Tag Archives: WoW

[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?

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.

No More Excuses: “It’s The Middle Ages, Yo!”

Azeroth, getting its Medieval on, complete with tons of metal and steam powered cogs that do nothing. ((WoW's TinkerTown, done up in rusty orange and gunmetal grey, complete with lots of pipes, trusses, and massive gears. Just what you'd expect from the Middle Ages!))

Recently Static Nonsense related their adventure with webcomic author Ryan Sohmer and an ableist comic he wrote for his well read LFG Comic. Static Nonsense submitted a polite letter to Mr. Sohmer and received the following reply from him:

Hey bud-

 

I do apreciate the feedback and can understand your feelings.

 

Still, I stand by my work. Not to make offense in any way, but that the world of LFG is set in it’s own one, not ours, where we constantly strive to be politically correct. This is the language they would use in the middle ages, and I try to keep it in that time frame.

 

I hope that made some sense.

One can already hear the furious scratching of pencils against bingo sheets, but today we’re focusing on one fallacy from this letter: the bit about the Middle Ages. Several of us who are veterans of many arguments about problematic nonsense in fantasy video games and other media are quite familiar with this line of reasoning. When I or friends of mine have pointed out Dragon Age’s whiteness as a problem, many of us were immediately met with cries of “but it’s supposed to be like the Middle Ages!” Let me explain why this is patently ridiculous using my usual flawless logic.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, using their logic.

I have heard this used about World of Warcraft’s setting of Azeroth more than once, and it was indeed this setting to which Sohmer was hearkening when he implored Static Nonsense to stop being so PC and accept that cheers like “Woo! Woo! Woo!” and Lord of the Rings references were commonplace in Earth’s European Middle Ages. Let’s also not forget that warlocks are real, and so are undead, and Elves, and Gnomes, and Trolls… what? Read a history book and open up to the Medieval bit! Arthas will be there, right between Charlemagne and William the Conqueror.

Snark aside, there’s nothing wrong with a good LotR reference or a little woo woo in a fantasy comic, or RPG, or novel, or what have you. But do not then insult my intelligence and defend something prejudiced with a veneer of “Uhh, Middle Ages!” If you made an excuse for a joke based on a modern movie, you can easily excise unnecessary bigoted nonsense.

This goes for any number of video games as well. Dragon Age’s Ferelden had absolutely no reason to be mostly white. At all. While the setting was inspired by Earth’s Medieval England, it wasn’t the same place. Dragon Age is not a game of historical re-enactment. It is a fantasy game. If we use the world of fantasy to liberate our creativity and add dragons, phantoms, goblins, sorcerers, and unicorns to our stories, what exactly is tying your hands in changing certain elements of social relations? Nothing except yourself.

World of Warcraft is an even bigger example of the fallacies inherent to this thinking. Leaving aside all other moral arguments, the simplest way to defeat an Azerothian Medieval-Baiter is to simply send them to Ironforge’s Tinker Town and ask them to explain. Check and mate. The simple reality is that these games are not based on Earth’s European Medieval period save in a highly loose way that is confined to some clothing styles, the use of castles, and certain Arthurian and Tolkienesque tropes. But these things do not a society make. To use fantasy as an excuse for dragons, but not use its power to envision different racial, gender, or sexual relations is highly questionable. That list is hardly an exhaustive one. The example that began this entire discussion was about clichés and stereotypes concerning people with disabilities and how they’re often relegated to being the butt of jokes and little else- something I as a trans woman empathise with quite easily. Nothing inherent to fantasy makes any of that necessary.

The highly selective application of “the Middle Ages” excuse is simply another exercise in the denial of one’s own responsibility. “My hands are tied, the setting is supposed to be like the Middle Ages!” This does not wash unless you’re doing a precise historical re-enactment, which no fantasy game, movie, or book has done. Why? Because they aren’t about the Middle Ages. They’re about their own settings and histories. When you create a fantasy world you are not bound to create a world with regressed social relations. If you assert that prejudice is required for verisimilitude in a fantasy world simply because it’s fantasy, that is a prejudiced statement. Period.

