Make a WoW Goblin = Encounter sexism within 30 minutes

The World of Warcraft quest log with the quest "Off to the Bank" contained within. The full text is in the blog post.

[Spoiler Warning: Goblin Starting Area]

I love you World of Warcraft, I really do.  The addition of the new Goblin race in Cataclysm has made me squeeeee with joy.  The starting area is so lighthearted, well done, hilarious in parts, and clever.  However, one particular quest has been a bit annoyed.

In the Goblin starting area, one of the big things that happens is that you prepare for a party.  You go entertain the guests, then the party gets overrun with pirates.  Before you attend the party, there are a number of things that you have to do in order to get ready for it.  Apparently one of them is make sure you’re dressing “super fine” for your boyfriend, a goblin named Chip Endale.  Here’s the quest text:

“Yo, baby.  Wassup?  You ready for the party?

No?!  You know I love you, so I don’t know how to say this, but check it…I think you need to swing into town to buy a new outfit for the party.

Don’t look at me like that, you want to look gooood, right?  Don’t you want to look super fine for me?  I am your boyfriend after all!

Swing by the bank first and pull out plenty of macaroons.  You don’t want to buy any of that cheap stuff!”

Come on Blizzard, you have some of the best quest writers in the business working for you.  This is what they came up with?  I ‘need’ to dress appropriately to make sure I’m looking “fine” for my boyfriend?  Because it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m impressing him out in public, since “after all” he is my boyfriend?  Sightastic.

I wanted to see what happened if I had been a male Goblin instead and found out that instead of a male NPC giving out the quest, it’s a female NPC named Candy Cane.  The quest text is nearly identical, except instead of looking “super fine” you are supposed to want to “look good”.  So, that’s great – at least they’re equally as offensive to both males and females.  However, my perception as a female was that this quest was tailored for my female avatar and I was more than a bit put off by experiencing a controlling boyfriend telling me what to wear in the Goblin newbie zone.

I’ve personally dealt in the past with a significant other who acted like it was my responsibility to be exactly what he wanted in public.  It sucked.  I don’t want it in my favorite MMO.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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25 Responses to Make a WoW Goblin = Encounter sexism within 30 minutes

  1. Bigger problem for me, who says my character is straight? I ran into that with the Brewfest beer goggles that were supposed to make everyone look attractive. They turn all humanoids into female Orcs, the problem was that I’d put the goggles on my gay male Tauren druid. He doesn’t really find women attractive, but it’s not like Blizzard cared about the character I wanted to create or the story I wanted to tell with him.

  2. Twyst says:

    I feel like there is a joke i am missing here? Because that text isnt funny at all – is it a takeoff of something? It seems so out of place!

  3. melponeme_k says:

    I would hesitate to call people working for Blizzard the best of the best. Considering most of the best features in WoW were cribbed from other, smaller games.

    They certainly have the corner monopolized on angry male geeks who believe the worst in women. Its all over the game with the sexist jokes. So very “NICE GUY” with the requisite “Can’t you take a joke” response.

    I’m beginning to be reminded why I left the game 6 months ago. Maybe I should do so again for the sake of my blood pressure.

  4. Jayle Enn says:

    I always thought the deal with the Brewfest goggles was that they made everyone look attractive to the -vendor-, since they presumably made them, and not the wearer.

    I don’t like anything about this quest. As Godless Heathen noted, it makes assumptions about your character’s preferences and background. The quest dialogue is really condescending, and it isn’t even as if there’s a code excuse for keeping it– if the quest items were wearable, you might have a (misguided) argument, but this… is just bad. It’s like an awkward parody of every culture that puts great stock in machismo and face. I can’t tell if Kezan wants to be Gangstaville or Little Green Sicily.

  5. Cuppycake says:

    @Godless Heathen

    I absolutely agree that the quest is promoting heteronormativity, but unfortunately – all of WoW is like this. I didn’t mention it specifically in this case because the same could be said for every relationship in canon and every freaking quest in the game. WoW is definitely not the most inclusive of MMORPGS by a long shot. I could have definitely mentioned this, though. Thanks!

