Apparently, discrimination is becoming a problem in World of Warcraft. Some players are refusing to accept other players into their group unless they can chat in perfect, unbroken English. This phenomenon is being blamed on a widespread backlash against the practice of gold farming, which is unfairly associated with all non-English speakers in general.
There is nothing new to this. The particulars might be unique, but the basis for this behavior has always been there, lying just under the surface of all multiplayer video games. I will never forget the first time I logged onto a multiplayer server and saw one game session entitled “NO JEWS”. I joined the session, of course (in addition to all our other faults, we Jews can’t follow directions.) I thought I might learn something from the experience, but after 20 very sad minutes, all I’d discovered was a strong correlation between bigotry and the use of foul language.
Gold farming has simply become a handy excuse for some people to indulge in their darker impulses. So what can MMORPG developers do about it? 1) Don’t add fuel to the fire by publishing scathing remarks about the practice of gold farming. If you don’t like it, just deal with it quietly, fairly, and efficiently. 2) Reward diversity. Perhaps groups that are comprised of players from different countries could be rewarded with an experience point bonus? Or perhaps diverse guilds could be rewarded in some way? These are just idle thoughts, but I think the idea is at least worth considering. Bringing people together is one of the most socially-beneficial things an MMOG could ever do. And hey, you might even be able to get some decent PR out of it.
PS. If you haven’t read always_black’s famous short story, Bow Nigger, you really should.
*Update: in response to the unexpected controversy this has generated, I’ve posted a followup for clarification’s sake.
*Update 2: as promised, in response to all the controversy, I’ve written an article for Gamasutra about designing an MMORPG user feedback system, which is meant to address legitimate player concerns about bad teamwork, loot theft, etc.