The Power of Words

Please welcome Jen Doering as the latest member of the Geek Girls Rule! family!!

If you’ve been playing an MMO in the last five or six years or so, you’ve been conscious that some of the language involved can get a bit…salty. Sometimes the only thing you can say in response to a particularly bad wipe is an f-bomb or other bit of profanity. And, I’ll be honest, things get a bit risque in my guild’s Ventrilo channel. (For instance, a husband and wife weren’t responding to ready checks, so there was all sorts of speculation as to their whereabouts, when they were merely getting a snack. We didn’t buy it either.)

If you play an MMO and still have general chat channels on, then you’re aware that certain words—such as “gay,” “rape,” and “fag”–are thrown around quite readily. Combine this with the new random dungeon finder that Blizzard added in December, and it’s a given you’ll be tossed together with players you probably wouldn’t associate with normally. If I find myself in a random dungeon and there’s profanity, I’ll stick it out. If people are using the word “gay” as an adjective that doesn’t refer to sexual orientation and “rape” as something that gets done to monsters or other players, I’ll immediately drop the group and wait out my deserter debuff.

The people who use such terms are quick to throw out free speech and their rights, but the WoW servers are not public spheres. It would be as if I went into someone’s home and swore a blue streak. Sure, there’s nothing to stop me doing so, but odds are good I’d be asked to leave and not invited back. In the same manner, Blizzard can (and does) ban people for such behavior.

The thing is, words have power. I know too many people who’ve been sexually assaulted or been targeted because of their sexual orientation. I’ve seen what these evils do to their lives, and I’ll be damned if I continue it or passively condone it. Every time someone talks about “raping” a boss or an opposing faction, they’re contributing to the mindset that rape is acceptable. If “gay” is used as an epithet, it’s reinforced that some sexual orientations are undesirable.

Of course, the objection is raised that they really aren’t talking about rape or homophobia, but “nice” people don’t use words that hurt other people. Because of the nature of MMO’s, you never know who’s the person behind the toon. Isn’t it better to just not use words that could hurt? In the end, it’s a more fun time for everyone involved, if we do what we can to make things a little better for everyone else.

14 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. I agree with your overall sentiment, but I want to take it a step further. Gay is an adjective, but it is an adjective that has many more meanings than what you typically encounter, and I think that a lot of people have forgotten about the true origins of the word in the storm of reactionary speech that we live with today. Following is what I found after a simple search over at

    gay  [gey] adjective, -er, -est, noun, adverb
    1. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.
    2. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments.
    3. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: a gay social season.
    4. licentious; dissipated; wanton: The baron is a gay old rogue with an eye for the ladies.
    5. homosexual.
    6. of, indicating, or supporting homosexual interests or issues: a gay organization.

    How many times do you hear somebody using it in the sense of the first four definitions? I don’t know about you, but I think that many people have simply stopped using the word for fear of having somebody assume, regardless of context, that they are using it as either an epithet or as the fifth definition. This is the power of a society to change the true power of a word, and to convert that power to meaning only one thing, and that thing seldom in a positive light. This is a word that was all about being happy, and instead it is commonly used for the complete opposite today.

  2. Using the word gay to denote homosexuality has it’s origins in the first four definitions of the word, based on societally perceived notions of homosexuals. You do realize that, yes?

    Apart from that, what exactly is your point? Are you supporting the assheads who use “gay” as an insult? I am unclear as to your intent.

    You do recognize that using a word that refers to a marginalized group of people in our society as an insult is a bad thing, right? Right? Kind of like when it used to be ok to say that when someone got cheated they got “jewed” but now that we as a society recognize that anti-semitism and racism are not ok, people don’t say shit like that. Homophobia is no more ok than racism or anti-semitism.

  3. Is that really how anyone uses the word gay on WoW? What about the word faggot? Are you gonna tell me that they use the word queer to mean that the person is a little odd? Or are you just trying to make apologies for a bunch of homophobic bullshit?
    It may be inadvertant, but when it’s a total stranger, that makes it awkward at best and threatening at worst. Do not use semantics to try to explain away bad behavior.

