Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions and Nitpicks

I’ve been enjoying the beta greatly. I’ve been taking it slowly, exploring a little bit on my mage and testing out glyphs and talents on random mobs I pass-by while taking screenshots. A lot of people have been doing the high-level quests but I tend to burn out fast when I do that so I’ve been plonking around with testing abilities and rotations primarily. I also rolled a monk (Shojuu) and have been leveling her in the early morning just to avoid the deluge of other people who are in the beta right now.

The art direction and mechanical development of this expansion is in such stark contrast to how half-formed Cataclysm felt; what the Blizzard development teams learned from Cataclysm’s challenges definitely reflects here. Abilities have a lot of polish and additional functionality, and the world feels so much more cohesive and alive. I could get lost in Pandaria and I’ve only been around the Jade Forest at this time.

One thing has stood out to me so far, while testing new Pandaren monks. Early on in the leveling experience, you meet Ji of the Huojin. He’s part of the Firepaw clan that’s in the first village you come to after leaving the initial starting area. As a female Pandaren I ran up to him to turn in my quest, only to be greeted by slightly creepy conversation text.

I went back and did the quest as a male just to see how it changed. It was similar text in that it was constructed similarly, but it did not have nearly the level of inappropriateness.

See for yourself.

What he says to women:
Hello, friend!
You’re some kind of gorgeous, aren’t you? I bet you can’t keep the men off of you!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

What he says to men:
Hello, friend!
You’ve got a strong look to you! I bet you’re all the rage with the ladies!
Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!

It’s a subtle difference but it pulled me out of playing for a moment. I am aware that Ji is written to perhaps be slightly too friendly. I know people in real life who are like that. However, how it reads to me, as a woman in real life – it came off as exceedingly creepy, especially with the absence of a male-centered experience up until that point. The focus is on how beautiful she is, rather than strong. Given how Pandaren society seems to value strength and poise as gender-neutral traits, why make this guy espouse an exception? Add to the fact that this is stuff I hear from weird random dudes I know all the time, with the added “You and I are going to be good friends”…

…well it comes off as weird. I made a forum thread trying to break this down and it will probably get crapped on, but oh well. Part of beta testing is picking out bugs and giving suggestions and I actively want Pandaria to feel as cool as I know it could be, even if you are a lady Pandaren.  Recognition of gender is important, but not in a way that marginalizes. Blizzard hasn’t done a knock-up job of this in some places, but overall when I’ve leveled characters, I’ve not felt like the world I am presented with as a lady toon is wildly different from a male toon. It shouldn’t be that way in a fantasy game anyways! As I explained yesterday when bringing this topic up, “It’s one thing to encounter sexism from other players in roleplay who are dragging that stuff with them, but a game company can make a fantasy world in whatever image they choose. It should let women and men stand on equal footing, especially in a video game where mechanically it’d be a disservice otherwise.”

Obviously there’s a lot of unchallenged sexism in the developers and creatives at Blizzard themselves, but I felt that if I’m given access to the beta in order to make it better, why can’t better mean “less othering”?

34 Responses

  1. The “beautiful” versus “strong” point aside, the specific phrasing “can’t keep the guys off you” reminds of unwanted touching whereas the guys are simply popular.

  2. I left a comment on your forum post, but it just occurred to me that that dialogue actually progresses something like this:

    “Hello! You’re so pretty! Would you please go beat some things up for me?”

    It’s just such a weird disconnect. He does come off as Guy Who Doesn’t Know How He Comes Off (a character I have personal experience with having been), but I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or if a Blizzard writer honestly thinks that’s how you’re supposed to interact with women you don’t know.

    (His obsession with Ayla is also more than a little creepy.)

    • Um. Do you realize that you’re suggesting using sexual assault as motivation for Aysa to leave the island/join the Alliance? I hope you realize that is 1) triggering, and 2) incredibly problematic in its own right. Blizz has a bad enough history with treatment of women characters; we don’t need to add sexual assault to the mix.

      • You’re right. Like I (intended to but apparently didn’t) said above, I reconsidered it after thinking about it for a bit. I did consciously choose the phrase “I don’t think I’d mind”, but I absolutely see how others would.

      • They already have a quest revolving around sexual assault — Malygos is basically a rapist. The whole questline where he captures Keristrasza and magically brainwashes her is so he can make her his new consort, because she helped you kill his old one. The quest where you’re sent in to kill her is basically to save her from ‘a fate worse than death’ according to the quest dialogue.

        I remember being rather disgusted by that quest chain; several of the quests in WotLK were unpleasant for me because of various morality issues they had that they didn’t seem to be aware of.

        • If “a fate worse than death” is all that was said about it (I haven’t done the questline, I only remember the part in the Nexus), you needn’t assume the worst – reading that line it was not rape that popped into my mind, but rather a tortured existence; one which you end by killing her. Which is something that completely fits into what WoW is like.

