Cannot Be Tamed: A Questionnaire

Since everyone’s been filling out Jasyla’s really cool gaming questionnaire, I figure I might as well too. This week has been full of shit, so doing something a little less depressing and a little more fun might be in order.

When did you start playing video games?

If I had to be entirely accurate, it’d have to be when I was very little. My parents both worked full-time and would take me to a babysitter where I’d spend my entire day. When I was a little older, I would only be there in the morning and afternoons to catch the bus to school with the other kids and get off the bus there. My babysitter, having to watch a ton of little kids (while also having kids of her own) was smart and did things like let us watch The Princess Bride over and over and when the first Nintendo came out, got one of those. We’d huddle around the controller in the basement and play Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. None of us were good at it at all.

What is the first game you remember playing?

Pong for the Atari. A family friend had an Atari and that is literally the first game I can remember at all, way back when I was 4 years old.

PC or Console? 

PC all the way, mostly because I’ve never owned a console. I’m one of those rare gamers who didn’t have the bright idea to beg her parents for a console. I didn’t understand that that is how video games worked – I could play them at my babysitter’s house and I guess that was enough. When I was finally old enough to purchase one for myself, I had fallen out of keeping up with console video games, meaning I was culturally behind many of my peers until I got into video games on the computer. In the interrim, I had played such vaunted PC titles like Myst and Seventh Guest though. When I finally started playing WoW, that seemed like the easiest method of playing games, since I’d always had a computer.

Shoutout to that “dropping a guy from a parachute onto a haycart” game that was on Apple IIe computers as well as Carmen Sandiego!

XBox, PlayStation, or Wii? 

No one idea. Whatever one plays the best games, I guess? I’ve been considering getting a 3rd or 4th generation console lately and I cannot really discern the difference other than Wii is more for kids/family games from Nintendo.

What’s the best game you’ve ever played? 

I haven’t really played enough to develop a Top 10 list in my head but probably pound for pound the best game is Portal. I feel like it was a cultural touchstone for me in a way other games really haven’t been. Second to that is Gone Home, followed by World of Warcraft.

What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?

Hell Cab. Though a close second is watching my boyfriend play the newer Duke Nukem game.

Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.

Final Fantasy VI, but I am probably not the target market for older turn-based combat RPGs.

Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.

Final Fantasy X-2, which makes no sense if you think about what I literally just answered before this one. The costume changes relating to the classes was really appealing, even if I wasn’t sold on the combat. The story was light and fun and made me forget I was playing a Final Fantasy game.

What are your favourite game genres?

Action adventures, puzzlers, atmospheric/emotives, and sandbox or exploration games. I also love things that are slightly higher on narrative, and slightly lower on combat.

Who is your favourite game protagonist?

Visually, it would have to be Red from Transistor. I love red-headed women characters in most things, even if they are extremely overdone as the “well we need to make a woman look different but we can’t deviate from having only white women in video games” character. As far as character goes, my favorite would have to be Commander Shepard, even if I’ve only played a bit of Mass Effect. The idea of writing a character that is both customizable to the player and also without gender restrictions is really appealing. Though, I’m not sure who plays Commander Shepard as a dude, because I don’t feel that’s really canon at all.

Describe your perfect video game.

It’d have to be something cute with a really gripping story and lots of open-world exploration and also smooching women. I’m not hard to please.

What video game character do have you have a crush on?

  • Red – Transistor
  • Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
  • Commander Marjhan – World of Warcraft
  • Lilian Voss – World of Warcraft
  • Kasumi Goto – Mass Effect, Shadow Broker DLC
  • Kuradoberi Jamu – Guilty Gear X
  • Talim – Soul Calibur
  • Felicia – Darkstalkers
  • NOT WILLOW PAPE

There’s more, I’m sure but I haven’t had a lot of coffee yet. Stay tuned to watch this list mysteriously grow larger.

What game has the best music? 

Right now? Wildstar. Behind that would be World of Warcraft.

Most memorable moment in a game:

Figuring out the ship puzzle in Myst and hearing the ship raise out of the water and turning around to see it come up, with all of its’ Quicktime movie glory.

Scariest moment in a game:

Probably any time my internet connection or computer blacked out without reaching a save point. I don’t really play a ton of scary games. Ever. At all. Glibness aside, maybe the first time I saw Pyramid Head and decided that I really wasn’t a horror game person.

Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:

The letter where Sam tells her sister that her parents pretended like her coming out didn’t even happen in Gone Home. This hit me right in the “feels” for a lot of really personal reasons.

What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Forest Ambassador and any other personal blog that does good critical analysis, like Clockwork Worlds. I don’t visit a lot of websites about games.

What’s the last game you finished?

I am a terrible video game finisher. I do not finish a lot of games. The last one I outright finished was Transistor.

What future releases are you most excited about?

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Splatoon
  • Red Hood Diaries

 Do you identify as a gamer?

That’s a really complex question and while I do in some contexts, I don’t in most others. It’s very hard to couple “feminist” with gamer and not have people look at me sideways or disparage me for my choice of stomping grounds for activism. Gamers have a lot to answer for lately, especially where it concerns women, representation, oppression and misogyny. But the personal is political and so I stick around and try to look at games as a place for media criticism and consciousness raising. But gaming is a hobby to me, not an identity. I’m a feminist woman and that is a far more important identity to carry around with me than gamer.

Why do you play video games?

I play video games for the same reason that I read books, watch movies and TV, and generally interact with media. I love stories, I love new worlds, I love learning things and I love escapism. I like getting caught up in something that is bigger than myself and my singular experiences. I like challenging myself and I like picking apart other people’s ideas. Gaming gives me the ability to mess around with control and narrative in a dedicated space in a way other media doesn’t usually. Interactivity is a novel concept to me.

Ninja Pizza Girl and The Thorny Tangle of Girlhood

As far as indie games go, Ninja Pizza Girl has been on my radar for a while. I saw a video with the creators a while back and it seemed quirky, in a fun sort of way. The idea of an entire family starting their own indie development house is cute, especially with the father’s daughters pitching in to help with story and art. So when Polygon had an op-ed from the creator about the game, I took notice.

The crux of it is Jason Stark, the head of Disparity Games, relating precisely how and why Ninja Pizza Girl came to be. He talks about how the concept came straight from his childrens’ mouths but more importantly he  also describes the stumbles in his own assumptions about not only game design but also about his daughters’ growing vulnerability as they move into teen-hood and beyond. It was a bit of insight that I found intriguing, not so much as a gamer, but rather as a woman. It’s incredibly commonplace that men in the world, even ones closest to us, do not realize that women have these hidden narratives that they’ve never stopped to consider. It never occurs to them that our lives are in any way unique or different from theirs. The idea of relating this back to game design and story development is a smart one. Video games are one of the avenues of interactive media that could do so much better at peeking into the kinds of stories women navigate and centralizing them as important. We’ve seen so much discussion lately about the lack of women protagonists in games as well as a lack of women in the game industry. Allowing more women to be game creators as well as seeing ourselves represented not only reinforces the notion that we are human to the world, but lifts the veil on how our experiences might differ.

It is in this vein that I welcome Ninja Pizza Girl into the world – I believe that teen girls are one of the pockets of womanhood most needing of stories to be told (though I still feel the market is only making baby steps and still trends towards white, affluent and the like). It’s the father’s own admission of fault in taking his wife and children for granted and not listening enough that reminds me of the interview that we did on Justice Points with Fullbright Company’s Steve Gaynor and Karla Zimonja. Steve said that one of the things he took the most care to do when crafting Gone Home‘s narrative was interviewing queer women about being teens, as it was not something he had personal experience with. Jason not taking this tactic from the start is something he admits fault to and through the course of the article, outlines his own steps to rectify this. This is good – men realizing that they need to listen to the women in their lives in order to actually understand them.

It was this listening that informed Jason’s decision to turn the enemy of the story from rival pizza ninjas that you kill to something far scarier – other teens working for a pizza corporation that would tease and humiliate you. The bullying and how you deal with it is what determines how much of the game you spend in a more gray, colorless world of your own depression or in a world full of joy and brighter hues. I find this mechanic, as well as some of the ways the game rewards you for handling it (running away is definitely an option) really interesting. As someone who was very viciously bullied from middle school onward, the idea of centering a game around bullying as not only a narrative struggle but a combat mechanic seems a very unexplored but necessary “hook.” What really woke me up to the fact that being a teen girl now was significantly different than my experience was the mention of the protagonist, Gemma, having to fend off bullies phone-cam recording one of her ultimate embarrassing moments. The cultural touchstone of recording video with your phone is not lost on me, but it shook me out of my own reminiscing. I never, ever had to deal with other people, people who were seeking to hurt me, recording things without my knowledge and distributing them to a very, very large audience. With the recent news of Jada and looking back to something like Steubenville, it’s on my mind that teen girls being brutalized is aided and immortalized by the advent of digital technology. It was literally not something I had to deal with when I was a teen. It feels like more so now than ever, we need to start seeing young women as people and less as props for tormenting.

