Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

[WoW] Rescuing Mina Mudclaw from a rape joke

I’ve been slowly wandering through the new World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria.  Cultural appropriation aside, I’ve been quite enjoying myself.  The pace is nice and relaxed, the quests have been charming, the world is beautifully designed with bright colors and attention to detail.  However, I ran into a quest line in Valley of Four Winds that felt just a little too problematic to completely ignore.

In The Farmer’s Daughter, Den Mudclaw (a Pandaren farmer) asks you to sneak down into a virmen hole to rescue his daughter.  Naturally.  Virmen are these creepy rat-mouse looking critters that are obsessed with carrots and stealing things from farms around the Valley of the Four Winds.  Yes, it’s a damsel in distress again.  The farmer’s daughter character stereotype is problematic in itself, being that it references a naive yet promiscuous young women who is always the object of sexual attention to provide the hero with a always willing yet “girl next door” romantic love interest.

However, it gets worse.  When you finally get past all of the virmin in this hidey-hole and find Mina Mudclaw, she is standing up on a raised area of the cave surrounded by these creepy rat people.  Who have been forcefully making her do “horrible, horrible, silly things” with carrots.

A screenshot of the quest journal in WoW. Quest name: “Seeing Orange”. Text: “Those virmen….they make me do horrible, horrible, silly things. All involving carrots. I couldn’t tell you how many carrots they threw at me. Let’s not waste anymore time, Get me out of here!”

You could see this through a pretty innocent lens, since she also mentions that they keep throwing carrots at her.  It’s not an ultra blatant rape-joke, but it’s quite clear what the innuendo was supposed to be here.  You are seeking out the naive farmer’s daughter, the object of all sexual affections, who happens to be captured by a group of rabbitpeople who are making her do horrible things with carrots.  It doesn’t involve much imagination to figure out what Blizzard was trying to hint at here.  And I’m not the only one who caught on.

The top most-upvoted comment on the quest on WoWhead.com. A player says “Horrible, horrible silly things involving carrots. My imagination is running a mile a minute.” Another player replies “Dirty Blizz, very dirty”. A third player says “I just completed this quest and came here to check the comments!”

I was hoping Blizzard had learned from previous critical analysis of problematic quests within World of Warcraft.  It’s not a game that generally features strong female character design, so I don’t look to it as the shining example of how things should be done.  But it definitely took me out of my zenlike experience in Pandaria when I stumbled across this quest.

A small humanoid carries a massive pack that is bigger than he is.

Warcraft goes from Pygmies to Sherpa

The original version of this post appeared at Decoding Dragons.

This is a difficult post. Not because it’s personal for me, but I feel like someone should say something. The casual cultural appropriation that Blizzard continues to practise is tiring, dated, and makes me very uneasy about Mists of Pandaria. I am western european and I am white. I don’t feel comfortable pointing this out, as it is not my culture that Mists of Pandaria is appropriating in a disneyfied orientalist fashion.

Think back to the pygmies

In Cataclysm we saw the introduction of the Pygmy model. A brown-skinned race depicted as savage – supposedly based on heavy metal characters, but in actuality echoing the colonialist stereotype of the peoples of North Africa. The very name taken from real cultures in Africa. During the course of questing through Uldum, players would kill and cage the pygmies, hit them with mallots etc. WoW Insider did a great post-mortem of Cataclysm, and I’m going to quote from them here

The things that disgusted me about Uldum don’t end there, either. Uldum is what, to me, solidified the pygmy race is a racist caricature. I didn’t mind them in the goblin starting area. They were a little weird, but they fit exactly what Blizzard described them as; they’re modeled after classic rock roadies. Their tribe is even called the Oomlot Tribe, which if you haven’t figured it out, is a nod to the umlaut. They fit that in the goblin starting zone. In Uldum, that goes out the window. Blizzard took this thing that was already racially charged and, instead of taking the high road and doing something cool with them, stayed right down there with everybody’s worst expectations and made them a really insensitive thing.

Now considering that the orcs, trolls, goblins and tauren are codified as people of colour (as opposed to the very westernised cultures of the humans and dwarves particularly) Blizzard’s track record on sensitivity to racial issues and cultural appropriation is already bad. I’ve seen posts on various forums from Native Americans lamenting and wincing at the broad strokes used to define the Tauren. Sadly I’ve not seen any Chinese (or asian) reactions to Mists of Pandaria, only ‘my friend is ____’ type comments from westerners.

That said – it is Warcraft and I’m not surprised or rending my clothes over the continued lack of subtlety on the grand scale of things. Pandaria fits in with Thunderbluff. There are many talented artists, animators and writers working at Blizzard and they continue to do grand work within the schemes laid out for them by the needs of the game, the theme and the overarching story. Much of the artwork for Mists is breathtaking, and I do think they’ll tell some interesting stories.

From Pygmies to Sherpa

Well, now. Sherpa. One of the latest updates at WoWhead has included a character model codenamed ‘sherpa’. Take a look at him on wowhead, or just click the image below for a bigger one.

 

 

A small humanoid carries a massive pack that is bigger than he is. Image via WoWhead

Well. First of all there are the Sherpa People, of the Kingdom of Nepal. The stereotypes surrounding this group of people in general are relatively benign – they have some renown for physical superiority. The term ‘sherpa’ is also often applied to local mountain/climbing guides of other ethnicities. The image of the western holiday-maker or explorer surrounded by locals carrying their belongings is the image that the above model invokes. As the model uses the pygmy model, this makes me distinctly uncomfortable and I’m not at all of the mind that this was in any way appropriate for Blizzard to include. Please note that I’m not certain if ‘Sherpa’ is simply a code name or the actual model name, we’ll have to wait until later to find out.

They have made an efford to make the model less humanoid via the skin texture and fingers, but I’m really not convinced that it’s enough. They could easily have done something different to fill this NPC niche. It makes me wonder if we’ll see more development of the in-game pygmy race in lore, or if they will forever remain a one-off joke, based on colonialist views of people that are ‘other’ to the western experience. Including non-western cultures in a nuanced, imaginative and sensitive fashion is a good thing, but I don’t think Blizzard have managed that here.

This isn’t about racial slurs

I’m not saying that ‘pygmy’ or ‘sherpa’ are offensive terms in and of themselves. They are perfectly legitimate, correct terms for two peoples. Blizzard hasn’t been offensive by using those terms, but in the way they are applied and the characters depicted. With regards to the Sherpa ‘model’, perhaps this is just temporary name and the NPC will appear with a more appropriate name. I hope so, but the ‘sherpa’ model is not ranked with humanoids which suggests that, like the pygmies, they’ll be seen as sub-human and subservient, echoing those colonialist attitudes that took the Oomlot tribe of the Lost Isles from heavy metal to racially charged by placing the npcs in an environment that invokes the stereotypes. I have no idea if any of the Sherpa people play Warcraft, or even care about stereotypes in a video game, but it’s indicative of a larger problem within world building.