          I guess that questline is triggering for women who have been through some kind of sexual trauma, however, I feel that it is impossible for Blizzard to take into account every single piece of text they will write just in case someone with any sort of unpleasant history could take offense in it for whatever reason. It is a game meant aimed at the masses, developers can’t be treading on eggs as to avoid every little thing that could upset a person with that has been through something very specific and could hence be reminded of it.

          I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes but just express my opinion, and I’ve tried wording it as carefully as I can – especially since I seem to be in the minority who feels this way.

          I’d like to say some words on the post on WoW Insider, but it also relates to this – that post is titled “Why is Blizzard still OK with gender inequality in World of Warcraft?” which for me has a very obvious answer. The genders aren’t equal at all, physically speaking, but also as to what goes on in the brain. Our emotions and perceptions are completely different from those of men. So, it is hard, if not impossible, to ask for gender equality, since the roles of men and women are so very different in society – while both men and women can perform every task equally, there are certain things women excell in, or jobs men are just better suited for. Like how men are generally faster runners than women, and women are better swimmers because of how streamlined they are, or if you don’t quite agree with the last statement, how women are better at sports that require a lot of technique and flexibility (like yoga, (rhytmic) gymnastics, or taekwondo I am told). Or just plain differences, like how men are genetically wired in such a way that enables them to hold their liquor better, and how women live longer than men.

          Biologically speaking, a woman will choose a man with a strong physique to be her partner – there seems to be unanimity about it that the male conversation text is not crossing any lines. Let’s try and explain the female conversation text, in hopes that it will seem less creepy/disturbing/offending to those who feel that way already. Beauty in a woman is something that has always been appraised, probably since man first developed communication in the form of spoken language. Keeping that in mind, when Ji calles a player’s character beautiful, it is only meant as a compliment. The way the quest text is written, I do not have the feeling at all that he is coming onto the female characters. He’s not saying “Hey hottie, you and I are going to be good friends… *disturbing wink*” but he’s saying “Hey you! I’m super ecstatic! That’s why all my sentences end in an exclamation mark! Like this! I like making friends! I hope you’ll be my friend! Let me say something nice so you’ll be my friend! Be my friend! Wee!”. I hope you can forgive the simplicity, and that it helps get my point across – since I’m not offended by it, I don’t quite know which is the part that’s disturbing, and if this turns out to be complete cock-and-bull to you just disregard that paragraph.

          However, I do agree that this should be changed if it conflicts with the general feeling of the Pandaren-leveling experience and the Pandaren race as a whole, if there is a lot of gender neutrality, and if you are portrayed as a physically strong individual, regardless of sex, then yes, the quest text should be altered, if it does not fit with the general Pandaren line of thought.

          I have the feeling that a lot of the women or men offended by this, are looking into it far too hard. Perhaps the only useful thing I will have said in this comment is this; often it is good to take things with a pinch of salt.
          (And, please remember, when reading this, I do not mean to offend anyone purposefully, and apologize if this does happen, but it is still my opinion, which I’ve tried wording as neutral as I could)

          • Keristrasza being forced into becoming Malygos’ consort is rape. There is no other way around it. It’s a tortured existence, yes… an existence of sexual slavery.

            There is really no other way of reading that situation. A ‘consort’ is a sexual partner; that’s simply what the word MEANS. There is no ambiguity there.

  3. Spot on, as usual. That first greeting by Ji stood out as such a stark contrast to the rest of the game thus far – so much so that it was like a brisk slap, knocking me out of my immersion. I lingered on the text for a little bit, and took a screenie. I asked my husband what his text had said (he was playing a male character, which is atypical for him) and though he had already clicked past, he gave me the gist of the unremarkable text given for male characters.

    Given the stark contrast in creep-factor between the two, I
    can’t believe it was intentional for game- or roleplay purposes, and this is probably just written by someone who really doesn’t know that harassment isn’t a compliment, or that beauty and strength are not two sides of the same gender coin.

    Will respond similarly to your forum post when I’m not on my phone!

    • Yeah, it seriously bounced me out of being a round lady pandaren who can kick serious ass. I was like, “Abuuuuh.”
      It sounds like someone at Blizzard wrote it (and a lot of the other NPCs reactions to Aysa, for instance) thinking it sounded complimentary but it’s about as complimentary as a creephat on a message board. Uggggh.

      • Sometimes I wonder if the responses to Aysa were written for the demo back when she was a male pandaren model with a bow, and they were trying to hammer home the womanly aspect but never reined it in after the female models were in game, or something. Still creepy, but it’s like I can almost tease out their thought process. I don’t know how that makes me feel!

  4. I actually was just talking about this with a friend earlier; it really upset me but I was scared to bring it up on the forums because of the harassment I would probably receive. I really hate that all feedback has to be done by the forums now.