It was these types of things, along with the story of a parent humiliating a teen girl to suicide on Facebook, that hung around my head as I read. I was wondering if Stark would talk about mens’ role in being both abusers and harassers to teen girls, especially given the opening anecdote, but it never came. It seems the idea of bullies in the game (as well as the article) stops at a generic “other teens” but specifically mentions his own daughters dealing with the politics of other teen girls. This quote specifically jumped out at me:

Little girls start learning psychological games at the age of eight and master them by the age of fifteen.

It specifically refers to his youngest daughter losing some of her female friends due to internal politics, something I think a lot of us can relate to, but Jason lacking an understanding that many of us have now. It was this quote in particular that made me somewhat skeptical of his ability to grasp the subject matter that he was building his game upon.  While he may recognize that the things his daughters are going through actually happen, the larger context for them is missing. It’s a pretty common narrative that women are intensely catty, psychological torturers and “girl bullying” is a phrase I’ve oft heard over the years. With the aid of the Internet, there’s been a lot of scare stories about a bunch of girls smearing the reputation of another girl for some real or imagined slight. What I never heard was recognition of is why this stuff happens; to truly understand why girls bullying each other, you have to admit that sexism is real and is internalized in women from a very early age. When girls hit puberty,  we suck the light out of them. They lose enthusiasm for math, science and just about anything else. They have the world’s sexual expectations thrust upon them without being asked if they want it or understand it. Girls become increasingly hostile and political among each other but it’s for reasons that Stark didn’t note, which implied a well-worn narrative. Girls tear each other down due to internalizing the messages that we as a society tell them every day from the moment we decide they are girls: that they suck. Not only that, but that every other girl is an enemy because there is a valuable and finite resource called “men’s attention.” We reinforce notions that women are catty, will steal your “man” and cause you not to trust them. We teach them to be docile, to not speak up and that their problems aren’t worth hearing about, let alone resolving in a straightforward or assertive manner.  We break them apart because it keeps them compliant and without a support network.

All of these things are why, despite chipping into Ninja Pizza Girl‘s funding, I will be keeping a close eye on how the game will play. Because for all of the things I think it could do right, Jason Stark’s good intentions but ultimate lack of experience with the narrative of growing up as a girl still will be lingering there. I don’t think ill of him for this, but it makes me wonder how this could have been done by someone who had to jump and fly away from her own bullies way back when.

 

[Storify] Sexism and the Need to Call it Ignorance

I’ve started to notice in games journalism that as more and more conversations are had about sexism in the gaming community, the whittling away of what caused it keeps coming up. Game developers blurting out unvarnished opinions about women in video games and women characters are passed off as mere good-natured ignorance because it’s not seen as volatile misogyny. The problem with this is that is doing nothing but lessening the impact of calling it sexist. Intent and feelings do not matter whether a game developer is hurling slurs at women or merely making a statement that misses the mark. Sexism is sexism and we need to address that fact.

I wrote up a Storify regarding why I tackled this topic and it includes a link to the latest article that falls into that rhetorical trap.

This is something we really need to stop doing.

Interlude: Oh, But It Is Social Justice

I know that the dust has barely settled on my post about leaving WoW but I felt the need to say something, especially with this week being E3 and pretty much dropping jewels at my feet to talk about. There’s several large stories that I’d love to cover in more depth (and probably will on Justice Points) but given the lack of time this week, I just wanted to highlight someone who was saying these things, especially regarding Ubisoft’s admission that they did not include a woman in their upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity multi-player (or even as a main protagonist).

Ashelia is someone I don’t agree with sometimes, but I feel this article in particular hits a lot of right notes. The only thing I really disagree with though is this:

Honestly, it’s not even about women’s rights or so-called social justice at this point, either.

I hate criticizing women in games journalism but I feel this sentence really bears harping upon. I don’t want to speculate about why this was put here, but this is a common admission from quite a few women over the years. This isn’t unique to just Ashelia’s work, basically. But it is pretty untrue, in my opinion. I get not wanting to be seen as one of those “crazy” “feminists” that scream and cry about inclusion in video games, despite espousing feminist virtues for the other thousand words in the article. Not embracing that identity is someone’s choice, but to say that not including women in video games isn’t a women’s rights or is “so-called” social justice (by the way, social justice is an academic term that became more popular in the 1970s but has roots in pre-20th century discourse) is just flat out wrong in my eyes.

