Aubrey Plaza in Blizzard’s Newest Ad Spot – Awesome or Merely Stereotypical?

Almost as if Blizzard heard my cries about wanting a female spokesperson for World of Warcraft in the wake of the Chuck Norris debacle, it debuted this “What’s Your Game” ad spot featuring Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation fame. She plays herself (or perhaps a bit of her April Ludgate character from the show) talking about her boyfriend getting her this game for her birthday and subsequently dumping him when she realizes she likes the game more than him.

The video is funny enough, however there has been some criticism amongst some of the gamers I know about how it still relies on the “bitchy girlfriend who isn’t into video games” trope in order to be funny. I would say it is a little bit of that but manages to turn it on its ear by the end. The line about wanting diamonds is the crux of that criticism; advertisements, especially around the holiday season, tout a lot of heterosexual marriage proposals and buying a diamond for your special lady. So Aubrey wanting diamonds, even as a joke, could be seen to play into that. It also seems like the boyfriend is talking about the ever-popular Minecraft at first, considering how mining for diamonds is somewhat of a thing.

In the end though, the insensitive boyfriend is tossed on his butt and Aubrey goes on to enjoy the game as her own person. As a Horde player, presumably, judging by her shirt. While I’m glad that Blizzard decided to go with a woman celebrity, and especially a funny one at that, the idea that she didn’t get the game on her own still sticks in my craw. I want to see her playing an undead mage or something!

Ah well, progress is progress, eh? Least there was no racist voiceover this time.

8 Responses

    • We have to look into stuff! That’s part of my job! Media criticism! :D If no one thinks about this stuff, who does? It’s food for thought. :3 I thought it was funny though, some other women I talked to didn’t, as a reference. It’s a good talking point though, gets discussion going.

  1. Because I was unaware of the anti-gay statements Norris had made until I read your last post, this second commercial actually set me off more at my first watching. Yes, I’m thrilled we finally got a woman, that she’s a comedian, and that she (eventually) comes around to playing Warcraft independently from a man. I was not happy to see that she didn’t get to self-identify with the character that she plays, or that she got into WoW in what must be the most stereotypical way for a woman to get into WoW – through her boyfriend.

    I want to be cautiously optimistic about this and say that maybe it’s a first step toward Blizzard realizing that their entire audience isn’t 18-35 year old white men, but with the premise of the commercial being what it is, isn’t that still to whom they’re appealing here?

  2. Progress is progress, yeah, though I really do hope they don’t stop here and they make some ads that don’t use the “girlfriend who doesn’t like video games” and the “i got into video games through my boyfriend” tropes.

  3. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, mostly to see what your reactions are and to maybe give some people food for thought. I will try to leave my personal beliefs mostly out of the picture, but I’m only human. Feel free to correct me any time. I’m just trying to come at this from a different angle. Choose whatever point you want to discuss further. I’m merely brainstorming here. Numbers are assigned for easier reference. :)

    1. Now I will say that I have not seen an episode of ‘Parks and Recreation’ yet, but reading the Wikipedia article about it I may want to give it a spin. Anyway, this short “research” told me that Aubrey’s character in the series is quite uninterested in her job, very dry and sarcastic, quiet and just “weird” and that the character was created specifically for Aubrey after the creators saw her audition.

    If she is not interested in her job and that was given much screen time on the show, it would make sense for her to not be interested in WoW either in the spot (to parallel her character). Her characterization didn’t say “nerdy”, “geeky” or anything, so it would be not too far-fetched to assume she wouldn’t play the game. At least by her characterization she didn’t strike me as the female equivalent of the ‘Big Bang Theory’ guys (and we often identify actors through their characters; plus the role was apparently written FOR her).

    2. Although her line of “I said diamonds” in response to her boyfriend getting her World of Warcraft for Christmas could be construed as spawned by stereotypes, I don’t really think it is. At least none of the girls/women in my social circle would like a gift of WoW more than diamonds (the ones who would already have the game ;) ). There is quite a good chance she, too, would like diamonds more than some video game she doesn’t seem to be interested in (if no. 1 is true. If not, she would’ve probably gotten the game herself by then).

    3. The diamonds per se are, of course, not randomly selected. However, i think it is more a question of “What could you get a girl for Christmas that has some connection in the game?” You cannot trust (most) boyfriends (including myself) with dress sizes, you wouldn’t want to advertise skinning animals (see PETA vs. Mario), you don’t wish for potions or a forged sword, you don’t want some fish, food or firecrackers, and the present-viability of enchantments, artifacts and hand-written notes can be questioned, so…of the professions, that leaves Jewelcrafting. If you don’t want to make it class-specific (which perception suggests they didn’t), wishing for a pet is out of the question, too. Maybe they should’ve made her a warlock, but to call a demon a pet would be antidemonist. *wink*

    4. The boyfriend’s answer is really the only part that doesn’t sit well with me. A basic “go get those diamonds yourself” could be read into that. In this case, your sense of justice should be rewarded by her dumping him. In any other case, it’s just a flimsy excuse of a boyfriend grasping at straws, which in turn could then be construed as loaded with stereotype and anti…malist?