  4. I quite realize how it is used now. I have family and friends who are homosexual, so I have my own problems with those who would marginalize or harm them, verbally or otherwise. No, my point was that the word itself is more than just how people choose to use it. I would love to be able to use it to describe behavior without it carrying the connotation that our society has placed upon it. Instead, the narrow minded bigots who think that heterosexuals are the only ones who deserve to exist have marginalized and hamstrung the word “gay,” and have made it politically incorrect to use the word at all in “polite society” without fear of it being misunderstood, regardless of the context in which it is used. Instead people only hear the word, and not the context in which it was used.

    However, to the point of the post, these people are clearly of the type who help perpetuate the problem with the abuse of the word and the lifestyle choice. I agree with your stance, but I wanted to expose the fact that there is more to the word than just the epithetical use of the word. Awareness of the other meanings may encourage people to use the word in other contexts, and in so doing hamstring the epithetical use of the word by allowing those other uses to become more commonplace.

  5. Seriously? You really think that we were unaware of the original meaning of the word? I can’t decide whether that’s incredibly insulting or just so disingenuous as to be nigh unbelievable.


  6. My point is that if we want to change how the world perceives that word, then we need to be the ones to step up and increase awareness rather than simply expressing intolerance for it. My policy whenever I encounter somebody using words in this manner is to completely derail the conversation with some kind of comment about the word relating to the alternate definitions. The same with faggot. You would be amazed at how fast those children creep back into their little holes if you actually confront them on their behavior. Ignoring or walking away from negative behavior won’t generate change in behavior. Only confronting said behavior and educating will encourage change. Be an agent of change instead of helping to perpetuate the problem by walking away from it.

  7. Don’t forget gypped, people still apparently love using Gypsy as an insult.

    However, Geoffrie, to respond to your issue of perception, language doesn’t work that way. Confronting people on their behavior, proscribing language rules, they just don’t work as techniques unless you have the weight of a massive system behind you. It worked once for the Qin Emperor, it worked once for the guys that invented all of the ridiculous grammar and punctuation rules for English at the dawn of the 19th century, and it might work for someone again in the future. I oversimplify, to be sure, but walking away from someone else’s negative behavior is probably one of the better tactics you could use. Because you certainly aren’t going to change their mind on the matter.

    Remember, it doesn’t matter. That one perfect rejoinder? It won’t convert them to your side.

    That said, I’m pretty comfortable calling someone an asshat if they go on a tear about ‘raep’ and calling things gay in my presence. I just acknowledge that it likely won’t do anything.

  8. Or you could just be plain about how it’s hate speech, they mean it as hate speech, and that’s not acceptable.

    I understand what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to combat hate and ignorance with clever. STOP. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t cut through the bullshit and it makes you look pedantic.

    Clever is bullshit. Clever is an attempt to say “look at how muchbetter I am at everything.” Clever fucking sucks. Notice how my point is very clear on the first reading. Notice howyours is not.

  9. The manner in which the word is used is hate speech, but the word itself is not. I try to combat hate and ignorance with illumination, and in my experience this can be successful, at least in online forums and chat sessions in games, verbal or text based. You have problems with the use of cleverness. I do not. I have had positive results from successful application of cleverness.

    Conversely, I have not had positive results from the application of profanity in a conversation. My experience is that use of such leads to defensiveness and combativeness.

  10. You know, I’m not done. Look, everyone, here’s an excellent example of the passive-aggressive troll. The kind that will never lose an argument because they’re never the first to be unpleasant. Never mind that their ideas are innflammatory, patronising and wrong. They’re always smugly self-satisfied in the fact that they were polite about it.

  11. Thanks!

    Here’s the deal: the types who’re most into the kind of language I’ve got a problem with aren’t going to be interested in a discourse on the nature of language itself. Nor are they really into changing their ways. nine times out of ten, they’re trying to be badass and shock others. The best way to deal with those sorts, in my experience, is to not give in to their bait. I tell them I don’t find that sort of language acceptable, and drop group. To do otherwise is to give them the attention they crave.

    now, were I in a battlegroup with the Proudmoore server, it’s quite likely I’d be bumping into people from either of the two largest les/bi/gay/trans guilds in the game. Those two guilds, however, are pretty heavily focused upon progression, and I doubt they’d have time for random chit chat.

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