People seem to want to restrain caring about women to a couple of subjects like voting rights, the wage gap and possibly parental leave but do not think it includes media representation. As someone who has been hammering on these topics for almost four years now, I say that it does! How we feel about ourselves, whether we see ourselves as important absolutely demands that we see ourselves in the media we consume. It validates ideas that people internalize – if you fail to include women (or people of color, disabled people, trans people, etc) you are saying that they are not important, that their stories are less worthy of recognition. The fact that video games is one of the fastest growing forms of media (as well as experienced by an audience that’s 48% women) means that this absolutely is a crucial place for representation and diversity. This means that it is absolutely a social justice issue.

—-

This week has kinda gotten away from me, but I wanted to just say that I will be tackling some of E3′s offerings in the coming days.

Goodbye (For Now, In This Particular Way)

ais-mountain2

It’s not the end, not really.

A lot has changed since even the last blog post here. Funny how things can spin off of orbit when you’re not looking, but I need to be honest, I’ve been slowly rolling out of Warcraft’s gravity for the past 6 months or so. What makes me sad is that I didn’t want this to be the way it all fell apart – I wanted that day to be graceful and far off in the future, when I was good and ready to put the game away because I had outgrown it, that it no longer satisfied me and I wanted to move on to something else. What’s sad about that is that honestly, a bitter and slow decline would have been easier to brush off. Being forcibly ejected from something I have loved for so long means I look back on all the time I spent with regret and my present time now with confusion. I was moderately happy before Blizzcon, even with some of the problematic behavior. But it’s hard to take a good look at a property and realize that you don’t really factor into it at all, no matter how happy you’ve been in that world.

I know some people have called me “toxic” or “extreme” in terms of my particular strain of feminist critique, but at the end of the day, I am a nerd just like the rest of you and feeling shunted off to the side awakens some pretty old, dismal feelings. I have played World of Warcraft for 9+ years because I really and truly loved it. I became friends with my now-boyfriend here, I was part of the same guild that I first joined in Vanilla until now. I have thousands of screenshots, memories and achievements. I was a World of Warcraft player long before I was truly a feminist. I met amazing women via this game and it’s what lead me down that path in the first place. So in that way, the intense irony of that ideology making me realize that video games are still a hostile and alien place for marginalized people is not lost on me.

It’s just sad.

Still, I can’t say World of Warcraft is a bad game. It’s not. If it was, I wouldn’t have stuck around for so long. It has a great many stories and places that I wish I could relive over and over. It has a lot of people who worked on it/are working on it that truly love the franchise and truly put an amazing amount of effort into it and have made me feel like part of the community. To Tseric, Caydiem, Ghostcrawler, Nethaera, Zarhym, Terran Gregory, and Helen Cheng, thank you for making my tenure with Warcraft so pleasant. Even though some of you haven’t been at Blizzard for a while, your presence left an indelible mark on me.

To my guild, Northrend Commonwealth, I will miss you. Granted, I have most of you friended on Twitter and I suspect we’re going to be friends well into our twilight years, but you made being in a guild amazing. Not just present members, but everyone who helped me out from when I was just a tiny mage wearing INT/SPI gear (back when that wasn’t good, before it was good, then bad again). To my raid team who took me to Molten Core and beyond. To everyone who showed up on the guild’s doorstep four years ago and made it what it is today.

To everyone in the World of Warcraft community, I salute you. You have made my time as a Warcraft blogger and podcaster special and it’s been wonderful getting to break down the game with you all, sharing the highs and the lows. Some of you don’t particularly like me much, but I see it much like being a family, except now I’m not innately responsible for your well-being. Maybe I never was.

That screenshot up there was taken in 2006, after I had started raiding Onyxia and Molten Core. Featured is Bunny, my first epic mount and second mount ever. I spent so much time grinding out Ironforge rep with runecloth and Alterac Valley just to get you, and you are still one of my favorite mounts, even though I haven’t ridden you in a long time. I figured it’d be fitting to go out the same way I came in, in the spot I promised myself I’d settle Aislinana down in for a long winter’s sleep. I used to climb around here when I was level 10 and it was impossible to get up here unless you were a good wall-climber and jumper. I used to take people here and it was my special spot. Now anyone can fly up here but I still consider it a place that’s just uniquely mine. Funny how that works.

