The following is a guest post from Ben Godby:
Ben Godby writes mysteriously thrilling pseudo-scientific weird western adventure fantasy tales. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario with a girl, two dogs, and a cat, and blogs at www.bengodby.com.
First and foremost, Diablo III is an exceptionally entertaining and highly addictive game. As a player with zero MMO experience, coming in with lots of expectations–I first played Diablo when I was 11–I was highly sceptical of the always-online game, not to mention its “rune”-based, rather than skill-tree and ability score, customization–a big change from Diablo II. But it certainly didn’t take long for Diablo III to win me over. In the age of Skyrim, the Diablo franchise can’t compete as an RPG; but what it lacks there, it makes up in spades as an action-packed loot-bonanza.
This is not to say it’s a perfect game. The mechanics may be at the core of a gaming experience, but anyone with at least one eye and half a brain will find that Diablo III is a game designed for neckbeards and their ilk–leading to a rather complete set of groans and shudders for those of us still hoping that big gaming companies can produce something that is not racist, sexist, and directed by the male gaze.
It takes no particularly critical analysis to realize that the Diablo franchise embodies the notion of “two steps forward, one step back” when it comes to racism. At least in the previous editions, the token person of colour was professed to a class noble and powerful in its own right: the Sorcerer (Diablo) and the Paladin (Diablo II). Alas, in Diablo III, people of colour are relegated to the cartoonish Witch Doctor. Shake your juju, my African friends! And, since Blizzard for some reason didn’t bother to include another coloured class (which would have still left the non-whites outnumbered), all the rest of humanity ought to get on the bandwagon, too. Don’t worry, though: there’s enough shrunken heads for everyone!
But we shouldn’t be too angry, right? Because at least Blizzard made all the classes available in both sexes! That’s progressive, isn’t it? Not exactly. In the fantastic land of Sanctuary, men wear shirts and women wear brassieres (and, concomitantly, men wear pants, and women, thongs). And even when those suits of armour aren’t absurdly lacking in means to protect (and, of course, cover), they’re still form-fitting to those double-D breasts–which sit atop those perfect size 2 waists. Is it the influence of Diablo’s evil reaching forth from the Burning Hells? Or just the male gaze directing all the game’s artwork?
Despite my sarcasm and the rhetorical nature of the question, the first of those two suggestions is actually narratively plausible–because in Diablo III, women aren’t just to be looked at: they’re evil. [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.] There are only four principal NPCs in Diablo III: Tyrael, the angel who became, when he was cast out of the High Heavens, not just mortal, but a black man (take your pick, visible minorities: savage spellcaster or forsaken of the gods); Deckard Cain, ancient bearer of white-man wisdom; Adria, the witch and seller of magic items from the original game; and Leah, Adria’s daughter. As it turns out, though, Adria–who initially helps the player foil Belial and Azmodan’s machinations–is actually evil, having copulated with Diablo himself to produce Leah–who, in time, becomes the vessel by which Diablo is reincarnated. And, guess what? The latest incarnation of Diablo has breasts.
In short, the women who form the storyline of Diablo III tick off all the feminine stereotypes of the worst kind: knowledgeable, dangerous, sexual Adria; innocent, goofy, tomboyish vessel-for-other-powers Leah; and, finally, the androgynous Prime Evil, Diablo, who growls like a man but walks with an obviously feminine saunter (never mind those mammaries). And, hey, just to make it all pat, Tyrael becomes a doubter later on in the game. Only Deckard Cain, white man extraordinaire, is true to goodness to the very end. Great job, Blizzard: you’ve outdone us all and created the paragon of offensive videogame narrative.
I will never understand how people who are smart enough to create a game so mechanically fantastic can overlook how narratively and graphically offensive it is. Nor will I understand why they couldn’t just add one more character of colour. Even though there’s Tyrael, he is, after all, the only coloured NPC; and at the end of the game, though Heaven lets him back in, Blizzard makes sure we know that he’ll never really be an angel again.
Come now, Blizzard. You had a decade to prepare this game. We who were children when Diablo began are adults now. And though you may not know better, we do. Grow up.