This is not to say that we can’t have fantasy worlds that have societal prejudice as cultural textures, obviously, but when good writers do this, they effect complex explorations of those prejudices. The authors may well have no problem giving you a good and detailed explanation for why certain prejudices exist in their world and why exploring their impact on the storyline they created is interesting, and what it can teach. They do not blubber about how their setting is like the Middle Ages.

I grew up loving and admiring fantasy, and a lot of my writing hitherto has explored how the conceptual possibilities opened up by fantasy have been profoundly liberating. It is insulting to me and plenty of other fantasy fans to tell us that some of our favoured settings are based on the Middle Ages and that’s why we have to accept problematic nonsense within them. Look, I’m a geek. I’ve got the D&D manuals to prove it, and I can quote and cite- page and paragraph- thousands of little ways that various fantasy settings are not Medieval. Come up with a better argument or be honest about the fact that you just like resorting to cheap jokes and stereotypes.

It’d save us all a lot of trouble.

Something’s Missing…

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?

Female and male Taunka models. The female Taunka (left foreground) is identical to a female Tauren, whose physical features resemble that of a cow. The male Taunka has physical features that resemble a bison.

Female and male Taunka models. The female Taunka (left foreground) is identical to a female Tauren, whose physical features resemble that of a cow. The male Taunka has physical features that resemble a bison.

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.

A female Draenei PC stands among NPCs labeled ‘civilian recruits’ standing in line. The male NPCs are varied in race and age. All are fully clothed, middle-aged or older, and one is armed. The women models are perfectly identical: young, white, human, blonde, busty, scantily clad, and empty-handed.

A female Draenei PC stands among NPCs labeled ‘civilian recruits’ standing in line. The male NPCs are varied in race and age. All are fully clothed, middle-aged or older, and one is armed. The women models are perfectly identical: young, white, human, blonde, busty, scantily clad, and empty-handed.

Tis the Season to Objectify Female Characters in WoW

World of Warcraft’s Feast of Winter Veil has been underway for awhile now, and with it comes new quests, achievements, recipes, and outfits to try to obtain.  One of these achievements in particular is called ‘Tis the Season, in which you have to eat fruitcake while wearing 3 pieces of holiday clothing.  This is easier said than done, however, as the Winter Hat requires you to kill dungeon bosses and hope to win the roll against your other dungeonmates.  I was lucky last night as I won it in the new Blackrock Caverns instance (on my first run even).  When going to put on the full outfit, I noticed that it was a little, well, revealing.  I happened to notice a male character standing close to me who was wearing the same outfit.  I couldn’t help but notice the glaring difference between these two outfits.

Left: A male Blood Elf with long reddish brown hair wearing a red Santa suit. The shirt completely covers his torso down to his hands, and no skin is visible on his legs. Right: A blond female Blood Elf wearing the same exact outfit. Her cleavage is showing, her waist is fully exposed, and the 'pants' are actually a skirt that barely cover her ladybits.

As you can see, the outfit is a full Santa suit (except the beard) on the male Blood Elf, and the same exact outfit on the female Blood Elf is more “Santa Baby” than anything else.  The pants become one of the shortest skirts in existence, and the long sleeved shirt becomes a cleavage and waist exposing mini-shirt.  We’ve talked about this in the past on The Border House; WoW has not been shy in the past about modeling outfits completely different depending on the gender of the character in order to reveal more skin on the women.

It pissed me off more than a little bit that I couldn’t dress up my character as Santa, even while wearing the same exact outfit as the men.   She looks like she’s going to a naughty Christmas party.  I’m certainly not going to run around the world wearing this outfit.  We see this on Halloween (naughty nurses, maids, etc.), Easter (bunny ears and tails on lingerie), and pretty much any holiday where people can dress up.  The outfits for men are usually funny or made to show how ‘strong and manly’ the guy is, and the costumes for women are tiny, ‘sexy’, and pander to men’s fantasies.

Alas, I put the outfit on for 5 seconds to get the achievement and it will go in my character’s bank.  Perhaps if I’m invited to a raunchy holiday party at the inn in Goldshire I’ll pull it back out.

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.