I tried really hard to believe that if I was a strong enough person, it could fix things. The world is far more complicated than that.

Anyways, I’ve put off the inevitable with more words that necessary. I will see you folks around. The blog is staying, even if I will not be covering Warcraft explicitly anymore. I will still be around, for better or worse. You’re not rid of me yet. This was just a eulogy for something that should have never died.

WoWScrnShot_061114_063826

 

- Nico, otherwise known as Aislinana the Gnome

 

 

 

Draenor Rock City: The Exclusionary Nature of Nerd Cool

Tzufit and Apple Cider look forlornly at the Dark Portal.

Written by Apple Cider Mage and Tzufit

If you had asked us last week what sorts of things Blizzard could do that might make us feel like World of Warcraft isn’t a game for us, we might have made some comment about treatment of female characters or perhaps the ongoing sexism that women face from other players. We probably wouldn’t have said, “They could make a show about middle-aged men designing motorcycles.” So when Blizzard dropped the announcement that they were partnering with American Choppers for a strange web-series that would document a competition to design a sick motorcycle as an in-game mount (what, another one?), we were glad that we weren’t the only ones going, “huh?”

The more we thought about it, this confused us because it was yet another tone-deaf offering that pushed us farther and farther away from World of Warcraft. Jokes about mid-life crises aside, it’s hard to be excited about the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion and WoW in general when you feel like you don’t belong there.

Because WoW is an MMORPG, feeling as if you belong in the world is exceptionally important, arguably more so than in any other genre of video game. In years past, we have drawn our excitement for new expansions by thinking about the things that our characters will do and see, the places they will explore, and the new challenges that we, as players, will experience. In recent weeks, people who used to see themselves as curious about the world we are about to inhabit now have a hard time picturing themselves there. We find ourselves traveling to an alien world, and yet the alienation we feel comes not from Draenor but instead from the people who have created it.

While we cannot know precisely who has their hands in every pie at Blizzard, it seems like the public faces and taste-makers of World of Warcraft often gravitate around fairly similar themes that they consider “cool.” Draenor, more so than any other expansion, feels saturated in these ideas, despite protests to the contrary. The particular rally point in this case has indubitably been Y’rel, a strong Alliance Joan of Arc-type. Yet, everything we’ve seen thus far, from new extra beefy mob models to some alpha dialogue is oriented around a hyper-masculine world that is brutal, savage (as we have been told ad nauseum) and inexplicably full of rock star pyrotechnics. When we saw the art piece of all of the warlords lined up like a gruesome metal band, there was an emotional distance between Chris Metzen eagerly throwing up the horns and us looking on in confusion. We’ve seen fun and goofy inclusion of these ideas before, but the tone now feels very serious; it’s a weaponized barrage of these concepts to the exclusion of everything else.

This nerdy (but still male) idea of “coolness” isn’t a unique problem to Blizzard. Big creator names in nerd culture are still predominantly male, which has been true since long before “nerd” and “geek” were a persistent cultural identity. You have Tolkien, Lucas, Martin, Whedon and, for our purposes, Metzen. Nerd-dom has been retconned into a male space, a refuge for the those who did not fit the traditional image of masculinity, but who enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons and got thrown into lockers because of it. The duality of this background is that for all of the underdog position that nerd men have had most of their lives, many of them still enjoy the benefits of a patriarchal culture that nurtures and comforts their tastes and desires, often to the tune of millions of dollars. For a group of outcasts, loners and misfits, they have, especially in the 2000s, enjoyed a renaissance period. When you combine that with a fairly critical ignorance (or even outright hostility) to other people who are not considered the marketable norm, your fantasy world, much less are suddenly devoid of people outside of that nerd paradigm.

The problem with nerd culture and the belief that only men are considered creators is that it reinforces that the only stories worth caring about are for men, by men, and in a way that is cool to other men. It’s a rigid set of interests that tends to not consider much else outside of it. The worlds themselves sometimes involve a realism and grittiness that is at best, voyeuristic – it’s easy to insert things into a fantasy world to make it more real when it’s not a reality you have to confront on a regular basis. All of this is nerd men and their creations revolving around power and cachet – the stoic, grizzly hero flanked by compatriots and female love interests. In the case of Blizzard, a lot of it looks like muscular brutes, heroes of light and rock guitars.