Benign but ignorant

It’s all packaged up as entertainment, but it’s a bit like reducing the British to tea, crumpets, the Queen and Sherlock Holmes. Except it isn’t at all. This is mostly western entertainment, devised for westerners. Occidentalism, that is the negative stereotypes of westerners, doesn’t really have the same power in games developed by westerners for westerners. I really think Blizzard needs to sit down and think about it’s continued use of cultural shorthand in world building and culture creation.  Non-western (and non-white coded) cultures and NPCs don’t have to be the sole province of anthropromorphic races or secondary NPCs, or even enemies. They don’t have to be coded as exotic, or other.

WoW: Female Pandaren revealed

A black and white female Pandaren avatar.  She appears fully clothed in rogue-like clothing, short of stature not dissimilar to the WoW female dwarves.

 

The NDA dropped last night at midnight PST for the next World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria.  WoW Insider naturally has all of the news nicely consolidated as usual, but one thing in particular that stood out to me was the female character model for the new Pandaren race.  I have been away from WoW for many months, but all of this news has gotten me somewhat excited about the expansion.  I even patched up my WoW client and I’m preparing to log in and see the sights again.

Female red pandaren avatar, feminine yet not sexualized wearing a green leather vest and patched leather pants.

 

I’m curious to hear what you all think of the Pandaren female model, and if you’re still playing WoW or planning to play WoW when this expansion hits?

apple

An Incredibly Brave Story of Cyberbullying and Harassment

I only have a few seconds to post this, because I am in the lobby of GDC getting ready for the Independent Games Festival Awards.  I read this article by an occasional guest poster and full-time friend of ours, Apple Cider Mage, and absolutely had to post it.

In this intensely personal recount of her experiences of being harassed to the point of going to authorities by someone she met in World of Warcraft, Apple Cider Mage brings the reader into the dark, scary, and anxiety-filled space that she occupies day after day, being a feminist blogger and gamer.  Please take this trigger warning along with you, but comment and leave her your support.  Voices like hers need to be heard.

[Learned Helplessness:  A Cage Called Harassment] by Apple Cider Mage

The Deep Roads -- A beautiful concept painting depicting a figure walking through the dimly lit geometric stonework of a mighty tunnel.

Roll a Die by the Sword: An Engagement with Jennifer Hepler’s Ideas

The Deep Roads -- A beautiful concept painting depicting a figure walking through the dimly lit geometric stonework of a mighty tunnel.

 

There were many things wrong with the recent bacchanal of hate that surrounded Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler this past week, but one of the more critical ones was this: she was being savaged for merely offering an opinion in an ongoing discussion about gaming. One of the tragedies of cultural sexism is that we as women are not taken seriously as participants in our fields; even when robust defences against misogyny are mounted, lost in the shuffle is the renegotiation of the discussion that allows these women’s views to be folded back into the discourse where they belong.

In other words, one of the best ways we can honour Hepler as a community of gamers is to take her ideas seriously and discuss them rationally, whether or not we agree.

So let’s get down to it: what are the merits of her ideas surrounding issues like skipping combat?

I have often said that combat is the central idiom of progress in most video games; across every genre you can think of—encompassing a startlingly diverse canon—combat reigns supreme as the primary mechanism by which progress is both represented and assessed. This has been handled in a variety of ways that lend distinction to various games; there are many ways to do combat. However, could there be another way forward? I believe that dethroning combat as game’s central mode of progress is one of several ways games can begin telling a whole new tranche of stories.

In the furore surrounding the public airing of edited remarks by Hepler even some of the more sensible commentors routinely conflated “combat” with “gameplay.” Some said that Hepler was calling for the “game” part of video games to be extracted entirely. I feel that if fighting has become so central to our understanding of what gaming is, we have a problem. Needless to say, an entire genre of games that many gamers look back on with a measure of fondness—Adventure games—wouldn’t exist if combat was the bread and butter of every game.

But what about Hepler’s idea specifically? I think it merits a good deal more consideration. As Susana Polo on the Mary Sue has argued, one of the third rails that Hepler’s comments inadvertently touched on was the rampant fear in some sectors of the gaming community that games are becoming easier; “dumbed down” is a phrase that appears in every one of these conversations. The eschatology of it is all rather interesting: “casual players” are coming over the hills and threatening to destroy all we hold dear. They shall burninate the countryside and burninate the peasants, absconding with our rich, fulfilling gameplay, and our deep, involving games, all so that greedy developers can make a fast buck off a growing market.

The reality, however, is very different—as many here no doubt know, at least on some level.

You may not know it, but these sheep are responsible for the death of gaming, and everything else we hold dear. Damn you, sheep, damn you!

First of all, the hatred of “casuals” (a notoriously ill-defined group) is very often a dog whistle that is meant to antagonise people to whom gaming has not catered to in the past, women in particular. To look at any online “hardcore v. casual” debate one will immediately find lamentations about “bored housewives” playing games and what a terrible thing this must be. This invariably leads to the now ritualistic sneering about Farmville and discussions about how Farmville is killing our babies and making holes in the ozone layer.

So, misdirected anger. But what about the substance of the complaint: that games are getting easier? In some senses this is true. Games lack some of the obnoxious mechanics they had in the past. Reflexes are no longer as important as they once were during the golden age of platformers. But there is a deeper truth that few of these debates get at. Many gaming companies have not declared war on challenges, they’ve declared war on tedium.

A Common Ancestor?

When I played Dragon Age: Origins I found out quickly that the Deep Roads were a scary place- both the writing and the atmospheric design bent everything in that direction. Few things horrified me in a game as much as the approach to the Broodmother (it’s up there with the abandoned hotel in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines in terms of being incredibly scary and chilling).

What pulled me out of that atmosphere? Killing endless waves of darkspawn every five seconds, if I’m to be honest. It’s arguable that’s part of the atmosphere. Darkspawn come from the Deep Roads. Where else would you put endless writhing masses of the things? But there is a balance to be found, in my opinion. Too much combat can be too much, and on subsequent playthroughs I loathed schlepping my party to Orzammar not because DwarfWorld wasn’t a ton of fun (it is, and it is exceedingly well written- many parts by Ms. Hepler, no less), but because I was thinking “Ugh… hours of killing darkspawn again. Weeeee.” It’s not because the Darkspawn were especially hard to fight, it’s because they were incredibly tedious to mow down due to sheer volume.

And my parenthetical about the VtM:B hotel? That hotel was the scariest challenge I ever encountered in a game and it required zero combat on my part. That made it more, not less frightening. My weapons could do nothing. The final boss of the entire level was my own fear. I mean that literally, the biggest challenge was overcoming the sheer terror induced by the atmosphere. No darkspawn/orcs/zombies/skeletons/mutant rats required.

Some may say the Deep Roads aren’t the best example for reasons I’ve already mentioned—and fair enough. But be real with yourself: how many times has repetitive, grindy, bread and butter combat against hordes of forgettable enemies in an RPG where they’re clearly designed as filler actually been fun at all times? Sometimes it is fun, actually. Some days I want nothing more than to mindlessly grind (don’t read too much into that sentence). But would having the option to skip combat somehow be nice? Yes.

Why? Well, explaining this requires a bit of a detour.

On The Mary Sue, one critic in the comments, Tess27, argued the following:

This is because videogames derive from a completely different branch: board games; RPGs, and in particular Bioware RPGs, are even more associated to board games since their gameplay derives directly from Dungeons and Dragons rulesets. Now when you play a board game, you don’t do it for the story, you do it for the challenge of the gameplay.