    Agreed, perhaps that wasn’t the right choice of words. Maybe I should have said that Blizzard can AFFORD the best of the best. It clearly doesn’t mean they’ve hired them. =(

    Have you gone through the Goblin newbie zone. It doesn’t actually feel out of place, as the Goblin area is packed full of pop culture references and jokes and there is little to no immersion whatsoever.

  6. Bel says:

    Aside from the assumption your character is straight I don’t see the problem. Shmucks exist in reality, shmucks exist in the game – how you react to your shmuck boyfriend is your own business, and they aren’t exactly portraying him charitably.

  7. Hirvox says:

    In fact, the questline eventually allows you to get even with your annoying spouse.

  8. Fabulous says:

    It should be emphasised that this quest happens very early when you create a new Goblin character, and is part of a slew of quests designed to give a taste of the Goblin culture in which your character starts their adventure.

    Some other tastes of their culture:
    Their entire race was once enslaved but managed to overthrow their captors, who they now use in exactly the same slave mines.
    The coast of their island home is completely covered in rusted metal and oil.
    They are the only people of Azeroth to use cars.
    Their cities are filled with garish flashing signs advertising the products made from the work of their slaves.
    Wealth at any cost is all that holds value.

    In short it isn’t a nice place.

    The character that you’re given control of is desperately trying to climb the corporate ladder in this sleazy world. He or she starts the game as anything but a hero (your actions once your character’s life is thrown into disarray makes them a hero fit to repeatedly save the world). Your first tasks are to beat your slave labourers and organise a party so you can network with other businessgoblins. In having such a backstory, the goblin starting experience is unusual; other race choices for characters start as much more of a blank slate for the player to fill as they please. It’s a risky design as it limits roleplaying possibilities and can distance the player from their character, but it does give a powerful taste of the society in which the character grew up.

    With your character’s role as a business manager in a caricature of all that’s generally considered wrong with Western society it isn’t at all surprising to me that they have a trophy boyfriend or girlfriend, and that they are at least playing at being heterosexual. Later interactions with that NPC go on to show that they considered your relationship one of convenience rather than romance.

  9. Nezumi says:

    Okay… this is worrisome on a whole number of levels. There’s the heteronormativity, the sexism (in either direction), the fact that even disregarding the heteronormativity, you’re required to have a sexist significant other that seems to objectify you and consider you a trophy to make you look good… this is just worrying on so many levels.

    And I was wanting to create a female goblin because they don’t remotely follow conventional standards of beauty — something that’s hard to come by in MMOs.

  10. Twyst says:

    @Cuppy – I havent. I havent been in a starting area in a looong time (i just started playing again, transferring my belf warlock to another server, and switching her to worgen to play with my bf and his friends). Admittedly, i may have been insulated from a lot of the terrible-ness, as i have stopped reading quest text, and just focusing on the goal, taking the R out of the RPG i guess.

  11. Nezumi says:

    @Fabulous: Yes, yes, it’s good that your sexist, objectifying SO is actually portrayed as being a bad person… but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not something everyone wants to see without any warning.

  12. Alethea says:

    [Spoilers, trigger warning]

    I don’t remember if this has been covered elsewhere on Border House, but it’s been discussed over at inclusive_geeks on LJ. The Goblin starting quest sequence has a part where you kill your boyfriend/girlfriend and cut out their heart because he/she was cheating on you (or at least it was that way in the beta). Domestic violence is awesome, you guys! Ugh.

    I wasn’t too thrilled with the BC quest where you shrank that woman’s cheating boyfriend down and fed him to her cat, but the Goblin one was just too much. After learning about that (and the RealID scandal), I went from “maybe I’ll reactivate when Cataclysm comes out” to “oh hell NO, I’m done with Blizzard.”

    See also: Misogyny, control, AND implied slut-shaming. Woo-hoo.

  13. I’m glad I read this – I bought Cata and am considering returning it unopened once it arrives. I was going to try rolling a goblin too.