What seems apparent to us is that some of Blizzard’s content creators are still finding the same things cool at 40 that they did at 15, and though their customer base has matured, their interests are showing their age. No one faults content creators for having inspirations, but when you achieve a level of success that allows you to create content for literally millions of people all over the world, isn’t it reasonable to ask that your inspirations grow to reflect the diversity of your audience? It seems equally reasonable to expect that this is not only something Blizzard should consider but rather something they for which should actively strive.

How we’ve seen people typify this cultural problem within Blizzard and throughout Warlords of Draenor is one of marketing, and we don’t believe that that’s entirely the case. Marketing is a symptom of the problem. The primary issue is a concept and an atmosphere that people are struggling to see themselves in. Is it so terrible to ask for inclusion? Is it so terrible to be afforded even a fraction of the same consideration that a particular segment of nerds have enjoyed for years in WoW? Our standards are not unreasonable; in fact, we might go so far as to call them incredibly low. While active inclusion of diverse women in Warcraft’s story may be the ideal, in the past we have at least been able to say that WoW does not actively exclude us. Recently, that seems to be less and less true. It feels like WoW has been moving backwards (now quite literally) in some places with how women are characterized or talked about, those failures buoyed by the few small successes we’ve enjoyed since then. For every five minutes Jaina is allowed to be a competent leader, we have many more moments of women being killed, hurt, married off or otherwise left behind.

There’s such a spectrum of problems that surround both the women in the story and the audience that it’s hard to list them all. The problem now is how to deal with these revelations about Blizzard and the game we’ve been enjoying for so many years. Loud, vociferous criticism only works when we are able to make headway, and the road to Warlords has so far been littered with increasingly insurmountable obstacles.

Much is still unknown about the new expansion at this point. Alpha and beta often provide key contextual clues to the overall direction an expansion is headed and we acknowledge that there have been exceptionally long dry spells in between updates since Blizzcon. It’s easy to feel like small, select issues make up a larger percentage of future content than may prove to be the case. Historically, alpha and beta have been periods when we’ve seen that critical analysis can and does create change and improvement in Warcraft. Yet, for the moment, we don’t know how to align ourselves with Blizzard’s visionaries because their ideas don’t seem to include us.

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.

 

 

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Diablo III Crusaders

A Crusader stands on the log on screen, clad in gold and white holy armor.

In case you haven’t been paying attention this week, but Diablo III: Reaper of Souls dropped. I have written about my time spent with this pleasant hack-and-slash game before, and it has been mostly positive and about how fun the game is. I had put it down for a while to focus on Mists of Pandaria but their pre-expansion patch 2.0 dragged me back with all of the quality of life changes. The expansion is no less engaging so far, as well.

What Diablo III: Reaper of Souls introduced, along with the new story quest content and Adventure Mode is a new class called the Crusader. A previously small branch of holy warriors that follow the religion of Zakarum, they are pious defenders that rid the world of sin and demonic activity. They apparently are similar to the paladins of Diablo II, but my own investigation into this has yielded at least one glaring question: why are they so white?

The thought that prompted to look into this class’ possible beginnings was wondering why Crusaders wouldn’t look like Tyrael’s human self versus the great white-haired-and-blue-eyed woman that stands on my logon screen.

Tyrael in the Reaper of Souls cinematic.

Tyrael (voiced by Jonathan Adams) is a fallen angel of the Heavens who is portrayed in the cinematic as well as his in-game portrait as black. Wouldn’t it make at least a clever bit of sense to have the newly minted Crusaders be made in the visage of Diablo III‘s most holy knight? It’s not like the game isn’t lacking other black and brown characters at this point, though the problem is that up until this point in Diablo III‘s career, the witch doctors are not exactly something I’d call a positive portrayal of black people. Witch doctors, although entirely fun as a game class, are black people that are styled in a way that is built on incredibly racist tropes.

When I started looking into Diablo’s history with other black characters, this was brought up to me:

Upon looking at the Diablo II wiki, this became pretty obvious. Paladins and Crusaders are both warriors of Zakarum. It would make both aesthetic and narrative sense to have the two classes look similar. The fact that how Crusaders look now is remarkably different from how they should have looked is touched on in-game. There’s a lore book in Reaper of Souls explaining why this occurred (somehow) as the crusaders split off from other holy orders to go East (which ignores things like how migration doesn’t magically turn you from black to lily white in a rapid fashion).