I disagree rather strongly with this. But let’s assume it’s true and that board games are the common ancestor of all RPGs. Having a common ancestor still implies evolution and divergence. I don’t play Monopoly for the same reasons I play Dungeons & Dragons. What attracted me to the RPG Eclipse Phase was entirely about its story. The mechanical system was not a draw in the slightest. RPGs are distinguished by the meaning they create whose warp and weft are synthesised by the loom of narrative. Mechanics can be important: they are the measure of your character’s progress and the almighty arbiter of her interactions in the world. That neutral roll of the dice that can decide the fate of empires.

Pictured: a D20 basking in its profound metaphorical power. (See here for more: http://www.etsy.com/listing/60669433/chompd20)

But what makes the roll interesting? The context lent by the story. You’re rolling for initiative to accomplish something. Self-perfection in the context of a game does involve, yes, raising your Strength score from 12 to 18. But what makes it satisfying is that a Str score that high gives you a fighting chance against the evil warlock who’s been your character’s nemesis since level 1.

The fight itself can also be a satisfying nailbiter, but the that tension only comes from the story that gives purpose and meaning to the fight.

Another objection must be raised at the implications of Tess’ construction. It seems to say that whatever “story” is, it’s something that’s not gameplay. And whatever gameplay is, it’s something to do with combat. I find this both tautological and unhelpful. I prefer a much more holistic view of gameplay, and it’s one that includes story. After all, much like a stat increase, advancing the plot of a game is its own reward.

So what does this have to do with Hepler’s suggestion? Endless repetitive combat is only one way we might perfect our characters. We could, instead, be given alternatives that enable other forms of gameplay. A button that allowed us to skip combat as easily as we skip spoken dialogue might be nice, but also rather heavy handed. I’d prefer non-violent alternatives, in conjunction with combat that was more focused—instead of hordes of nobodies (so bland that they’ve garnered names like ‘mobs’ and ‘mooks’), let’s have a smaller number of more interesting enemies. Allowing routes around combat at least some of the time can help us deepen our characters in RPGs.

My favourite moments in RPGs are those where I’m given a very distinct choice in how I complete a quest, and those are often the most fun and meaningful moments for me. My favourite part of PnP RPGs is not dice-rolling-as-combat but that I get XP for being my character. Put another way, I get XP for talking, trading, seducing, strategising, praying, singing, philosophising, politicking, spying, cooking, parenting… perhaps now my point should be clear. (For a similar discussion, this episode of Extra Credits should provide a lot of food for thought.)

The idiom of progress needs a bit of complication and diversification.

Why do We Play?

Hepler is not wrong to suggest that this may appeal to new markets. Some people criticised her for making essentialist statements about women’s taste in gaming when she said:

“The biggest objection is usually that skipping the fight scenes would make the game so much shorter, but to me, that’s the biggest perk. If you’re a woman, especially a mother, with dinner to prepare, kids’ homework to help with, and a lot of other demands on your time, you don’t need a game to be 100 hours long to hold your interest — especially if those 100 hours are primarily doing things you don’t enjoy. A fast forward button would give all players — not just women — the same options that we have with books or DVDs — to skim past the parts we don’t like and savor the ones we do. Over and over, women complain that they don’t like violence, or they don’t enjoy difficult and vertigo-inducing gameplay, yet this simple feature hasn’t been tried on any game I know of.”

This is a complex discussion that deserves more than the bookend I’m consigning it to. My view on the matter is that there is truth to the idea that mothers in particular are overworked and have demands placed on them that fathers or non-parents are less likely to experience. A cursory survey of the sociology literature reveals this (Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Second Shift remains the most accessible example). I don’t think it’s essentialist to point out that mothers in particular may have a harder time making room in their schedule.

That said I think she could have chosen her words more carefully when she talked about what she feels women want; certainly a lot of us like violent and vertigo-inducing gameplay. I do not feel that antipathy to violence per se is something especially invested in women, and it may be more reasonable to suggest that what we (and a lot of men, for that matter) are really pushing back against is time wasting tedium whose sole purpose appears to be to win a highly contrived contest.

One of Hepler’s points, however, was that she finds it hard to convey to outsiders that games are more than that, and she feels that allowing options to gloss over or skip combat entirely may help emphasise another side of games entirely. I suspect that’s what she meant when she said:

“I really believe that there is a large group of women who enjoy other genre products (from fantasy romance novels, to anime, to the Lord of the Rings movies), who would enjoy an interactive RPG story with some of the more logistical challenges removed, but I honestly don’t know how to let them know it’s out there.”

Part of what made World of Warcraft so appealing was that it transcended the masochistic gameplay of games like Everquest which seemed to revel in tedium-as-challenge. This was not just offputting to, say, working mums with busy schedules (after all, a lot other of women did play EQ), but to everyone. Plenty of men wouldn’t play either simply because they had too much else to do. WoW changed this by allowing MMO game play to be progressively reduced to bite sized chunks that you could add up to a massive whole at your own pace.

Now Hepler and others have pondered how we can take this to the next level by allowing players to not only take things in chunks (after all, in single player games Save and Reload do that for you) but how to have more input on the nature of the content itself. That’s a worthy discussion.

WoW not only allowed you to take content in bites, but it reduced overall tedium. The death system was dramatically relaxed, rest XP was introduced (remember the fury when that was first announced?), the amount of crap you had to kill was scaled back, and it got better and better as time went on. Quests began to reliably drift away from the Kill 10 X schema and towards various modalities of questing that made places more memorable and interesting. In Wrath of the Lich King, what could’ve been a boring quest to gather lumber turned into an interesting micro adventure wherein I got to commandeer a Goblin shredder.

Not to be trite about it but creativity yields more fun.

Instead of taking Hepler’s comments at purely face value, we should see her words as a starting point that invites us to think more deeply about why we play. We won’t all agree on a “skip combat button” but her idea raises a welter of issues that we do need to consider as a community, for both the sake of inclusion and the sake of artistic originality. Already with Deus Ex’s “conversation bosses” and Mirror’s Edge “Pacifist” achievement, we see some glimmering examples of possibility. My hope is that the adults in the room can continue talking about Hepler’s comments and those like them, and see where they lead. Hepler’s proposition should not be seen as a binary yes/no question, but an invitation to think more deeply about why we play and where we’re going with it.

Edit: Rock, Paper, Shotgun posted an article today which also takes on the argument surrounding skippable combat. Worth a read for sure!

Let’s get rid of “slut plate” forever

The following is a guest post from Apple Cider Mage:

Apple Cider Mage is a radi-cool gamer feminist who blogs within the World of Warcraft community. Her loves in-game are collecting non-combat pets, achievements and turning into a dragon. Outside of video games, she loves smashing the kyriarchy, graphic design and penning witty tweets. 

Two draenei females stand in revealing but fashionably matching armor against a gray stone wall.

 

Ah-ha, I’ve skewered you with my provocative title.

