This article originally appeared on MOTHERBOARD Germany.
When Klara* arrives at the tavern in Goldshire, she sees stripper dwarves and naked elves. She expects cybersex, sensual chats, a little role-play. But what she encounters are tasteless come-ons and rape fantasies. "Oh yeah, cum for all!" shouts out a dwarf in the tavern, which many World of Warcraft player passes through at least once on the journey through this massive online fantasy world.
The dwarf chases after an orc who runs through the inn with his snow cannon. Seconds later, a chat window pops up: "You horny? What's your number?" Those who spend time in the tavern quickly run into various characters, such as the night elves, who scurry across the screen in their lingerie, intensely eyeing them before announcing in all caps: "I'm going to fuck you unconscious!"
Klara leaves. Outside there are other players who are waiting for her. They surround her mage character and spew glowing white spells into the air, an example of the kind of unwanted cybersex that takes place in the tavern. Klara logs off. What the fuck just happened? She discovered the "Rape Tavern" of World of Warcraft.
Klara's name, and the names of other players mentioned in this story, were changed at their request because they were afraid other players would harass them.
Role-play within a role-play
In reporting this article, talking to more than 40 players across 21 servers, we regularly witnessed scenes like this during our time in the tavern of Goldshire. We also saw players attempt to acquire real photos and contact information from other players.
This location in World of Warcraft is considered the unofficial swinger capital of the famous online role-playing game. Every day, thousands of players meet here and have sex as either elves, orcs, or pandas. In chat form. It's not uncommon for the characters to be dressed down to their underwear, which is essential for setting the right tone, WoW player Frank told Motherboard. Frank has been visiting the "Goldshire Inn"—as regulars here call it—since 2009. He usually plays on so-called "role-playing servers," which are explicitly intended for role players and are considered the traditional home of the erotic community. On normal servers, the tavern is usually empty and is only visited by those passing through.
"Nobody really knows when it all began. But all things cybersex had already taken place here when I started playing the game," he said. "Back then it still used to be important to choose your words carefully and respect each other, to maintain a certain level of decorum. There used to be a real erotic culture here. But now most people don't really care about that."
He speaks to a phenomenon we noticed the first time we visited Goldshire: The tone and the players' general behavior is exceptionally aggressive in the bar. While talking to Motherboard, regulars simply referred to Goldshire Inn as the "Rape Tavern," while tossing around the occasional and telling winky face.
A WoW player gave us the email of 26-year-old Klara, who became active in erotic online chats when she was a teenager. Today she gets paid for being a virtual escort on the servers of the video game Second Life. It was through this line of work that she learned about the erotic community in World of Warcraft, and wanted to check it out for herself.
"It was supposed to be a nice evening. I created a mage and went straight to Goldshire. The tavern was packed. All the guests were wearing either fancy costumes or nothing at all. I've never seen so many purple breasts. I thought I'd landed in a real sex club," Klara said. After a few minutes, various tavern guests sent her public and private messages. "I was asked if I want to have sex. That wasn't all that surprising to me, so I asked what the chat rules were, something I'm used to from my escort work in Second Life." A number of players told her that it's a lot more about the "animations" than long sensual descriptions of intimate moments, as is the case in Second Life.
Through their advances, the players suggested the simulation of sex with the help of a number of different dance, battle, or spell animations. "I found it rather banal and I politely refused. I then left the tavern, but soon realized that a group of them was following me." This led to what Klara describes as a disturbing scene: "A female human really wanted to 69 with me as a few paladins watch and simulate ejaculation through spells that emit white light." Klara responded with a very clear "no!", to which the players responded by surrounding her and harassing her further.
Klara escaped the uncomfortable situation by completely logging off and quitting the game. "I deleted my character and since then have never been back," she said.
"We don't get any help!"
Scenes like the one Klara described crop up often during our reporting. While typing out our interview questions in the chat box, a number of half-naked avatars rub up against our female human. We're asked how much "a session costs," whether we'd "fuck for money" in real life, and how old we are. We decide to leave the tavern, but a few players follow us out the door.
Later I learned in a discussion with some of the perpetrators that it's "really hot" when victims flee because it's like real rape. Hunting down their victims becomes part of the rape role-playing. It spurred them on to catch our character after we left the tavern.
After three such advances, we decided to change our strategy and directly address what the attacker was trying to do. "Rape is also a type of erotic role-play," said the night elf, who a few moments before said in the tavern he'd "fuck me unconscious." Someone listening in agreed with him: "It's just lewd behavior, nothing more."
"Those who don't like it can log out whenever they want." We heard this sentence a lot in conversations with the players. Alex, a longtime WoW fan who's witnessed many scenes like this in Goldshire with his panda character, summarizes what's so problematic about this stance: "It's a bit of a 'sink or swim' mentality that these rape players have. Goldshire is home to them on almost all role-playing servers, and those who don't like it just have to steer clear of the place. That kind of ruins everybody's fun here."
But the WoW veteran also criticizes the attitude of the game's developer Blizzard developers: "We just don't get any help. Of course you can always open a ticket and complain, but Blizzard has been ignoring that system for years." We asked Blizzard for an updated statement, but after several days of waiting, we never received a reply.
The problems of players who are affected may seem overblown. After all, we're talking about incidents that take place only on the screen and in a fantasy world. But because of this, it's often overlooked how these experiences burden those who themselves have become victims of attacks. Many players we spoke with emphasized how uncomfortable these situations wind up being.
In our interviews, victims of these attacks told us they suddenly felt themselves pressed into a corner—despite the massive size of the online world—and that they simply didn't want their characters, who they've developed an attachment to, to undergo something like this. On top of that are the explicit and often racist and sexist insults made by attackers, reinforcing the feeling that no one is safe or welcome.
The phenomenon of the "Rape Tavern" isn't anything new. Forums going back many years describe disturbing experiences in Goldshire and demand that Blizzard do something about it. But a clear position taken in response to accusations made against Blizzard are difficult to find. In 2010, Blizzard announced it would be "patrolling" Goldshire Inn and sanction any players with a time-out who infringe upon the community guidelines while in their presence. This decision seems to have helped very little.
In the eyes of most WoW fans, the fate of Goldshire was sealed with the release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion in 2008. Thanks to a new feature, players no longer had to meet in taverns and similar locations to go on an adventure together. Instead, the "Dungeon Finder" made it easier for players to form groups so they wouldn't have to meet up in towns like Goldshire before going out together to complete a quest. The erotic role-playing community, which continued to use the town as its meeting place, was all that remained, but that community quickly felt itself harassed.
Crumbling child protections
Aside from the fact that the aggressive members of this "rape community" spoil other players' fun, put them into uncomfortable situations, and even drive them out of Goldshire, there's another problem: child protection.
In Germany, World of Warcraft is available to anyone older than 12, and thanks to an ongoing promotional strategy, beginners are allowed to play for free until they reach Level 20. If players choose a human character, Goldshire is located very close to the starting area and can be reached in just a few minutes.
As a result, there's the chance that minors could wind up in the "rape tavern," where people often ask for cellphone numbers or "real-life pics." It's especially for this reason that Blizzard should begin to focus more on Goldshire and figure out how to more thoroughly and effectively respond to complaints and reports.
The virtual perpetrators I spoke with don't want to hear about scenarios like this, where they could potentially wind up chatting up a minor. While reporting this story, we continuously heard excuses from them such as "kids aren't awake at night" or "it's their own fault."
The way Blizzard has allowed this problem to persist is often interpreted as permission to widen the scope from the erotic chats from before to in-game acts of rape.