April Fool’s Jokes and Perfect Storms

Draenei priest drawing.

Taking a page from Vidyala and posting my own draenei art.

At the risk of stirring things up even further, I want to talk about why the fake Artcraft presented by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team was the worst possible joke to make at the worst possible time.  I hope people don’t think I am going to debate the relative offensiveness of it; I am not because I do think it was offensive and I know there’s better people that have been talking about it rather than myself. No, rather, we’re going to talk about what made everything so much worse.

I know the title talks about “perfect storms” in that it was a confluence of several factors coming together, but let’s abandon that particular metaphoric imagery for a second. Imagine a giant field full of grass. In this scenario, World of Warcraft’s assembled community of fans are the grass.

It’s been a drought since Blizzcon. We’ve been fairly starved on concrete updates on the expansion’s progress. We’ve seen some model update Artcrafts, some dev watercoolers, but no beta, no big news and only minor progress on everything else. Bigger sites like Wow Insider or Wowhead news are scraping for content and opting to talk about Blizzard’s other releases like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls or Heroes of the Storm. We’ve grown pretty dry and bitter about the expansion the longer we don’t hear about it. It’s a pretty unusual method given how long we’ve been marinating in Pandaria’s last content patch. It would be easier to deal with if we had the new expansion to look forward to on the horizon but it’s been pretty dust and tumbleweeds thus far.

In this field, imagine a couple piles of goblin bombs laid haphazardly on the ground, hidden among the tall weeds. These are the issues a lot of us have had with the potential content of the expansion: lack of positive female character representation, expectations of more grimdark “gritty” realism, and the inevitable “boys trip” that we heard about at Blizzcon. There’s a lot of worries among some of us regarding how enjoyable we will find the questing and story experiences of this new expansion. While Ji Firepaw was a net positive, what lurks in the water for Warlords?

On top of that, the air is dry. Fans are looking for anything to digest or keep their attention. Our community is tied between forums, social media, blogs and anyone we play with in-game. We spend a lot of time nitpicking, dissecting and debating. Given the lack of information thus far, it’s mostly speculation. People are anxious.

Then you toss out the equivalent of a lit match on all of that and you have an explosive, incendiary wildfire on your hands. The models make people feel awful about themselves or angry at Blizzard. The blog text makes fun of all sorts of women and pokes at things like incest and twerking. It comes on the heels some other April Fools jokes that while bizarrely problematic, are also funny. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It riles up people who only want “real” content. It makes everyone who was worried about problematic content feel even more unsettled about their gut feelings. The community goes into an uproar: those who found it funny, those who didn’t, and people who think the “not funny” people are giant babies. The explosions that occur over any sexist content go about as well as expected now that everyone is in on the discussion.

Pulling myself back far enough from my feelings about women being mocked at a time like this (not intended maliciously, of course) means I look at why this happened. Is this a cultural problem within Blizzard? Did everyone think this would have a positive impact and anyone who didn’t not get to speak? Were they overruled? Who looked at this before it went live? We’re not talking about a developer being caught off-guard and speaking close to his chest, but something that was written, edited and arranged for publishing on the front page. Models were created specifically for this. It makes me wonder.

Sometimes thinking about the mechanics and anatomy of a controversy keeps me from getting too upset about the thorny emotional center, but even if you know how a disaster came to be, it doesn’t help you deal with the aftermath.

 

 

8 Responses

  1. I don’t quite get people who say, they can’t understand your feelings. It doesn’t matter, if men were treated likewise by Blizzard. If something’s unjust, it can be so for both genders and everyone and still be wrong.

    But I am sincerely convinced that our generation does better than any before. Maybe it’s, because I am from Europe, but I started playing with a female raid leader and it didn’t feel wrong or strange at any time. She did well, she did well enough to hold our raid group together, when she’d been mobbed by our then-current guild and therefore left, so we all (or the people, who did matter) left.

    In my social environment, women are generally treated as on par with men. We talk to each other about our problems, we ask each other for help, no matter what gender we have. And although that of course isn’t everything we have to accomplish, it’s the core of everything, to understand each other as feeling and rational beings. I think…

    I appreciate your article.

  2. Pingback: Blizzard playing butt-naked Twister | The Chindividual

  3. While the timing was off for that particular joke, the more problematic issue that occurs to me is why people in the office even thought that was funny; more specifically, why people didn’t voice concern about it as being “wrong time, wrong place” and going with a softer, more iconic joke.

    I’m leaning towards the assumption that everyone has just been too busy with WoD, that somebody leaned over on whoever’s desk that was responsible for the female Draenei and for whatever reason they started cracking up from tiredness and thought it would be a great joke. I bet half of the office wasn’t even clued in, they were so busy with trying to get the alpha ready.

    • As far as I can tell, Blizzard has a lot of people that things have to go through in order for them to go out to the public. So I doubt some of your theory, unfortunately.

  4. not to mention the ableism in implying that the model’s “derp” eyes are ugly and couldn’t be anything other than a joke.

    • We actually cover this topic (ableism) more in depth on next week’s (Tuesday’s) Justice Points episode if you wanted to listen in to the news portion.

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