It’s true that it was a just a ruse; I’m not here to talk about abolishing the many, many sets of  evocative armor in World of Warcraft. I’m here to talk about getting rid of the disgusting language and thoughts that surround them! As I’ve discussed before, I’m a big proponent of the idea that the words we choose to express ideas with inform many of our feelings. A word that encompasses an entire disgusting ideology: slut. Sluttiness is both a term used to denigrate female sexuality as well as denote when it occurs in a way that extends beyond what the judgemental person feels is “respectable” “healthy” or “acceptable.” You can be a slut if you do X, Y, or Z. You can be a slut if you do something X number of times or have X number of partners. In that vein, I feel the landslide useage of “slut plate” in the WoW community puts that same unhealthy/sexist perception around even something as fun and aesthetic as transmogrification/roleplaying gear. The very term itself makes my mouth pucker up in my characteristic sour sneer. It makes me legitimately angry.

Unfortunately, this kind of gear has existed for a very long time in Azeroth, if not other game universes. There’s been no end to blog articles and topics that revolve how women in World of Warcraft, particularly while leveling, are subject to a very different appearance to their male counterparts. Simply put: anyone playing a female toon, particularly if you wanted to play a mail or plate class, has put up with gear that left almost nothing to the imagination. It feels very objectifying and caters to a very specific audience. This is not new territory. The crux of it is the lack of choice and the lack of consideration. It says that the designers do not always think about anyone other than themselves or a segment of the consumers for their game. Given that this segment has historically been straight, young males, it is no surprise that this stuff has been dubbed the aforementioned “slut plate” (or sometimes “stripper gear”, etc.) It is gear that is designed to make female characters look sexually appealing rather than clad infunctional items that would provide some measure of protection. Making this the onlyoption while making your way through pieces of armor disallows the player’s feelings to enter into the matter.

What happens though when you are suddenly allowed to dress up how you want? Enter transmogrification. What was once the sole realm of roleplayers that eschewed PVE practicality for storytelling aesthetics while chilling out in Silvermoon City is now everyone’s game. Choice is back on the table in a big way and with that, it stirs up a lot of feelings. Not only can you buy your way OUT of a terrible outfit that makes you feel weird or gross, but you can buy your way into being scantily clad full-time. Not only that, but it is a hunt and a big business. These sets fetch quite a high price on the Auction House and I see many flesh-baring outfits around Stormwind when I’m standing around. I feel that this is one of the reasons why I’ve seen a big resurgence of posts that include the term “slut plate” and a lot of nose-sniffing at “toons that look like they belong around a stipper pole.”  There is both the glee of booty-watching and the derision of game-supported dress that echoes “disrespectful” expression in real life.

I feel that the term “slut plate” represents the problematic elements of both of these opinions. Calling it “slut plate” even mean in jest or in a seemingly positive way, or even just as a “neutral” descriptor implies that being scantily clad indicates a certain character point, one which is tangled up a very harmful word from our society. A harmful word that reduces a woman’s expressed sexuality into an ever-shifting, very narrow definition: one that has little to do with her feelings or choices in the matter. Using it in a negative way or expressing that people that choose to dress like this need to cover up is one facet of that narrow definition of feminine sexuality. Both opinions basically reduce the choice to wear such armor to a simple message: “This isbad, except when I feel it is good.”  All of this over vanity armor in a video game, no less. However, we are naive if we think that the problems with how women dress in real life don’t have unintentional parallels to gaming spaces, especially when one can choose to be female and scantily clad (most of the time.) Much how people should be allowed to express themselves via their clothing in real life, I feel that should cross over into gaming.

Choosing to wear something skimpy in real life or World of Warcraft should be because someone wants to, because it makes them happy, and should not indicate anything other about a person’s personality or sexuality other than what they wish it to indicate. It should not give you carte blanche to use sexist terms, reduce women to sexualized figures for your pleasure, or to shame women or make jokes about having jobs in the sex work industry (Sex workers are human beings too.) All of you who use this term frequently should really step back and think about what lead you to using this and how it shapes your views on characters running around in Azeroth looking like this. Break down the relationships between revealing armor and what it “says” about someone. Stop thinking of other’s expression of sexiness or fashion as solely for your consumption or derision. The world does not spin on what you feel is appropriate for dress or mannerisms when it comes to non-harmful behaviour, especially in a video game!

How do we combat this term though? If I was better learned in linguistics and sociology, I could probably pull out several sources on a reasonable solution. Alas, I am but a lowly communication grad. In my experience, the best way to unhook deeply entrenched relationships between thought and language has been to abolish or replace, preferably with corresponding concepts that are better suited for everyone and less derogatory. Therefore, I think we should get rid of “slut plate” as a term and replace it with words that more precisely define what we are talking about in a positive or objective way.

Want to wear something pink and skimpy?

Sassy plate!

Platekini!

These are both fun ways of addressing the same kinds of armor without the added baggage of shame and sexism. You could also just use descriptive words like “revealing” “bare-it-all” “scantily clad” with a minimum of fuss. Personally, most of my characters are fairly battle-ready in dress but in the interest of being honest to this piece, I felt like that maybe I should dabble in a little bit of sassy mail. I have tucked away pieces in my bank over the years, maybe it is time to be fierce!

A draenei female shaman flexes in Blackrock Mountain amidst rocks, lava and chains in revealing mail armor.

 

I look pretty badass if I do say so myself. Even if I un-transmog my gear tomorrow, I feel like I’ve made an important statement though. Our choice in in-game armor shouldn’t be a way of defining us, especially in a shameful way. We have to deal with this problem in real life, why does it also have to extend into our fantasy lives too? Half the point of a fictional world is that we get do the things that we might not be able to do outside. When we still live in a world where people believe wearing a short skirt is “asking for it” – why can’t we wear skimpy armor while running around on toons that can kill people with several fireballs or a well-swung axe? Expression in a fictional world should be a lot more fun and a lot less guilt-inducing than what we have to suffer through in our day to day lives.

Let’s embrace the sassy plate, people. It might just create a better World (of Warcraft.)

Note: If you want to discuss this post on Twitter, or just get the “sassy plate” train going, use the hash-tag #sassyplate.  

[Originally posted at Apple Cider Mage]

This was linked on Crendor's Twitter last night. It is the first image you get when you GIS "Paris Hilton whore". [Paris Hiton wearing a white bra top and a see-thru white skirt with her underwear showing underneath.

WoW Celebrity, Twitter, and the Problem of Victim-Blaming

The following is a guest post by Apple Cider Mage:

Apple Cider Mage is a radi-cool gamer feminist who blogs within the World of Warcraft community. Her loves in-game are collecting non-combat pets, achievements and turning into a dragon. Outside of video games, she loves smashing the kyriarchy, graphic design and penning witty tweets. 

This was linked on Crendor's Twitter last night. It is the first image you get when you GIS "Paris Hilton whore". [Paris Hiton wearing a white bra top and a see-thru white skirt with her underwear showing underneath.

 

If anyone was paying attention to Twitter last night, it was a blood bath.  A fairly well-known WoW machinima creator by the name of Crendor (aka WoWCrendor) decided last night to use Twitter as his personal platform to berate women who dress like “whores.”  What surprised me the most was not that his fans jumped up to support him but the sheer number of people who Tweeted or re-Tweeted things that myself and others were saying about how sexist and victim-blaming he was. Instead of initially apologizing for the whole thing, he got wildly indignant and decided to dig the hole deeper, including tying a woman’s dress to the amount of times she getscreeped, abused or cheated onSound suspiciously familiar?

