Katherine O’Kelly is a white, gender egalitarian and science fiction novelist. She specializes in writing non-human protagonists to provide social commentary from the perspective of the “Other.” She’s particularly interested in creating media that validates male submission and female dominance.
I won’t be buying the third World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, because I already learned all I needed to know about where women stand from the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. When I first bought Lich King, I couldn’t wait to explore the new continent, Northrend. After God-knows-how-many hours of playing World of Warcraft, I was ready for some fresh faces and new humanoid races. Right away, I thought the walrus-like Tuskarr looked cool and original. Their character models had plenty of variations–different skin colors, a variety facial hair, bushy and not-so-bushy eyebrows, even different styles of tusks. Yet the village felt somehow incomplete. What was missing here?
The answer became more obvious in Camp Winterhoof, another Northrend city. Here was another new race: the Taunka, long lost cousins of the Tauren. Just like the Tauren resemble domestic cattle, the Taunka look like American bison. I was impressed by the first Taunka I saw: the male had a blunt muzzle, shaggy mane, and short curved horns that made him instantly recognizable as a bison. Then I saw one of the female models. It was perfectly identical to the Tauren females—cow-like, not bison-like. “Ahh, this is probably just a Tauren ambassador from the Horde,” I reasoned. “This can’t be a female Taunka. Surely Blizzard wouldn’t be so lazy as to re-use females from a completely different race while rendering a completely new face for the males.” But Blizzard had. The difference between male and female Taunka models never ceased to be jarring. Every time I saw an exact duplicate of the Tauren female faces I’ve seen since I first started playing, it reinforced the message from the game creators: “Women don’t matter. We couldn’t be bothered.” I’m sure making new models is an expensive and time-consuming process, but male and female bison in nature look identical. Why couldn’t they just re-use the bison-faced models for both sexes? Were they afraid the female Taunka faces wouldn’t be “sexy” enough?
This disgust brought me back to the Tuskarr village and what was missing: women of any kind. I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, Blizzard. I really did. I even considered the possibility that Tuskarr reproduce asexually like Orks in Warhammer 40,000, who cross bred with fungus. Such were the depths of excuses I’d plumb to make sense of this world. But a quick glance at WowWiki slapped down this feeble grasp at asexual explanation:
[Tuskarr] marriage occurs as soon as a man can support a wife, and for females as soon as they reach puberty. Tuskarr females farm the few crops that grow in the tundra while also collecting a variety of berries and roots.
I don’t insist that all women be powerful positive role models. I can respect a different culture that has different roles for women. But this still left me with the question: Where are all these alleged crop-growers and berry-pickers? If you’re going to make all the Taunka males carry the spears and lead the village, I’ll let that slide on account of cultural dissonance. But can Tuskarr women at least exist? Can they be seen carrying their infants in cloth baby slings or swapping gossip with their sisters beside the fish-smoking racks?
This train of thought got me wondering about all the other races in WoW that are male-only like Satyrs and Ogres. Why no females? Because no one would want to sleep with a chick that looks like that, of course! Am I right, guys? *elbow nudge* I’m not sure either way if any Gnoll, Murloc, or Furbolg NPCs in the game are female or if they, like the Tuskarr and Ogres, are an all-sausage race.
There are a few humanoid races in which males and females are represented with unisex models: Yeti, Arakkoa, and Wildkin. This is the best possible scenario, in my opinion. In nature, most animal species are nearly indistinguishable between the sexes. Even if there were subtle sex differences between Wildkin, I’m sure a human unfamiliar with their people wouldn’t be keen enough to catch it. If it’s too expensive to render a separate female model for monster races, I have no problem with using a unisex model for both. Naga and Centaurs are two humanoid monster races that have separate male and female models.
What about those goblins, once strictly NPCs and now a playable race in Cataclysm? At the time I was first playing Lich King and pondering the absence of female monsters, I nearly put goblins in the all-men camp. It took me a while to remember I’d seen a female goblin flight master somewhere. Here was an example of a race in which there were both male and female models, but the females are so few in number they could be overlooked entirely. I ran around Gadgetzan, a goblin city, in late 2009 and counted up all the male and female goblins I could find to get some hard numbers instead of relying on my memory of female scarcity. The number of goblin males? 55. Females? 3. To me, that feels like more of a pat on the head than inclusion.
Sometimes such tokenism feels more insulting than being overlooked entirely. Consider this screenshot from the first major Alliance city a player encounters in Lich King. Looks like Blizzard took the old maxim “Women are all the same,” and made it a literal reality.