Silence is a sound not commonly heard in World of Warcraft.

You may have heard that Rogers, one of Canada’s biggest internet and television providers, has been accused of throttling back the bandwidth for World of Warcraft players. Unless they provide evidence that the problem is fixed by July 25, the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission) will launch a formal inquiry into the matter, which could mean big problems for the company’s future.

According to the CRTC, internet service providers are obligated to practice ‘net neutrality.’ This means they cannot throttle back bandwidth for customers of WoW (or any other web-based application) without providing full justification for their actions. The failure of Rogers to respond properly to the claims has led WoW Insider to publish a great article on this subject, which you can view here. The author argues eloquently that WoW players are “disrespected and ignored” by companies like Rogers which provide no suitable justification for their treatment of online gamers. Needless to say, I’ve got to agree.

Gamers face many forms of discrimination in society. We are commonly portrayed negatively by the media. We are said to lack social skills and to reside in dark basements. According to some recruiters, we are also undesirable employees. All of these stereotypes are bothersome, but not necessarily surprising.

Screenshot from South Park’s funny, yet also unnerving episode on World of Warcraft players.

What’s different about the present situation is that gamers are being targeted by the very companies who stand to make the most money off of their favourite past time. This, to me, seems to be a new level of discrimination. While the internet can be a cruel place, I have always felt as though service providers approached their customers ‘carte blanche.’ They may not understand our love of gaming, of course, but service providers are generally willing to cater to any customer who is willing to pay them money. By curtailing access to certain games, companies like Rogers are practicing a form of censorship. They are dictating which types of entertainment are valid, and which types are not. And that is a serious infringement on our individual freedoms.

For me, the issue is much more personal than this. I’m a twenty-something female from a big city, and gaming is not necessarily the most acceptable past time for my demographic profile. On more than one occasion, I’ve censored myself, choosing not to reveal my gaming preferences to various members of the public.

But all of these social pressures are offset by the knowledge that when I log onto WoW, I can play a game where I am accepted and am free of (most) discrimination from non-gamers. That sense of freedom has been integral to helping me repel negative stereotypes, and keep my love of gaming alive.

I understand that misuse of the internet is a big problem, and internet service providers have a duty to monitor bandwidth usage in order to ensure the very best online experience for everyone. But with so much trolling and truly hateful content on the net, it is unnerving that WoW players in particular are being targeted.

For me, gaming is an important source of self-expression, and limiting my internet access is like taking a paintbrush from a painter. With the pressure from the CRTC intensifying on a daily basis, I can only hope that Rogers will hear the complaints of millions of people out there who feel the same way, and will adopt a more even-handed approach towards its customers– gamers and non-gamers alike– in the future.

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