WoWCrendor finally pushed out an apology later, with little to no self-awareness of what he actually did wrong or why that train of thought was so damaging and promptly deleted most of the tweets. I have them all saved here if people wish to see them in the unvarnished light of day. I’m really disappointed by this as he was one of my favorite movie creators by far. I felt like he wasn’t one of the douchebags that randomly populate every aspect of gaming culture.

Now, I’m not writing this article just to point fingers at Crendor. Goodness knows I did enough of that last night on Twitter. I think we all need to sit down as a community and think about what he said, why he said it and confront some really thorny issues.  Because Crendor isn’t just a bad dude who said this. A lot of dudes say this. A lot of gals do too. This right here, this train of thought is what directly contributes to rape, abuse and other forms of harassment being so hard to punish for, because societally, we feel the real instigator of all of these things is not the person who committed the act, but the person who was victimized. They wore the wrong thing, they said the wrong thing, they dared to be in an alley or a bar, I could go on. We’ve grown so used to believing that the woman in this scenario brought it on herself that there’s little to no mention about the person who is culpable – morally, ethically and legally.

What is this called? The actual term that gets used in most feminist circles is “victim blaming.”

Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment are held entirely or partially responsible for the transgressions committed against them. Blaming the victim has traditionally emerged especially in racist and sexist forms.[1] However, this attitude may exist independently from these radical views and even be at least half-official in some countries.[2]

 

People familiar with victimology are much less likely to see the victim as responsible.[3] Knowledge about prior relationship between victim and perpetrator increases perceptions of victim blame for rape, but not for robbery.[4]

World of Warcraft is obviously a fictional world and a video game and we don’t all physically interact with each other. So it might feel like a lot of what was said last night doesn’t really apply to my little blog, but it does. It’s very apparent if you read my blog that the feelings and mores that we have about the real world very often carry themselves into our virtual spaces. Not only do people we deem “celebrities” in our nerdy little niche of the Internet say terrible things about 50 percent of their possible fan-base, but we have to deal with victim-blaming inside the game, even. Victim-blaming is such a pervasive thought that at it’s weakest concentration, it is even a defense for bullying and trolling. Have you ever thought, “well, they were just asking for it” and then done something mean or rude? Yeah. It’s that too.

But let’s bring it back a little. I was stalked and harassed via World of Warcraft by someone in my friend circle. You might even say that we had a slightly friendlier-than-friends relationship. I dance around this because even though I have a restraining order against this person now, since he’s been harassing me via blogs, Twitter, and WoW for well over 3 years, I still know that there’s many people who will read this and say, “Well, didn’t you do XYZ with him? That’s why he’s doing this to you.” See? Why is the person who is sending me rape threats on a daily basis less culpable of harassment than me, the person who gets to put up with this abuse daily? See how illogical it is? Or did it not even occur prior to someone you know saying something like this for you to see that?

This is why I’m exceptionally annoyed with someone like Crendor using a platform that is public and open to his entire fanbase to directly spout victim-blaming and other sexist malarky. Because all it does is serve to reinforce some really scary ideas that, out in the wild, have managed to make it hard to report any sort of abuse or rape or harassment by the victim because of what the backlash will be. It’s even become so normalized that women should expect and understand that they will be hit on because they were dressing sexy. And that they should just deal with that. Why is it that when the crime becomes involved with sex or abuse that suddenly we don’t find the person who did those things responsible? We don’t say that the bank was “just asking” to be robbed by having all that money inside of its vaults.

I want WoW celebrities to rise out of the primordial ooze, much like everyone else in our culture, and stop putting the fault of a crime on the person who had the crime committed against them. I want people to stop using their status and their public forums to spreading the same garbage we hear every day. I want there to be repercussions and consequences for thinking this is an okay idea to espouse professionally. I want people to think about this in all areas of their life, from bullying to abuse, to rape and even stuff like just creeping on someone at a bar. Unhook your brain from its track of “they were asking for it” and think about “what can I do to stop this from happening to more people?” We can even try all we like to make people “less of the victims” as we have been for years, but we really need to focus our efforts on not creating new criminals and bullies.

Clothes are just clothes, Crendor. They are swatches of material we use to express ourselves. They do not, however, force a person to do something to them. They do not ask for things. They are garments we wear for various reasons. A woman should be allowed to wear what she wants and not be at fault when lots of dudes feel compelled to hit on her in a creepy way. Dudes should stop hitting on people in creepy ways and if you think that clothes have anything to do with it, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

(Note, the bridge is wearing pasties and a thong. Hope that helps.)

[Originally posted at Apple Cider Mage]

Anti-Gay Slurs at BlizzCon 2011

The BlizzCon logo.

Earlier today, a reader sent us a link to the Blizzard forums that contained some disturbing news. The closing ceremonies at BlizzCon this past weekend included a performance by metal band Cannibal Corpse; before they started, however, Blizzard employees showed a video of the lead singer talking about World of Warcraft, namely how much he hates the Alliance faction. The problem is, he used homophobic slurs to do so. The video had the swearing censored, but people could still tell what he was saying, and the original uncensored version is available online. GayGamer has both videos and more of the story. Tiny dancer points out,

Many are disturbed that a senior Blizzard employee endorsed a video saying that players of one faction should die – and still more are outraged that anti-gay speech was used in the promotional video, without regard for LGBT players and despite the fact that gay kids are killing themselves.

Blizzard shouldn’t be endorsing this sort of behavior or this sort of language. Blizzard employees are leaders of a very large community, and when community leaders endorse certain kinds of language or behavior, they give license to members of the community to do the same things. It doesn’t matter whether it was meant as a joke; even if Blizzard isn’t homophobic themselves, the community of World of Warcraft is enormous and undoubtedly contains many people who are bigots that hate queer people. And now those people think you, Blizzard, agree with them and are on their side, and that you think homophobic slurs are okay; this encourages them to harass queer players and use slurs that make queer players feel unsafe and unwelcome.

This is absolutely shameful, and Blizzard has yet to offer any sort of real apology. Readers can sign this petition demanding a real apology. Siannan MacDuff, who created the petition, writes in her letter:

But we live in a world where young people are bullied into suicide because of their expressed or perceived sexuality. Many of these young people play WoW as a source of escapism. It is a safe assumption that at least ten percent of your customer base are GLBTQ, and many more of them are allies of those minorities. I myself am a bisexual woman. One of my main characters is a female dwarven rogue that I roleplay as being in a same-sex domestic partnership.

To see Sam Didier up on stage endorsing that kind of language, albeit “bleeped”, was heartbreaking.

Tropebusting: Matriarchies in Gaming and Sci-Fi/Fantasy

The following is a guest post from Zaewen:

Zaewen is a white, straight, cis woman and avid feminist gamer, with MMOs being her favorite genre. She has a degree in psychology, a Texas accent, and spends most of her free time playing games, reading blogs, and very occasionally doing some blogging herself. Zaewen hopes to one day get a PhD in awesomeness (or sociology) and do her best to help change the culture we live in.

