have six 85s, with a seventh on the way, all of various specs. I’m in the process of levelling another three toons in various places. Some are duplicates of classes I already have but are different specs. It’s just a mess right now.

Have Group, Will Travel being gone is also a pain in the ass for two reasons: it’s harder to get people random, out of the way places (like Blackwing Lair) and harder to throw together cross-realm raids. However, the bigger pain in the ass is that everyone forgot how to go places. Maybe it is just because I’m from vanilla-era WoW and am used to hoofing it everywhere, but the amount of people being unable to get to a raid I’ve seen is staggering. It takes a couple extra minutes, but going from Stormwind to Icecrown Citadel is do-able. So is getting to Dragon Soul (I’ve done it almost every week I’ve raided it on normal). So is going anywhere, really. This might be a good time to learn how to get places on foot (or wing, or mount) as we’re going to have to be running places in Pandaria without it.

Pally auras and shaman totems being changed or gone is weird as fuck, just going to toss this out right now.

The Ugly

I swear to Christ, update MogIt and no one gets hurt.

 

Anyways, hope everyone is finding 5.0.4 as enjoyable as I am.

 

 

 

“Slut Plate” Part 2: A Rebuttal and the Tyranny of Language

A list of search strings, various terms of highlighted in pink.

When I set out to make a point on my blog, it still surprises me at this “early” stage of getting my feet that people will not only take what I say seriously but run with it. Last week was a bit of a whirlwind for me – not just because I had a Serious Thing to Say, but that so many people agreed with me and passed the message on. There was also the usual round of criticism and I anticipated that. But the fact that it got discussed and debated and hotly argued over is really what impressed me. I like it when the things I think about open up a dialogue and make the gears start going with regards to our culture and how our language is symbolic of it. There were blog posts, comments and I even got linked as part of a larger post on WoW Insider.  I do want to address some things though before I tackle that particular hornets nest.

First of all, I felt like some people focused exceptionally hard on the precise terms I used. Is “slut plate” a term that has landslide usage? That could be debated, I move around in different circles than other people and I could say that they might be more prone to  using the term. However, is “slut plate” indicative of an very damaging, problematic concept that’s been going on for a while now? Oh, I do think so. (Warning: sexism/rape triggers) The screenshot linked as well as the header image are the search terms that lead to my blog – I know it was a joke tossed around that this is was a monster I birthed into being but I present to you some damning evidence that this is something that lurks in the hearts of many people who type things into Google. “Sassy plate” was my lighthearted attempt to at least use a term that didn’t feel so negative. I didn’t feel like people had to use it, but it felt a fair shade better than referring to something in such a harmful way.

The second and larger problem with talking about “slut plate” was that it focused on an entail without really giving my audience enough of a foundation in where my feelings were coming from on the armor in WoW in general, despite making several calls to it. World of Warcraft has a very problematic history with armor in that it’s consistently refused to give parallel coverage for both male and female characters in the game across all types of armor and that bothers me. It’s not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination and I’d love to see that changed. However, giving people the option to transmog in or out of said armor is a slightly more preferable option from the outset. Wanting to destigmatize choosing skimpy armor when giving a free choice was my ultimate goal, but largely giving people a way of thinking about why the stigma was so harmful in the gaming world. It was pointed out to me that wearing said armor isn’t inherently a feminist choice in and of itself and yes, I do agree. We all make choices that lie within the larger cultural context, even in gaming culture. However, part of gaming culture is shaming people who make a choice that is “sexual” and that includes wearing armor that doesn’t cover. I want to abolish the sexist rhetoric that surrounds it, especially when it is women who make these choices and the language is incredibly gendered. I want to talk about it, I want to get a discussion going. I don’t want to stand idly by and accept that this is normal or acceptable. I felt like some people got angry about the mere hint that I might be trying to control their minds about how they view people who choose to dress like that in a video game, and honestly, I don’t care. If you really want to feel your feelings on other people’s sexual expression, even in a video game, that’s your right. However, the problem is when those thoughts and perceptions influence others when you say things.