    I shall go over and contribute to your thread though :)

  5. You’re absolutely right; that’s creepy as heck. Now, in a gritty and realistic RPG, I /might/ accept a statement like that coming from an NPC (especially if the game let my character respond appropriately to it), but this is World of Warcraft. WoW is a broad, cartoony, bright-big-strokes-of-paint fantasy world. Creeper-talk is just inappropriate. (Well, OK, it’s /never/ really appropriate, but WoW doesn’t give one the ability to respond in a meaningful way.)

    Blizzard has a history of putting their foot in it and then backing off when people point out their shit… I just wish they’d educate themselves a little more and /stop/ putting their foot in it. :/

  6. And that’s it. MoP and the wandering isle is no longer fun. Any play through this starter experience in the beta or in live will be tainted with this, even if its changed. Why? Because what has been seen cannot be un-seen. Some story developer thought this was funny, and obviously had several others who agreed which is why it reached this point. When it was brought up in the story developers meetings, it should have been stamped on and never reached this stage of development.

    Why do Blizzard have to ruin nice things with this trashy rubbish? I really thought they’d have learned by now but clearly much more education needs to be made.

  7. One of the things that I was thinking about with regard to this topic is how evil is dealt with in the fictional WoW universe. This is likely to be a bit of a ramble and I apologize for that, because I don’t know exactly where I’m going but I think there’s something interesting up ahead.

    Chauvinism in a fictional character is a minor crime. Consider that one of the strongest leaders (and one responsible for, in my view, an inexplicable amount of fan love) is an undead banshee who is trying to destroy every living thing on Azeroth through use of an airborne disease. This is not Deathwing, not someone universally regarded by the game as an evil to be put down. In fact, you can actually roll a toon and pledge allegiance to her and, quite consistently with the scripts given, RP pledge yourself to assist Sylvanas in reaching her goal.

    Put against the evil of Sylvanas, complaining about Ji seems at first to be a little petty. I think that initial impulse is wrong.

    Sylvanas, for whatever it’s worth, is part of a story. Since I don’t play Horde I can’t say I’m eminently qualified to discuss it, but I understand that her actions are part of an argument about the survival of the forsaken’s “way of life”, and her strategies are part of an internal struggle within the Horde over what is necessary to ensure their survival. I don’t buy it — I think she’s unspeakably evil — but I acknowledge that she’s part of a story and others see things a little differently.

    Ji, however? What point is there to making a lecherous panda? There’s no story here. Someone jokingly suggested that there should be a chauvinist panda to make things “more realistic”, and I think it’s a bitter joke. What is the function of Ji being the way he is? Answer that question, and I think you have the answer as to why I and other people find him so problematic.

    He’s that way because people at Blizzard felt it necessary to cater to a demographic that is chauvinistic and sexist. There are people out there who will roll female toons because they think they are cute and then laugh uproariously as they are treated like the objects their creators intended them to be.

    Irrelevant choices reveal priorities. Someone at Blizzard thinks chauvinism sells, just as some people responsible for Blizzcon last year thought rampant homophobia and sexism sold.

    I hope they’re wrong.

    • I totally agree with your comment on catering to a demographic; I believe that is the entire rationale behind MoP. Blizzard has been making World of Warcraft more “child friendly” since the introduction of Burning Crusade with the inclusion of the “pretty” Blood Elves for the Horde and the “monstrous” Draenei for the Alliance. I remember the influx of youngsters into the Horde’s ranks with all their new Blood Elf characters. Plus, Blizzard has been dumbing down the game with every expansion. For example, I remember having to go LOOK for your next flight point. Every time you entered a new village, you had to scout around to see if there was a flight point–now, Blizzard GIVES them all to you as you level. You don’t need to “explore” anything anymore. Unfortunately, World of Warcraft is quickly losing its appeal for me and my wife; we’ve enjoyed most of the past six plus years of playing, but I don’t see us delving into MoP. I don’t want a “kiddie-game”.

  8. I was creeped out by that “can’t keep the boys off you” line as well. Ew. I haven’t been able to really get a feel for Pandaria as the lag was too heavy but I am looking forward to checking it out more.

    And the Kirk Roll ~ oh em gee that is SO COOL~!

    Oceanic~Nagrand

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  11. I’m assuming that the speaker of the offensive dialogue is a male. It would make sense, in that context, for him not to necessarily feel comfortable calling another male “handsome” or whatever equivalent one might prescribe to “gorgeous”. It’s clear that the speaker is thinking from a everyone-is-likely-to-be-heterosexual perspective since they figure opposite sexes are the ones attracted to the person they are speaking to.

    Not being a woman, I’m not a good judge of how a woman should feel about the “I bet you can’t keep the men off you” line, but I can see how the words may read as poorly chosen. It is my understanding though, that many people (not just women or men in particular) enjoy being told they are attractive, or strong, or funny, etc.

    • It isn’t that I don’t like to be called attractive or strong. I love being called that. I do not like being called that in such a weird way by someone I just meet, apropos of nothing. Being defined by your attractiveness to MEN is especially problematic in our current culture, and dragging that kind of dialogue into a video game retains the same creepiness.

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