It’s Tropebusting time! Yes, like Mythbusters, but with Tropes! Sadly, there will be no gratuitous explosions ala the Savage-Hyneman team, but there will be pictures! Maybe even pictures of explosions! Ok, that’s enough exclamation points, onward to the busting of the Matriarchy tropes that exist in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and gaming!

First, you may be wondering what exactly a matriarchy is, let alone what a Matriarchy would be (yes the capitalization makes a difference). In anthropology, there are many terms for categorizing the way a culture/society is structured: matrilineal/patrilineal means land, property, and inheritance are passed down through the mother’s line (matri-) or the father’s (patri-); matrilocal/patrilocal means that new family units move in with (or move closer to) the mother’s family or the father’s family; and, lastly, matriarchal/patriarchal means that power is usually held by the mother (or women in general) or by the father (or men in general). Now in sociological and feminist theory, there is a concept called the Patriarchy that takes that last anthropological category and expands upon it to describe a culture that consolidates all (or nearly all) of the power in men and promotes sexism and discrimination against women. There is a contrasting, hypothetical concept called Matriarchy, which would theoretically be the exact opposite of a Patriarchy. It’s purely hypothetical, though, because such a culture has never existed (at least on a large, global scale like the Patriarchy). Because we live in a Patriarchy, and Patriarchal cultures have been the norm for most of recorded history, the idea of a Matriarchy is interesting territory to explore in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and the games that belong to those genres. Sadly, most of time that this particular territory is explored, we only ever get some really bad and problematic tropes instead of the good speculative fiction that is (or should be) the hallmarks of those genres.

 

A Drow Matron reclines on her throne with her feet propped up on the back of a shirtless and chained Drow man. Another man and woman stand beside her throne.

The Drow are fiercely Matriarchal. Men are treated as second-class citizens, are ritually killed without a second thought, and just generally have a crappier go of it then women.

 

The most prevalent of these tropes is that Matriarchies are Evil, like really, really super-duper EVIL. The Drow, of DnD fame, are one of the best examples of an Evil Matriarchy (and a Sexy Matriarchy, but I’ll get to that in a moment). For those not in the know, the Drow are the dark elves of the Forgotten Realms that live underground and are EVIL. Very EVIL and very Matriarchal… and not by coincidence. Their evilness is in their Matriarchy: they worship an evil demon god, Lolth the Spider Queen, who revels in torture and murder; they have a competitive Great House system led by the house Matrons wherein house prominence is gained by exterminating one of the higher houses; and relegation of men to the lesser valued status of Warriors, Mages, and sperm donators while women get to be the powerful Matrons and Priestesses. There’s whips and chains, ritual sacrifices, and more backstabbing than you can shake a poisoned dagger at. They are evil because they are Matriarchal and ruthlessly subjugate half of their population. However,  there is also a very strong sense that they are a Matriarchy because they are so unbelievably evil, that a society run by women is just inherently evil. The inter-house competition is based around jealousy, vanity, gossip, and frenemy-type alliances that always end with backstabbing, all of which are heavily gendered to be the stereotypical not-so-fair traits of the ‘fairer sex’. Sexism is still sexism, and does not look any better when it has a fantasy veneer painted over it.

 

Matron Baenre, the oldest and toughest of the Drow Matrons, sits on a magical disk surrounded by two of her adult daughters.

The leaders of the highest House of Menzoberranzan. They got there (and stay there) through subterfuge, assassinations, and the ruthless extermination of houses that pose a challenge to their rule.

 

Now, you might ask, “Wait, Zee, isn’t the Patriarchy like really EVIL too?” Well, yes, the Patriarchy is evil because it promotes the subjugation of half of humanity, but it’s not because men are inherently evil. What we see in the Drow society, and the many Evil Matriarchies depicted in literature and games, is not just a Patriarchy-flip though. Rather, they are grossly exaggerated reversals of the Patriarchy. Very few fictional Matriarchies accurately reflect the reality of contemporary, or historical, Patriarchies. There have been many horrible atrocities and greivous violations of basic human rights committed by Patriarchies, both current and ancient, but by depicting an exaggerated reversal, the Evil Matriarchy trope makes a farce of these tragedies. It sends the message that the ongoing  inequality and oppression faced by women today, and in the past, is not that bad because it could be worse, they could face the horrific fates of the men showcased in these fictional Matriarchies. Instead of getting insightful commentary on a Patriarchal system (or any hierarchal system), fiction that utilizes this trope only provides the audience with sexist stereotypes and belittling depictions of the plight of women who have suffered under real-world Patriarchies.

A Drow woman wearing a very revealing ensemble that consists of tiny leather straps that have been fashioned into a bikini bottom, a midriff and cleavage baring top, and thigh high boots. She wields a magical staff and appears to be standing in the typical "back arched, breasts thrust outwards" spell-casting position.

A Drow woman wearing... not much.

One of the other prevlant tropes is that Matriarchies are Sexy. Smokin’ hot babes, kink and fetish gear, random girl-on-girl action, and as little clothing as possible are all big parts of these societies. The Drow, are again, one of the best examples of this (and probably the progenitor of most modern hyper-sexualized fictional Matriarchies), but there have been many Sexy Matriarchies throughout literature and gaming. From the Amazons warrrios of Ancient Greece to the (mostly) benevolent Asari of the Mass Effect universe, as well as the Kelari of Rift, the Night Elvesof Warcraft, and almost every other iteration of dark elf, these Matriarchal societies range the gamut of good and evil, passive and aggressive, but they all share a large degree of sexualization. This trope stems from a couple of places. The first is that the overt sexuality of the women in the Matriarchy is a symbol of their power. This ties into the prevailing notion in our real-world society that much of a woman’s power and value lays in her sexuality and how she wields it, whether its as a good, chaste virgin or a dangerous, seductive spy (just to pick two of the many archetypes). It’s a really complex topic (and would double the length of this already long post if I delved too deep into it) but it’s the same notion that creates the sexual double standard of slut v. stud and the virgin-whore dichotomy. The Sexy Matriarchy trope relies on this Patriarchal idea of female sexuality as power to convey the message that the women of the society are powerful. This has some pretty unfortunate implications though when it comes to Evil Matriarchies that are also Sexy Matriarchies, like the Drow. The idea transforms from female sexuality is their power base to female sexuality is evil and corruptive, which is definitely not a great message to be sending out.

A Night Elf seductively reclines against a large white tiger. The Night Elf is wearing a plate mail bikini that, when coupled with the way her legs are sprawled out, leaves all but the most explicit parts of her crotch exposed. The tiger, meanwhile, looks a little annoyed to have been used as a punny prop in such a cheesecake piece of art.

The Male Gaze in full effect in some artwork for World of Warcraft.

Of course, the other root to many Sexy Matriarchies is simply the real-world impetus to sexually objectify women, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so. I highly doubt a real Matriarchy would have the women, the people in power, be the ones who make their bodies sexually available and pleasing at all times for the low-status men. Pretty sure it would be the opposite: men would be the decorative, ‘fairer’ sex. Instead, we get all-powerful women shoe-horned into chain-mail bikinis and sexy poses to titillate the presumed male audience. This, my friends, is what is called the Male Gaze, a feminist theory that describes how much of our media is framed to always view the world and its inhabitants through the male gaze. That means men are actors and subjects, while women, no matter how powerful they are in a supposed Matriarchy, are still only objects to be lusted after.