That right there is the biggest issue I want to crack.

Words Are Words Are Words Are Words (Not)

Anne Stickney published a really interesting opinion piece on Wow Insider shortly after I posted up my piece on slut plate and it really made me think. However, I don’t know if it made me think in quite the way that Anne intended; I largely disagree with her opinion on where the power of words comes from. She makes some really good assertions but I think comes to an erroneous conclusion, despite grasping most of the problem. However, her bringing it up means we can have a larger discussion about it. This is why I’ve written this secondary piece – that and some of the frivolity that embroidered the Twitter replies and comments I saw on my blog and elsewhere about wanting to hang onto slut/skank as both descriptive terms and bon mots of all things. It is this idea that at the end of the day, words are words. They are malleable and flexible in terms of being divorced from their meaning and shouldn’t really affect you, as the reader or audience.

A-buh?

Let’s focus on the WoW Insider article instead – “What Makes a Bad Word Bad?”

Stickney talks about what words are – a collection of lines given meaning and used. Their meanings can change over time, even from negative to positive and vice-versa. Language is flexible and this is not an inherently new concept to discuss. However, she asks a lot of questions regarding this, in the true nature of criticism that I find appealing:

When did that happen, exactly? How did people take a word with one meaning and give it another — and more importantly, whydid we let it grow and fester into a word that we are now ultimately offended by?

If we have the power to change the meaning of a word from positive to negative, why do we seem to lack the power to stop it from changing at all?

It shows an awareness that language DOES have power. She then goes on to place that power squarely in the hands of those who are offended though.

It’s a power play, and there are far too many people out there who buy into it on a continual basis.

In short, it’s not the words that are harmful; they’re collections of lines. Placed in order, and given meaning. The person who gives those words meaning is the person who holds all the power over those words, not the person who is saying them. The person who is saying them is hoping beyond all hope that the ones who are listening are going to give those words the worst meaning possible and have some sort of negative reaction to it.

This makes me sad, ultimately, and while I feel I understand her personal motivations for the conclusions (I mean, who wouldn’t? It gives you a feeling of control) the fact that she’s espousing this across the board makes me upset. You cannot acknowledge that words have power but say it is all resting on the audience to grant that power to said words. No, the power of words is precisely why word choice is so thorny to begin with. Anne’s analysis skirts dangerously close to a couple of concepts that get tossed around in feminist discussion all the time: victim blaming (which we’ve touched on before) and the notion that things will stop hurting if we “get over” them hurting us. It’s a thick brocade of guilt, shame and blame that often traps most people are marginalized in some way.

Let’s pull it back to see why making a point like that is so boggling if it wasn’t evident from what I said already.

Language is a really fascinating thing – it isn’t just sounds, it isn’t just letters, it isn’t even just meaning or context or non-verbal/verbal gestures. It isn’t just tone. It is all of these things in a giant soup. They can be abstracted and pulled apart, mushed back together and analyzed a billion different ways. At its basest form, it is an attempt to put thoughts and feelings into a way that communicates them to an audience. We even think in “words” a lot of the time, which is a conversation to ourselves. Communication is the interaction that occurs between the sender and receiver, the speaker and the audience. The message and the medium, as Marshall McLuhan used to speak fondly about. Communication theorists, language scholars, and philosophers have all tackled the questions of the very nature of language and what it means, how it works. To me, the cornerstone of the process is words. Any way you want to look at language, you have to acknowledge that the gateway to all facets of its study is within words. A collection of lines or sounds, given meaning. They are the little sailboats we float across the river and hope drift safely to the far shore.