    Really shocked by that item that Alethea linked to. I suppose people will say that it gets a pass because WoW is set in a quasi-medieval world (with Discworld-type tech) it fits because some European folk tales are like that. But Blizzard aren’t obliged to be true to real history; they’re the ones creating the game, and they could have chosen not to include that item. Same applies to the goblin quest discussed in the main post – Blizzard presumably wanted to show how sleazy and self-centred the goblins are as a whole, but forcing that NPC onto you as your character’s partner is a bad break of interactivity.

    (It’s especially jarring after having spent several fun days playing Echo Bazaar, which is brilliantly inclusive in its character development options.)

  14. Jonathan says:

    I’m not entirely sure how it’s sexist when the quest is the same for male and female characters. It makes sense in the context of the Goblin starting area and certainly isn’t presented in a positive light. Yes, it’s making assumptions about your character, but that’s a restriction of MMO quests; as they can’t be tailored to each person, they have to hit as many people as possible.

    The Goblin starting area trades openness for for a tighter, more personal experience. Unfortunately that makes it much more likely that the necessary generalisations are going to contradict your character. Just one of many reasons that I decided to ignore most MMO quest stuff when it came to role-playing my character years ago.

  15. Nezumi says:

    @Jonathan: Treating someone as little more than an object whose job is to look pretty is sexist. Period. The two SOs from that quest are sexist. The fact that the quest involves a sexist SO whether you play a male or a female is arguably better than if it were just if you were playing female, but it’s not a good thing. We want to move away sexist behavior towards anyone, not to apply it equally to both sexes.

  16. Jonathan says:

    Yes, the behaviour of the characters themselves is sexist, however as a whole it is both balanced and shown as a negative behaviour. There is a massive difference between saying that something is a sexist and saying that it contains sexist characters. The former is completely unacceptable, while the latter is just storytelling.

    Fabulous’ description of the Goblin starting area is spot-on; it’s caricature and satire and I truly hope that the only people who don’t see what a horrible place it is are the same who saw Gordon Gekko as an inspirational role model.

    There are enough examples of sexism in games, whether as an unfortunate side-effect of the male dominance of the industry or the few cases of genuine prejudice, conscious or otherwise. Pointing out sexist characters, especially when there are clearly male and female versions that are equally bad, dilutes the message somewhat. It’s too easy for people to shrug their shoulders and then write off the whole issue.

  17. Nezumi says:

    @Jonathan: Which is where we get into a problem. Sexism is a valid characterization tool when it’s shown to be bad… but on the other hand, for some people, seeing unexpected sexism, even when it’s unambiguously treated as a bad thing can be deeply upsetting — even triggering, sometimes. How to balance these concerns is the question… and I’m afraid there isn’t a simple answer.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Unfortunately, whether in media or in real life, we sometimes unexpectedly come across things that upset us. The causes and the intensity of the feelings that they evoke vary immensely, so it’s probably quite hard to find something that doesn’t provoke a strong negative reaction in at least a few people. In a lot of cases, it’s going to be intentional; Blizzard wanted us to know that these Goblins were douchebags. Mission accomplished.

    Should work be censored because it might upset somebody? In my opinion, no.

    However, I do think that fair warning should be given where possible. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the European PEGI game rating system, but they have a content descriptor icon for discrimination. A good argument could be made for applying that to WoW, if not for the sexist Goblins, then for the blatant racial prejudices of some characters.

  19. Denis Farr says:

    One thing that occurred to me is the use of very specific language. Reading a few other comments also makes me wonder at how the goblins as a species are being depicted. In a sense, I’m getting a vibe that this is playing off African-American culture, and that the entire exchange between sexes is playing out as we would expect from a sitcom trying to give us insight into black peoples’ lives, because they sure are funny!

    Please correct me if I’m misreading this, as I don’t have the full context.