This ties into another trope: Matriarchies that look suspiciously like Patriarchies despite being ruled by women. A lot of Matriarchies have some aspect of this, mostly because they are imperfect reversals of a Patriarchy due to exaggeration or just misunderstanding of what a Patriarchy is or what traits are inherent to a gender. To use the earlier example of Drow, the fact that male Drow tend to both be fully clothed and have more career paths open to them (warrior+assassin+mage verses priestess) than their female counterparts is not exactly logical in such a ruthless and strong Matriarchy. An even better example lies in the Salarians of the Mass Effect universe. A supposedly strict Matriarchal race, the Salarians have conveniently designed gender roles that keep all of the women (who make themselves a minority by tightly controlling reproduction to make sure only a handful of women are born each generation) on the home planet while the men go off and do important manly things in space. Their Council representative (the ruling board of the entire galaxy) is a male, all of their ambassadors are male, their military commanders are male. In fact, you never see a female Salarian in either of the two released games. For a Matriarchy, that’s not a whole lot of female power being displayed outside of the domestic sphere (i.e. their home planet) or child-rearing and procreative duties, which is a pretty Patriarchal world view.

Six Salarian men in high-tech armor are standing around in Shephard's ship after a mission.

You meet many, many Salarians in the game but none of them are women.

 

Other Matriarchies that fall under this trope seem to pretty much be Matriarchies in name only. They have a female head of state or leader, some sassy girl power quirps, and that’s pretty much it for the “all (or almost all) power is consolidated in the women while promoting sexism and discrimination against men” part of the definition of a Matriarchy. Most of the playable-race Matriarchies you encounter in MMO’s will be of this category: the Dark Elves of Everquest, the Night Elves of WoW, the Kelari of Rift, etc. Next time you’re running around in one of these games, pay attention to how many more men of the race you see then women, especially with quest givers or people that are important lore-wise. You’ll quickly see that for the most part the women are more sexualized than the men more often, aren’t actually in more powerful positions, or are still subject to a lot of the double standards and stereotypes that women have to deal with in the real-world Patriarchy. With this trope of Not-Really a Matriarchy, the term is only applied to them, or they’re only given the most vague surface resemblance to one, as a shorthand to the audience that these people are kind of evil or alien or exotic.

A close-up of ancient frieze sculpture of a battle between Amazons and Greeks. The close-up shows the time-worn image of a naked man fighting a mostly naked woman.

Matriarchy tropes go way back to the Ancient Greeks.

All of these tropes, either on their own or used in conjunction, send out some pretty peculiar messages about women: that women holding power is bad or odd, that female sexuality needs to be controlled lest it be used for evil, and that even when women run things they are still held back by their gender and need men around to do most of the work. It’s been theorized that these messages were actually the main purpose behind the myth of the Amazons back in Ancient Greece. While the Amazons might have existed, tales and myths of their society were exaggerated for the express purpose of proving that women were inferior, irrational, vengeful, and vain and used as justification for their subservience. As for nowadays, I’m going to be generous and give the people who create these ficitional Matriarchies the benefit of the doubt that they’re not trying to craft outrageously sexist propaganda. Rather, I think that the messages at the heart of the Amazon mythos have made their way into our collective consciousness and these modern, fictional Matriarchies are simply playing off of these stereotypes in attempts to create races that are easily readable as evil or alien in our Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and games. Which, of course, is still very sexist.

Quinnae, here at the Border House, has a great post that articulates some of these problematic messages that the Matriarchal tropes bring up. Her post made an excellent point that many games are using these stereotypes to play on a reverse of the male-fantasy that most games and fiction cater to. Instead of the typical male-fantasy of nubile maidens whose affection they can earn with their heroic deeds, powerful Matriarchies force the male audience to come face-to-face with the male-nightmare. It’s the primordial fear all humans have of past wrong-doings coming back to haunt them; the what-if  of women finally gaining power and doing to men what was done to them. This is why most of the powerful Evil Matriarchies that are encountered are adventure material (so that they can be overcome or conquered as one astute commenter points out in Quinnae’s post), but most player-character or ally races are of the non-threatening Not-Really a Matriarchy category. The former is used to titillate, challenge, and reward the assumed male adventurer, the latter is there to provide an interesting, exotic backdrop for the player, but both scenarios rely on sexist stereotypes to cater to the presumed Patriarchal world view of a male gamer.

So, if these Matriarchy tropes are just sexist stereotypes, what would a real Matriarchy look like? We don’t really know. We know what some matriarchal (in the anthropological sense) cultures look like, but there have never really been any Matriarchies on a large scale. One would assume that a Matriarchy would look much like today’s Patriarchy: a nuanced and complex system of both subtle and extreme oppressions and privileges that can be simultaneously easy to identify but hard to untangle the root causes of. The speculative fiction of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and the interactive nature of games, are great ways to deconstruct and analyze the Patriarchy through the metaphor of a Matriarchy. These tropes, however, do little more than support and propagate the Patriarchy (and really bad Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories).

 The promised picture of an explosion: the Mythbusters duo recreate the prototypical running away from an exploding car image from movies. Hyneman can be seen with a TnT trigger and Savage is being pushed through the air by the force of the explosion.

Trope go BOOM!

(Originally posted here)

Ah, how many times has my RP looked like this in my head? ((A Night Elven woman in a comfortable green and earth tone dress looking out over a harbour at dusk, the twinkling lights of a town in the distance beneath the fading light.)) Image Credit: WoW Fan art by Jian Guo.

Clicks on a Keyboard: Dungeons, Dragons, and Trans-Feminism

 

Ah, how many times has my RP looked like this in my head? ((A Night Elven woman in a comfortable green and earth tone dress looking out over a harbour at dusk, the twinkling lights of a town in the distance beneath the fading light.)) Image Credit: WoW Fan art by Jian Guo.

What I love about “click” is that it can happen anywhere, anytime, for any reason. It can best be defined as the moment you became conscious of the personal being political, the moment you learned a social fact through a deeply personal interaction. But “click” also connotes precisely that brief space of time, the moment, the instant, something changed forever. For me, my click was a bit longer and slower than that. It was a pastiche of revelations and experiences- both good and bad- that enhanced my feminism. You see, that’s another part of this: the story I’m going to tell begins with me already being feminist, but ends with me making peace with being a woman. To me, this is something that is vital to a feminist consciousness among women. In my own case, I learned this through video gaming.

Being a transgender woman means one has a ‘special’ relationship with gender and with womanhood in particular. For many of us, part of our self-discovery necessarily involves a dawning of pride and acceptance of one’s own gender. I grew up surrounded by media images and socialisation that told me femininity and womanhood were inferior, weaker, undesirable, and should be either avoided or pitied. As a young trans girl trying to find her place in the gendered sun this naturally screwed with my head in many deeply unpleasant ways and fed self-hate in a rather dramatic way. I came out as a feminist when I was 15 because my father’s abuse of my mother put the lie to the notion that sexism was a thing of the past; but that did not click away my own self-loathing and fears regarding acceptance of my gender.