Where words get their meaning is a collection of simultaneous decisions on the part of us as a society, as groups, and as human beings. Words and their meaning can shift between precise and imprecise, with wildly different usages, histories or nuance given any number of things. As a communication graduate, a lot of what we looked at was how communication breaks down between sender and receiver and oftentimes that had to do with an imprecise or incongruous understanding of the meaning of what was said. The misfire between intent and reaction is fascinating. I could stand here most of the day and talk about why this occurs, but I’d like to interject two very big elephants in the room when it comes to the collision between language and social sciences.

I’d like everyone to say hi to Power and Emotion.

Power and emotion are two very complex, very different kinds of subjects that give some words and meanings more influence over others. It is what makes them more effective, more persuasive, more coercive, more harmful or beneficial. This is why Anne’s argument falls apart in my eyes. She feels that the power comes from the audience, but that’s looking at it from an emotional standpoint and it is a very lopsided way of understanding the dynamics between Power and Emotion. Words are given power by our collective society, and in turn, they have the power to make an audience feel things. In that way, she is correct, we do feel things from the words said to us. Anyone who has been taken by an enthusiastic speech or cut down by a sharp turn of phrase in a fight knows that words do hurt. We have the ability to be moved by the language of others. This is a natural reaction of sentience. However (and this is a fundamental part of philosophy and social issues), words and meanings have power that flows in from our larger network of societal advantages. A speaker can do a lot of things knowing what kind of power a word has, that’s the whole reason they are said. Our language has the power to inform, to shape our reality. This comes to a head when that power is given to the feelings of hate and discrimination we feel inside. Historically, there have been many groups we have cut down and kept down even with our words. Our words enforce and permit a cage that people can be trapped in, long after we’ve stopped physically harming them as a society (or even if we haven’t.) This is where the complex emotional latticework I mentioned before comes back into play. Even if the speaker has the privilege of not caring or not being aware of the power a word can have on someone, it still can wreck grievous harm on the audience. This is because words are never quite divorced from lived experienced, history, or context.

Pull this back out of abstraction and you have scenarios like this:

A woman is walking home from work in a big city. A car of young men drives by and shouts “SLUT!” at her. It feels scary. 

Same woman is reading the internet and comes across people in a video game discussing “slutty outfits.”

This might be a bit of an extreme example (thought it has happened to me) but it shows that one word used two different places can speak to a larger emotional experience as the audience and it comes from people having the power to denigrate the woman with their words. To say the people speaking said words are inscrutable and not culpable for wielding the power of destructive words and meanings is short-sighted and harmful. It gives people more social currency to continue not caring about how they affect others or gleefully allows them the permission to keep doing it for their own benefit. To chastise the audience (intended or not) for their feelings and to ignore the power we give words not only is double-faced (acknowledge that a word had power over you, now pretend it doesn’t have any power at all) but callous. While I believe is empowering if someone can move into a space of not being hurt by a long-standing slur or trigger, to believe that all people should move past it in the face of real historical or social inequalities (enforced and illuminated by words) is terrible. It says, “You should ignore people hurting you” when we should be focus on the people doing the hurting. We’re not stupid. We know what hurts people and when we don’t, and are informed that they do and why, why do we tell victims to shoulder it and move on? Why not acknowledge the feelings of others and become better people?

Does it suck to feel like shit all the time? Totally. I get, like I said before, the desire for control in a world that seeks to shit on your face regularly. Control and your own power where you’ve largely  had none. But I’m never going to feel comfortable turning around and telling people that it is their own fault that a word makes them upset when we’ve built social mechanisms behind making those words hurt as hard and long as possible, with very little consequences for people who use them thoughtlessly, aggressively, repeatedly. This is why gamer culture is feeling such growing pains lately – what has been a long-standing tradition of mocking those who feel hurt by legitimately hurtful things, to use words to denigrate and inflame others is now being criticized and studied, turned on its head. I do not accept Anne’s argument that we as people victimized by language are the sole arbiters of the power these words have when they have very large social contexts. When we let people in power speak the hate they feel in their minds and hearts, these words are a crushing blow to those they feel like discriminating. When you add in a culture that gives them a high five for doing so, that gives them justifications for dehumanizing people, it lets them compartmentalize their brains. It gives us things like “Well I didn’t mean it THAT way” because they do not value the feelings of their audiences.