    5. While the points up to here tried to depict the different parts of the commercial, the next point(s) look at the whole ad. As you mentioned, the holiday season and Christmas are rolling around. You WANT people to buy your game. The spot itself tries to get more customers by whispering into their ears: “Hey, I know you’re not interested in our game, but why not try it? Maybe you’ll be surprised.” It’s not “Hey, I know you’re not interested in games. Period. [second sentence]” This type of spot is more likely to give them more subscriptions on the basis of how it is constructed alone. It’s not only a “this game is awesome” like, for example, the Mr. T spot, but it’s a “BUY THIS GAME (or add it to your wish list), it is awesome” explicitely. Maybe even a “buy this game, it is awesome, even for girls/women” for the female viewers and a “buy this game, it is awesome. Plus, GIRLS!” for the male viewers? Although I don’t think that’s the main point.

    6. Although this point and no. 5 are somewhat connected, I think this warrants an extra point. You mentioned how you like that there’s finally a female representative in an ad. I don’t have ANY data to support this (I’m brainstorming, remember?), but MAYBE Blizzard heard you and thought “Shit, they’re right. We haven’t done that. Get on that, media team!” And maybe even the fact that she doesn’t have an animated counterpart is also due to your (I’m not talking to you specifically, Cider) outcry about this. Maybe Blizzard rushed to get this ad out after the Chuck Norris bit.
    “That Chuck Norris thing did not go as planned. Didn’t we have a spot with a girl in it somewhere? Is that done yet?”
    “Well, we filmed it, but…”
    “Then ship it! NOW!”
    “But, sir…we haven’t done the anim-”
    “I don’t care! Ship it now! Or I’ll ring Chuck Norris.” (sorry, I couldn’t resist)
    Though this would (if it was true) speak for Blizzard’s lack of foresight, we have come to suspect (not yet expect, I hope) that of them lately, haven’t we? And it is far more likely that the spot is what it is due to the Christmas shopping frenzy that is to come soon.

    7. All which has been said aside, could this spot not be viewed from the complete opposite angle as well? Yes, her boyfriend got it for her and she didn’t get it herself. Ignoring this for a moment, the fact remains that the boyfriend is a complete jerk (or tries to be funny, which is never a good idea when you have a crappy gift…trust me on that :P ). Whether he is generally or just in that situation, we don’t know. Hewever, his neediness (“You like the game better than me” could, again, be either needy or trying to be funny; let me stress what a BAD idea it is to be funny with things like this) and her dumping him suggest he’s probably just a jerk.
    Now, could the spot not be viewed as a “feminism enabling” story or at least “liberation enabling” story? WoW helped her to terminate her broken relationship and overcome, to speak in Judith Butler’s language, the pariarchal oppression.

    Now if they follow this up with a spot with Mila Kunis, will you rejoice? :)

    And since this comment is already excruciatingly long, let me add the idea for the spot (or at least the beginning):

    Mila’s face
    “I’m Mila Kunis, and…”
    Mila whole body shot, finger pointing at camera
    “…I know what you’re thinking: I must totally play a female bloodelf priest…”
    female bloodelf in cloth with sun rays through her hair, which, of course, the wind plays with tenderly
    “…and that I walk around the world singing and smiling…”
    female bloodelf walking around singing and smiling
    “…and that I would cuddle all the bunnies…”
    bunny hopping on grass (screen is filled with bunny)
    “…cause they so amazing and totally cute and stuff. And you’d be right…”
    Mila’s face again as she said the following:
    “…at least partially.”
    switch to Mila’s alter ego (same face shot as Mila before) for a second
    Bunny (which fills frame) is crashed by a landing meteor.
    Zoom out. Mila’s character with enslaved infernal
    Mila’s face with evil grin.
    [Rest of the spot]

    • While I appreciate all the thought you’ve dedicated to your points, I would have to say that taken all together instead of picked apart was really the crux of my argument. It seems really great on the surface but the general presentation behind it suggests less a consideration for entirely catering to a female fanbase, but rather falling back on sexist tropes regarding girlfriends/women who get into gaming (being obsessed with jewelry, needing to throw them off their concerns with gaming, “wife aggro”) so it sours my enjoyment of a funny Aubrey Plaza. I know a lot about her character and real life persona.

      All of these facets put together are what I’d like criticize. It’s a bit of sweet and sour, and yes, I did consider it. But as someone who’s been looking at sexist messages for years since we’re the ones being shunted here (women, gamers, etc), I’d like to think I can spot one from a mile away, even when it’s not intended. Just because it isn’t 100 percent intentional or it is mixed up with other things doesn’t mean it isn’t recognizable because it’s happened so many times before. It has an impact on people’s minds and that’s why they are so systemic and problematic. They are a joke, a punchline, something reflexively funny and part of our “sense of humour.” And I still feel that the commercial is still mostly aiming at a male audience, even though it features a female. Some of the other commenters here touched on that a little more concretely than I did. I admit that my short post wasn’t as thorough as it could have been, but I’d hope that people know that I’m a fairly critical and intelligent woman who can digest many points of view and levels of analysis before saying something!

      Interesting to point out, Mila Kunis played a human (or possibly gnome) mage. :)

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