I’d like to start things by saying, maybe surprisingly, that I get where Blizzard is coming from. I’m… sympathetic.
Look. I get it. You’re a big company that employs thousands of people all around the world, and those people rely on your success in order to succeed themselves – which you proved when you laid a whole bunch of em’ off because you didn’t make as much money as your investors might prefer. Speaking of, you ‘re a publicly traded company. You’ve got goals you’ve got to hit in order to keep your investors happy. It can be a real problem for a company if they should suddenly find themselves without the investors they’ve come to rely on. And in that respect, you can’t turn down any market – especially a market as big as China – that could contribute to that growth.
And I get that you’re not the ones in control. You, like many people I’m sure, would prefer if China wasn’t a totalitarian regime that employs it’s economic clout to silence dissent, and it’s military might to silence free speech. Your hands are being forced by the real villains in this story, and I can respect that. I can also respect the fact that if you did decide to cut ties with China, it’s not China who would really suffer: it’s your innocent employees, your trusting investors, and of course, Chinese citizens themselves, because a great many of them would no doubt be heartbroken to discover they couldn’t play Blizzard games anymore.
Hell, I’ll even go so far as to say I get why you overreacted. China is not a patient party and their relationship with video games is already extremely strained: there’s no doubt a whole lot of people in the party who would love to have an excuse to re-apply old video game bans. Plus, at the end of the day, “Blitzchung” did, indeed, break the rules in a pretty profound and flippant day. Even commentators and other pros have acknowledged that for however important and brave his message may have been, it was a clear violation of the rules you laid out and thus a punishment was justified. Failure to react would have encouraged others to complain about unfair treatment, and it certainly would have caused people to think you maybe sided with him, for better or worse. I can even see a case for why you published the poor commentators caught in the crossfire: they did fail to react quickly to what was clearly a political message, which was a professional mistake, and there’s the not-unfair assumption that by punishing them yourselves, you might have spared them the scrutiny of a far less forgiving Chinese government.
And heck, why not: I also get that you’re making a new Warcraft movie and if the Chinese don’t watch it, no one else is going to. I’ll give you that.
So I’ll go that far, Blizzard. I’ll go that far and say that I understand why you made the decision that you did.
But there is a fine yet clear line between “understand” and “respect”, “accept”, or even “tolerate”. Just because I understand doesn’t mean I owe you any of the latter.
For one, because for your knee-jerk reaction to be so violent was absolutely jarring, and the following silence was eerily out of character. I’m completely of the mind that if your initial reaction matched what eventually became you “relaxed” punishment, this whole thing could have been avoided. People might have been miffed about a six-month suspension, but it wouldn’t have blown up as dramatically as it had: it would be hard to argue, after all, that he didn’t break his contract or act in a disruptive, possibly controversial manner.
But really, none of that matters, Blizzard, and here’s why: I will repeat the chorus that so many others have said in the wake of this controversy, you don’t get to be apolitical. The very notion of being an apolitical company, or organization, or even game, simply doesn’t exist: it’s a mythical term, an impossible notion that’s only used as an excuse by some companies and an impossible goal by gamers who are angry that the world, and thus the narrative of the games they play, are now changing.
Any organization, any game, without a message of change – or, more specifically, that tries to censor or combat any messages of change – is overtly siding with the status quo. If you do not advocate for the change you want to see in the world, you are, through your inaction, supporting the world we have now. And maybe someday we’ll live in a world where the status quo is worth defending, but that world is sure as hell not this one, and this world is in desperate need for change.
So when you – or, the Chinese-owned folks over at Riot Games – say that they try to avoid any and all political chatter in their streams, that’s casting your lot with the Chinese, who are currently, as you read this, attacking protesters, censoring freedom, creating propaganda, arresting dissenters, and of course, harvesting organs and raping ethnic minorities. And none of that is your responsibility. It would be foolish to assume you had any role in that. But you see all that, and you think “yeah, sure. We’re okay with this, and I’m going to include clauses in our contract to ensure no one will ever be able to speak out against it without suffering some kind of punishment”.
Why else would you even have a clause like that in your contracts to begin with, after all?
But like I said at the start, I don’t envy you. I understand the appeal of appeasing the Chinese government. And moreover, I also understand that in the best situation, you are qualified to neither talk about or act on the brutality of the Chinese government. Even if you did take a stand against them, you wouldn’t change what’s happening, and you’d lose a market that’s worth billions of dollars. From a purely business perspective, it’s a lose-lose situation. All the good press in the world wouldn’t compensate for losing literally a billion new customers.
But that’s the funny thing about doing the “right” thing, it’s rarely also the “easy” thing to do.
If there’s one thing I understand more than anything, Blizzard, it’s hopelessness. I think most people in today’s connected age understand how that feels. To see the world become an absolute dump and being powerless to do anything about it. I can smile and stay friendly and positive with my stressed-out coworkers, but it won’t stop the Kurds from being annihilated. I can donate some money to charity and recycle all my plastics, but it won’t stop the Amazon from burning, clear the plastic in the ocean, or save the quickly vanishing life-sustaining insects that help us all survive on this stupid rock. I can vote and join a rally, but I can’t take every automatic rifle away to try and make the next mass shooting less lethal. Everything I do to try to make the world a better place, I do it with the crippling awareness that it amounts to nothing. Not even next-to-nothing, literally nothing.
But I do it anyway.
Not because it will change the trajectory of the world, or make things better by any amount.
But because it’s the right thing to do.
That’s the real heart of this conversation we’re having, Blizzard. I can understand the logic behind your actions. I can respect that your business needs have to be met. I can know logically why you do what you do. But none of that changes the fact that what you did was wrong. And if you won’t do what’s right, then we have to hold you accountable for that. Justice is not a force in the universe, some invisible karmaic force that insures good deeds are rewarded and evil is punished. The universe won’t do that for us, we have to do it ourselves. That’s why we’ve made the memes, planned the protests, and deleted our Blizzard accounts. To make justice where none currently exists. And to try to push you, as best we can, towards doing the right thing.
That’s what makes this sting so much more, Blizzard. More than when Riot Games or Disney or the NBA bows to China, as frustrating as all those examples are. Because you, at one time, were the company with a soul. Or at least, a guiding vision that gave you something close to one. And you, not too long ago, created a fantastic futuristic world populated by brave people who made the planet a better place by taking impossible stands and achieving impossible things. You created a world filled with heroes, and when the opportunity came for you to bring that fantasy vision to the real world we all populate, you failed us. And you even punished a real hero along the way.
The world could always use more Heroes. More so now more than ever before.