It is a long standing edict in social justice discourse that “intent isnt magical.” What this means is that your intended meaning doesn’t matter if you hurt someone, what matters is that the hurt occurred. Gamers are some of the most egregious offenders of pretending that they can divorce their words and messages from their long-standing cultural meanings and viciousness to mean something “tame” and inoffensive. It is a false ability they believe they’ve been given when they’ve long been the group most likely to benefit from not being on the sharp pointy end of hurtful words.

We should not have to get over someone hurting us. What we should get over, as a culture, is using words to reduce others in a myriad of ways that speak to larger societal issues. We should stop letting our gaming spaces be trickle down streams of the gaping inequalities we still enforce in our culture. We should stop suckerpunching others with gross terms and smug positions of power and then telling our recipients to just stop feeling the blows. It is an argument that is the logical equivalent of “stop hitting yourself.” While I feel Anne’s heart was in the right place in that she doesn’t wish people to feel upset about the stupid shit people say, the fact that we should ignore the larger problems of said stupid shit is wrong.

Words are words, but they are very powerful things indeed.

 

Apple Cider Goes to Blizzcon, Part 2

Cosplayers from Blizzcon. A blood elf is helping a hunter with her helm.

Hello, faithful readers! I hope you didn’t miss me too much when I was in California. Between Blizzcon, Hallow’s Eve (in-game), and working, I’ve been a busy little gnome. I didn’t forget you guys though. Here’s my breakdown of everything I did while I was at the convention last weekend.

Socializing

I got to meet a lot of really awesome people briefly or for long amounts of time during Blizzcon. I didn’t get to meet every single person I wanted to though, I had that little time there. The first night I got there, I went to the WoW Insider/Wowhead meetup. It was a lot of fun – they were giving out tons of prizes at the door. I got several booster packs of the newest TCG cards, Monster swag, and a couple imps of Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs perfume! (I managed to get a “Gnome” one, too!) The WI staff at the party were all very wonderful and nice. Bunch of them were live-casting at a table with some of the guys from Wowhead. I also got to meet Kinaesthesia from Vodka/Learn2Raid (a personal hero of mine, I watch all his videos), Pewter from Mental Shaman, Perculia from Wowhead, O from Stories of O, Trade Chat (I chased a couple of gross guys off of her when she was hanging out with her lady-friend), as well as hanging out with the Flavor Text Lore ladies quite a bit. I also got to see a few people from my guild too. I briefly saw Felicia Day and Robin Thorsen from The Guild. I wanted to say hi to Robin, as she’s my favorite actress from when I still watched the show, but they were being guarded by guys just to get through the party. The rest of the weekend was a blur of guildmates, Flavor Text Lore ladies, my server meetup (got to meet another mage I raided with), and some Elitist Jerks people. I met Dysmorphia from Games and Trips and shared some amazing Polish liquor called nalewka. Dysmorphia is my sister-in-feminism, and her blog is amazing. The crown jewel of my weekend was meeting some of the Blizzard staff – last year it was Ghostcrawler, but this year I got to have long conversations with both Nethaera (who is very cool) and Zarhym. I thanked Nethaera a lot for being a woman inside of the gaming industry (as she’s been in it for a very long time) and giving me hope that you can be a public face for a gaming company and still survive. As for Zarhym, he’s a real sweetie, along with the rest of the staff manning the “Ask Blizzard” booth. I didn’t get a picture with either of them, but I’ll have fond memories of getting to speak with them face-to-face.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