  20. Nezumi says:

    @Denis Farr: That particular quest seems to be… but World of Warcraft Goblins in general are more about everything wrong with Western culture, regardless of race. They make inventions that are ridiculously polluting when they don’t just fail spectacularly. (the fact that they used to be good with machines is explained in Cataclysm, finally) They’re hyper-commercial, to the point of turning a once-obscure holiday celebrated by only one or two races into a world-wide fabricated event of crass commercialism designed solely to make them money. They have their own Mafia-equivalent. They are absolutely everything that’s repulsive and vile about the 21st-century US — regardless of race, color, or creed — planted into a fantasy world.

  21. Cuppycake says:

    @Jonathan: You’re treading on dangerous ground here. The Border House is about bringing light to these issues. Coming in here and saying things like “Should work be censored because it upsets somebody?” is not what the Border House stands for. We believe that it’s up to the designers to be educated about issues, and be inclusive and non-triggering. When they’re not, we publish it. We’re not necessarily advocating censorship, but instead pointing out how frustrating it is that this kind of ‘work’ continues to be published in a game that simply doesn’t need it.

    Additionally, regardless if it’s the same experience whether you’re a male or female character – that doesn’t change the fact that going through it as a female character means I encounter something that is potentially triggering to me. Most people will not see both sides, they will see the side that pertains to the gender they play. To them, it will feel like oppressive sexism in a supposedly lighthearted and fun newbie zone.

  22. Nezumi says:

    @Cuppycake: Thank you for stepping in and being more eloquent and effective at pointing out why he was wrong than my fumbling efforts.

  23. Jonathan says:

    I apologise, I’m not trying to offend anyone. I discovered The Border House recently and I’ve been greatly enjoying both the articles and the discussion here. I’m just a guy who believes passionately in equality and enjoys discussing these issues, especially with people whose gender, race or sexuality gives them a different perspective to my own. I’ll likely be frequently wrong and unintentionally infuriating, I just hope that people realise that my heart is in the right place and I ask questions because I’m genuinely interested in the answers.

    In this case, I’m just trying to differentiate between a game being sexist and a game containing characters who are. If we’re going to remove sexist characters from games (and I totally understand the reasons for doing so; freedom of speech shouldn’t be an absolute and words can be just as harmful as fists, just in a different way) then it’s reasonable to suggest we also remove other negative situations and behaviours for the same reasons. However that would leave us with some pretty bland games.

  24. Siadea says:

    Jonathan — The difference here is that the sexist attitudes are endorsed in subsequent quests, and you have no choice to advance the storyline except to obey your controlling boyfriend/girlfriend. You do not, actually, have to do that in order to make an insightful game, and a fun game does not need to go there at all. I believe that Blizzard is not intending to make an insightful game like PS3′s Flower, they’re just making something intended to be entertaining (and make them money). Thus, it’s not appropriate for them to pull this shit on us.

    ESPECIALLY given what happens later in the questline.

  25. Jonathan says:

    Siadea – I do think that is a problem. There has to be a little suspension of disbelief when you try and role-play in a quest-based MMO, simply because you’re all doing the same stuff. It’s not much of a problem most of the time, but there are occasions where you’re asked to do something your character simply wouldn’t do. I remember a small controversy about a couple of quests revolving around torture in Wrath and the fact that the Forsaken developing the new plague didn’t hide the fact it worked on living beings very well and you still had to do the quests. However at least in those instances it was no problem to continue levelling without doing them; you don’t get the same choice in a starting area.

    Interestingly enough, the death knight starting area was similar in forcing you through some very unpleasant situations, but I don’t remember hearing about anyone having any issues with it.

    I can understand why it could be deeply unpleasant having no recourse but to bend to the whims of a controlling SO if you’ve been in that situation for real. While I do believe that games have as much right to contain challenging, unpleasant content as other media, you’re absolutely right in saying that WoW has never presented itself as a challenging game in that respect, so I see your point about it being inappropriate.

    It all just highlights why I prefer games that offer you choice. We have enough fixed, linear forms of entertainment without games subjecting us to this kind of stuff without having a chance to do things our way. More women working in the industry would also help stop this kind of situation coming up, simply because it does often take a bit of explanation to get over why some things can be offensive.

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