What finally did that for me was video gaming and roleplaying. As I suffered through severe depression and suicidal ideation, I discovered a wonderful oasis that enabled me to live as someone more closely approximating what I would choose: roleplaying games. It all started with The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, and my discovery that I felt so much more comfortable and even empowered when I played as women characters. Same with Knights of the Old Republic; the women characters in that game, like the Jedi Bastila Shan, provided me with secret role models that gave me hints of the kind of woman I’d like to be. Above all, each game elucidated a possibility that the cheap TV I was exposed to never did: that women could kick ass. It’s knowledge I take for granted today, but for young-me it was an eye opener and something that began the slow and steady process of scrubbing away the socialisation that had told me to be a woman was to be lesser.

Quinnae. ((A Night Elf Priestess in purple robes with a dark staff, white cape, and floating against a wintry background.))

Single player games provided me with visions of female power. Women with swords, spells, lightsabers, martial skills, elegance, high education, class, guts, skill, and who above all showed no shame in who they were. If these fictional characters could do it, so could I. But since I was still being forced to live as a man, where could I possibly begin? As I subconsciously chewed over that dilemma a friend suggested my first online multiplayer roleplaying game: Neverwinter Nights. He wanted someone to play as his character’s daughter and since he knew I enjoyed RPing as women characters he thought I would be perfect for this. If only he knew. What began with NWN expanded into a range of other games, most prominently World of Warcraft, and it is here that abundant clicking became commonplace.

My experiences with my mother, some things I had observed at school, and had read about all impressed upon me the realities of women’s situation in the world. But WoW would afford me my first opportunity to experience them first hand. Knowing and knowing are two abundantly different things, and the harshest lessons WoW taught me were to know what it was like to be stalked, to be harassed, and to feel excluded; World of Warcraft provided me with a virtual social world where my character’s female gender became a salient fact of both her existence and my own experience in the game world. I began to understand on an intimate level what it felt like for your refusals to go unheard and for people to feel entitled to your time, attention, and sexual interest.

Some might argue that this is a lesson in victimisation. I beg to differ, however. My direct confrontation with these realities threw more fuel on the political fire that had been burning since I was fifteen; more reminders of what it was that we needed to stand against, more reminders of the politics that inhere to everyday life. More than this, however, it taught me empowerment. My story in World of Warcraft is not just a story of people stalking me. Hardly. I made friends there, explored my sexuality there, and apropos the harassment I learned to fight it.

For a long time I had been deeply shy and unable to speak up for myself. The shame inculcated in me by patriarchy and the gender dysphoria it was in part responsible for also had a gag effect on me. It was the silence that had made me afraid to take up space, the socialised quietudes that were the wages of my feminine identification. WoW, for all the failings of that game, provided me with a social world where I found the power to break that silence by seizing subjectivity as a woman consciously and affirmatively. In that world I was “Quinnae” and “she and her” to everyone, and I quickly became known on the forums for prosaic arguments, tongue lashings, and verbal self-defence par excellence. I found shelter in communities of fellow women gamers, people to commiserate with and laugh with, who made harassment a much more manageable problem. All of these people were 3D avatars and text on a screen, but it was all that saved my life and showed me a brightly lit road to accepting my womanhood in the real world.

Each click on the keyboard brought me one step closer to loving myself.

As I stood up for myself and took crap from no one in WoW I realised that I had developed more of a spine here than I ever did in the physical world. Part of that was due to the anonymity the Internet afford, but it was more than that too. It was because the game offered me the opportunity to stand in the shoes of a woman character I had created, a thoughtful, strong woman modeled after my newfound role models and representing a potential vision of myself. The scholarly Night Elven Priestess who became my main character in WoW was how I explored womanhood, became a woman, and how I learned to take pride in being a woman. She taught me how to stand up for myself, how to fight back, and eventually how to take control of my life.

It was WoW who introduced me to the first trans woman I ever knew,  who spoke of what transgender transition was like. This would offer me a new path in life that I never realised would be open to me.

This ‘click,’ as it were, took roughly a year and a half to run its course. I had to overcome socialisation that told me there was something wrong with me for desiring womanhood, I had to teach myself that I had everything to be proud of if I was a woman, I had to overcome. Growing up in the South Bronx left me with few options in my immediate vicinity to do this. The Internet, and most of all gaming, was what saved my life in this regard. World of Warcraft and other online games still suffer from a variety of problems, including sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia. But there is a tremendous amount to be said for the subversive agency of the people who populate these worlds, and it provided people like myself with the breathing room necessary to use online gaming spaces for self-exploration and growth in a relatively controlled way.

This is a theme I have explored in a lot of my recent writing for The Border House to be sure, because I think it’s important. Vitally so. When we discuss online games, we must not confine the discussion to the world that the developers deliver to us only, but expand it to include the variegated social worlds the players themselves weave within that space. My story of ‘click’ is how I assumed female subjectivity in the midst of an oppressive moment of my life and learned that I was a strong woman who could fight back.

When I came out to my father I had to stare down threats and words one never wants to hear from a parent, but I faced it with determination. Physical threats, threats of being thrown to the street, of being rejected by everyone around me were all hurled my way because I claimed womanhood.

Artist's rendition of Quin coming out. (Note, some events may be exaggerated or metaphorical.) ((A poorly drawn black and white sketch of Quinnae and her father who looks suspiciously like a moustachioed Dalek. Dalek dad says incredulously "Transition!? But you have no weapons; no defences; no plan!!" and your ravishing correspondent and hero replies "Yeah! And doesn't that scare you to death!?" ))

In defiance of this I stood there that day with the strength of all my fictional characters behind me, with the knowledge that feminism meant strength, meant power, meant courage- and that my womanhood was not a shameful fact of my existence, but something for me to be proud of. That was something I learned through roleplaying and gaming, in great measure. My mother also deserves a tremendous amount of credit: she inspired me with her heroic endurance and courage in an abusive marriage, and she never attacked me for roleplaying female characters (unlike my father). She was and remains a huge supporter of mine, who helped me transition and who helped me to find myself. No story of my transition is complete without her, no telling of my feminist history is possible without her.

She found my gaming to be more cute than threatening, and she gave me the levity to explore. Props definitely go out to her.

To most people it may seem strange that I can speak of my feminism being enhanced through roleplay, giving me the needed experiences and subjectivity to see the political in the personal. Stranger still could be my statement about how my characters stood with me when I came out; to some that may well parse as the words of a childish fantasist. But what I was trying to get at was that video gaming provided me with a range of personal guises I could explore in the social world, that enabled me to train myself to both take pride in my womanhood and to fight sexism with vigour. These are two things that are central to my feminist consciousness and nothing I’ve accomplished since then would’ve been possible without it.

In the intervening years I found the strength to stand firm against rape threats, more casual and quotidian sexism, the wolf whistles of random men, and the courage to face down sexists and transphobes everywhere. I’m still relatively shy as people go, I’m probably not your go-to gal to hand out a petition to random strangers. But I am far more confident than I was and far truer to myself than I ever was: I have all my little Elves, Wizards, Clerics, and knights in shining armour to thank for that.

This post is part of the Feminist Portrait Project’s and Bitch Magazine’s Blog Carnival where bloggers from all corners of the web are contributing their feminist “click” moment. Have a story you want to share?   Get in on the blog-a-thon action here!