I was sitting with Mythrai (who writes at her own personal blog) as we got a good seat for both the opening ceremonies, as well as the World of Warcraft preview and when they finally announced the new expansion, I felt a little funny. How could it possibly, actually be true? As the preview rolled out, I accepted it a little more. Sure, the world had been fleshed out. Pandas seem feasible. I’m still more excited about the amount of casual content, but I’m still coming to grips with Pandaria as a reality. It didn’t hurt that it was explained by Cory Stockton, my favorite developer at Blizzard. My pet collecting habit seems to make me think I’ll love the “World of Pokemon” aspect with the pet battling system or at least financially when I level and sell off my rare pets. The talent revamp is something I’m a lot more edgy about, admittedly. It feels TOO simple at this point, especially for mages. I’ll go into greater. detail about my feelings on that in a later post this week.  Challenge dungeons as well as expanded non-raid PVE content and exploration is what I’m most excited about. I got to play through the starting zone on a pandaren monk and I have to say that even at this early stage, they really knocked questing and fighting out of the park. The environments look great and the feel of the monk class feels pretty intuitive at this point. I might have to roll a gnome monk!

My only real hesitation about this newest expansion is that most of my raid team seems to want to quit over it, and the subject of cultural sensitivity. Blizzard messed up the original Pandaren Monk pet by dressing it in Japanese attire. I hope this doesn’t turn into a mish-mash of Asian cultures and alienates their audience because of it; ape-ing (or is it “panda-ing”) most of someone’s cultural dress, attitudes and beliefs into a game made by mostly white developers for a predominantly white audience just doesn’t sit right with me in the end. I am white myself, but I know friends of mine that play World of Warcraft that have already been hurt by this expansion decision and that bothers me greatly.

I also hope that Blizzard does the right thing and properly develops the female Pandaren models. I’m tired of women being an afterthought when it comes to their art direction and design.

World of Warcraft’s Annual Pass

I admit, I already bought this. For those who don’t know – the annual pass is something they rolled out at Blizzcon and made available immediately to everyone. It is essentially a cell-phone contract for World of Warcraft; you agree to pay for 12 months with whatever payment plan you currently use (game time cards, 1 month-1 year subscriptions, etc.) and you receive a free Tyrael’s mount in-game, access to WoW’s next beta, as well as a free copy of Diablo III added to your account. It was explained that this is because they don’t want their WoW subscribers to feel torn between two games. I definitely smell a little bit of fresh revenue (I mean who doesn’t) but I still got it anyways. You can get me to do anything if you involve a sparkly horse. And for those curious, yes you can buy the Diablo III collector’s edition and add it to your account, even if you get it for free via the annual pass. What it will do is simply add 4 months WoW game-time to your subscription to offset the cost.

Which brings me to my next point…

Diablo III

After what seemed like an interminably long line (thankfully I was waiting with Mythrai and sucksmybrain), we finally got to sit down in front of the demo. Part of me had waved my hands at it, not wanting to stand in a long line. “Oh, it’ll just be out in a couple months.” “Oh, I’ll just grab someone’s beta account!” It was definitely worth the wait. Some background on Diablo III though – I’ve never played it before Blizzcon. I’ve just had the strange coincidence of managing to go a ton of the panels for the game, been friends with other Diablo fiends. Everywhere I look, there’s talk about Diablo. But I’ve never gotten into myself. That didn’t stop me from getting excited about it and once I had been seated in front of my own demo station, I immediately got squee-ish.   The graphics are amazing and despite never have played a game in 3/4ths view or that uses click-to-move/click-to-cast, I rolled up a sorceress and went off on my merry way, killing undead and doing quests. The only downside was only have 2 spells available to me at any one time. However, if you have the benefit of getting the beta (PASS ME A KEY, OKAY?), definitely try this. I think all of you won’t be disappointed.

Psst! Also, there’s a great article up at WoW Insider about why people new to the Diablo franchise should play it.

Murkablo belches fire onto Apple Cider.