The Crusaders of the present also differ physically from their forebears—Abd al-Hazir referred to them as “tall blonde warriors,” very different from their Kehjistani forefathers.[10] While these Crusaders still bear the name of their forefathers, they are ethnically of Sanctuary’s far east rather than Kehjistan.[7]

Diablo 3 Wiki

There’s also the problem where it is intimated that the Crusaders split off due to their purity and zealousness and immunity to corruption that paladins never had that bothers the living heck out of me. It reads very oddly to have a holy order that is “ethnically different” from darker forebears but is also fabulously more pure. How does only a handful of generations of holy warriors manage to become a crusader of a different color if they are typically loners with only an apprentice? I wonder.

Even if none of this lore was particularly threadbare and bizarre on the subject of religious soldiers, there’s still the matter that often fantasy bases it’s portrayal of divine holy people as light and bright, skin color entirely in line with this. Seeing black or brown Crusaders in the vein of the paladins of yore would have gone a long way to shaking up the makeup of Diablo’s classes and unoriginal fantasy palettes even further. While it is commendable that they’ve done a handful of things differently than other games in this vein, perhaps, they’ve done not nearly enough and done a few things hideously wrong.

I get that maybe Blizzard got hyped on a tall, blonde Joan of Arc warrior woman type and while it’s cool to see them develop a woman character as the driving force behind a creative endeavor but the fact that she was yet another conventionally beautiful, blonde warrior woman in a long line of them in fantasy as an acceptable “strong” woman visage was nothing new. They missed out on a logical, fairly necessary place to honor some of Diablo’s older lore as well as create more characters that aren’t white.

Mini-Post: A How-To With Diablo’s Community Feature

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls just dropped and one of the features that came with it (or rather, the Loot 2.0 patch) was the “Community”.

What are Communities?

Communities in Diablo are social groups that users can create and connect to in the game. They operate similarly to clans in that they have their own news page, ranks and private chat channel but unlike clans, you can be a part of several at a time. Think of it like an extended clan that’s based around things that aren’t just about Diablo! There’s communities for people that read certain webpages, local town communities and anything else you can think of.

I was excited to hear about this feature once I found out about it. I’m an extremely social person and the idea that I could hang out with lots of people who weren’t in my clan and chat about things was really neat.

How Do I Join One?

join-button

When you hop into game, go over to the bottom right of your UI and use the Communities button. (You can also access it by using default Shift + O!)  From there, you can hit the “Find” button and start searching for any community you could think of by language, subject or filter by name. You could even start a community of your own.

filter

Some communities have a little envelope by their name, that means you need to be invited to join. You can apply to join and see if you’re accepted.

I’m in! …Now What?

Once you have joined a community, get to mingling! The easiest way to do this is to join a community’s chat. Now, at the moment, chat is not “stickied” to keep you logged into it whether you leave the game or not. It’s different from WoW in that respect, so you have to rejoin every time you log into the game. You could be missing important or fun stuff if you forget this, but I hope that this is a bug and they fix it eventually.

Joining chat (or leaving) is pretty easy. Open your Community panel again:

join-chat

This logs you into your community’s chat so you can see what everyone is saying. The little red icon means you aren’t connected. And if you want to leave for some reason? Just click that button again.

Sightless Eye

As for my own communities, I started one for anyone who wanted a feminist/safe space to hang out and talk to people in Diablo III. It’s called “Sightless Eye” (which is what you’d search for in the Find panel) and has a handful of people right now. We mostly just shoot the breeze while demolishing demons, but if you want to come party with us, join!

And just remember to rejoin chat every time you hop in game! See you in Sanctuary!

A Letter to Blizzard Regarding Rape

Content warning: This letter is going to talk pretty openly and specifically about rape, sexual assault and coercive sexual acts. If this is triggering, please skip this post. 

The only thing I thought when people started “speculating” that Y’rel might be Garona’s mother somehow in Darkest Timeline Draenor was, “Jesus christ, not again.” Despite the fact that I don’t find that story plausible given what I saw in the Warlords demo (if anything, it’d be Y’rel’s sister), the content potentially provided would be all too familiar. It’s really been a huge bugbear of my Warcraft career that so much of the game and tie-in books have introduced a lot of dark, sexually violent content.  Given Warcraft’s announcements that AU!Draenor would be more dark and “savage”, I am terrified if that means we’re going to return to even more of the hints of grimdark, gritty “realism” we’ve seen pop up in WoW since around Wrath. Why do I believe that this is going to involve rape and sexual violence? Look at the setting and look at what things we’ve encountered before in the Warcraft universe. Most of it has never been explicitly shown or described (thank god) but it doesn’t take much thought to see what has been going on in-between the lines, or hidden behind the veil of euphemistic language.