…Everything Else

After those things, most of Blizzcon was a blur of parties, hanging out, meeting people, catching glimpses of GSL, World of Warcraft arena tournaments, standing in lines for things I wasn’t sure of, and eating tons of delicious food. After a while I got a little tired of walking everywhere and just flopped on my hotel bed to rest and have some peace and quiet. Blizzcon always tires me out and puts me into debt, but it is worth it every year. The cosplay was amazing, the people were amazing, the panels and events were amazing. Travelling home made me sad but I’ll always have the memories I make every time I go to keep me company.

The only blot on my experience was something I’ll go into in my next post. Tell me about your Blizzcon experience (whether via the DirectTV stream, online stream or in-person) in the comments!

Apple Cider Mage Does Blizzcon 2011

Business cards with the blog's header image on them.
Sorry about the quality of the image today – I had to take it with my phone’s camera in low light. If you can’t tell what they are, those are my business cards. I’m taking a cute white box full of them with me to Blizzcon this week. Oh, wait, I didn’t mention I was going to Blizzcon? How silly of me! Then let’s back it up a bit and start from the beginning.

The Convention

Blizzcon, for you World of Warcraft devotees, is Blizzard’s annual convention that celebrates all of their game properties – most notably World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. It takes place in Anaheim, CA, in the city’s multi-hall convention center, right near Disneyland. I’ve personally been going every year since 2008 and I always have a ton of fun. This year should be no exception – not only does their promise to be some juicy unveilings (new Warcraft expansion, possible DLC for Starcraft II and maybe even a whiff of Blizzard’s secret project, Titan) but a lot of talk about next year’s hot release, Diablo III.

The schedule of events for the convention has been posted (sort of) via their mobile phone app, as well as various Warcraft news sites, but not on their actual event page. I’m using their Android app to figure out where I’m going each day and what I want to see. A rough plan of things I want to hit looks like this:

Friday

  • Opening Ceremony  11 AM-12 PM, Main Stage
  • World of Warcraft Preview 12:30-2:00 PM, Main Stage
  • World of Warcraft Class Talent Systems 2:15-3:15, Main Stage
  • World of Warcraft Dungeons & Raids 3:30-4:30 PM, Main Stage
  • World of Warcraft: 4.3 Raid and Deathwing 5:00 PM-5:50 PM, BlizzChat: Live Forums
Saturday
  • World of Warcraft Lore and Story Q&A, 4:15PM-5:15 PM
Items that are bolded are ones I’m definitely not missing, hopefully, as I go to them every year. You can also see that my schedule is fairly Warcraft-oriented. I tend to keep my schedule fairly loose though and allow myself to wander or go elsewhere as necessary.

Meetups and Parties

Besides just attending panels and trying out demos of the new games, I also go to a couple of social events in and around the convention. Most notably is the WoW Insider party at 5 PM on Thursday, October 20th, at the Annabella hotel, which is right around the corner from the east entrance of the convention center and up the block. It’s an amazingly gorgeous mission-style hotel and I’ve had a blast every year I’ve attended this party. The WoW Insider staff are always fun people to hang out with, with lots of MCing, podcasting and prizes/swag. Just don’t get pushed into the pool. This year the party is being jointly sponsored by WoW Insider and  Wowhead and should promise to be the biggest party yet. Don’t be late and get stuck outside because there’s no room! I heard that this year there’s even going to be faction-inspired cocktails so everyone can imbibe for the Horde or the Alliance.

I also go to my server’s meetup every year but since Blizzard doesn’t display the times for that until the day of the convention, I have no idea when that will be. In past years, I’ve taken part in the Elitist Jerk’s /flex picture outside, as well as hanging out with some of the fine ladies at WoW_ladies.

This blog doesn’t have a ton of fans (yet) but hopefully if any of you guys are going to Blizzcon, that maybe we’ll get to say hi. If anyone wants to hang out or get in touch, you can send me an e-mail at my address from my contact page. Also if anyone wants to invite me to anything, just let me know as well.

Hope to see some of you there!