So yes, if you’ve never thought about it at great length before, here is what I’m saying: Warcraft has a rape problem. It’s not immediate, it’s not usually happening to characters in the game but it’s there, implied, talked around and gestured at vaguely. Forced pregnancy or attempts at forced breeding happening to Alexstrasza and Kirygosa, other red dragons? That’s rape. Mind-controlled sex slaves in Black Temple? Rape. Keristrasza being forcefully taken as a consort for Malygos? That’s rape (And we kill her later too.) Half-orc and -draenei children being born out of prisoner camps? Probably rape (Inmate and guard relations are not consensual.)  Mogu quests where they tell their buddies to “have their way” with us as prisoners? It might not have been intended that way, but that is euphemistic language for rape as well.

I’m so mad about this, if you couldn’t tell.

It’s really hard as a rape and sexual assault survivor to look at a fantasy world I have spent almost 10 years inhabiting still have darkness like this lurking around the corners. More than anything else that’s problematic in the game (and there is quite a few things), I have a hard time dealing with yet another potential fantasy world that Blizzard has concocted where I might once again have to face a reality where Warcraft has rape victims in it. It’s a huge trope and motif in fantasy, particularly of the more “grimdark” or gritty variety. It is a conceit where authors say that it makes the world more “realistic” and therefore, by their logic, better. In a worse case scenario, some authors and writers (a lot of whom have never experienced this) even use it as a cheap “this is how we break a woman down before we build her back up to be strong” trope. Or they joke about it as a metaphor without concern that this is someone’s life they are talking about. Rape is not a fantasy concept. It is not some far-off happenstance because we live in a just world where it stopped existing. Rapists go free. Rapists do it without concern or even recognizing that they are responsible. Some of us have to live or see or be near people who have raped us. A lot of times, rapists are people who have a lot of power over others. The list goes on. It is very fully a reality that many, many people live with. As someone who lives in this reality perpetually, where I’m never ever going to be quite safe no matter where I go, I could do less of that and more with a fluffy, lighter fantasy world where maybe my character would be considered safe. Not even due to the fact that she has magic and anyone trying something like that would easily be burned alive, but just due to the fact that rape and coercion wouldn’t even exist.  (While we’re asking for impossible things, can I tack torture on there too?)

I get it, people are going to tell me that “This is a fantasy story about war! We murder people by the droves! Why aren’t you bothered by that?” As far as I know, I have not slaughtered people by the thousands. I am not cruel to wild animals. I have, with only one exception, never seen anyone being violently killed or die. But I have, on a regular basis, been fondled, flashed, groped, as well as lived through both rape and sexual assault. On top of that, I’ve been in many more situations where I just did things I didn’t want to just not deal with the person demanding them. This is a persistent thing for some people, in our world. A lot of us never feel safe, and coming to the gaming community, where “rape” is a term tossed around in PVP, to even our fantasy games dragging in sexual assault, violence and torture, you can’t even leave it behind for an hour or two in the evenings.

Granted, Warcraft has done a good job not having it immediately up in front of our face but as anyone who’s read my blog on a regular basis knows, it’s still there. I’m asking that maybe now, before we travel to a new Draenor, that maybe it’s an alternate universe where this kind of awful, emotionally destructive shit doesn’t happen. It’s tiring. It makes coming back to Warcraft unnerving and upsetting and feeling like my desires don’t matter. It perpetually taints a place that has been, over the years, fairly supportive of both my real life and my fantasy experiences. I’ve met great guildmates, had fun in raids and seen amazing places. But every time people start speculating or I read yet another tie-in novel that mentions forced pregnancy, I feel gross all over again.

It’s not fun, it’s not fair to a lot of us, and it shouldn’t be some injected part of a fantasy story, point blank. There’s ways and means of putting it into a story that don’t make it cheap or only for spice, that don’t add it to a list of a character’s attributes like you would with “enjoys long walks” or “fought in the Third War.” But most of all, if you can’t do it right, maybe not do it at all? So many other places have enough of it that Warcraft skipping it from now on would not bother me a single solitary bit.