Warlords of Draenor: The Dark Portal is the New Glass Ceiling

Happy gnome shouting Ladies! In Warcraft!

Drawing by Paululum, aka @Doodlegnome.

Let’s go back, way back to an alternate timeline. It’s Blizzcon 2013 and we’re in a world that seems similar to our own. It’s moments before Chris Metzen announces the next expansion. Suddenly the screen changes and the now-familiar logo goes up. Relatively little is changed. It is called Wars of Draenor.  Metzen strides across the stage, the heady determination evident in his face. He unveils a piece of concept art that has him nearly squeeing with excitement – a large digital fresco in shades of brown and red. Present is our antagonist Garrosh, his right hand Zaela and the assembled orc lords. It looks as much of a motley crew as any metal band. 

But then he regales us with a second mural – the combined might of Azeroth as we know it rushing to meet on the battlefield. There’s a righteous female draenei champion leading the charge for the Alliance and for the Horde, there’s Aggra and Thrall, Draka and Durotan. We see Varian, Jaina, Moira, Tyrande, Malfurion, Vol’jin, Sylvanas, Gelbin Mekkatorque, Velen and Maraad, Lor’themar, Genn Greymane, Gallywix and Baine Bloodhoof. All of our races’ leaders are present and accounted for along with many of our valiant champions. We are going to stand tall against Garrosh and his Iron Horde.

We see ourselves reflected in this art and we get jazzed at the mysterious hints of characters we’ve met briefly before or new ones that look exciting and powerful. 

When the the lore panel takes place, a fan asks Metzen about what Aggra’s role in the expansion will be as she was seen in the opening announcement. Metzen laughs and wryly remarks, “Who do you think is going to help lead the Horde in this familiar world? Thrall? He’s never lived here!” 

As much as I would love it, we don’t live in that timeline. Let’s talk about what actually occurred and why it is so important.

If you don’t read World of Warcraft blogs or Twitter, maybe you missed the heated discussion that’s been going on about how the marketing and potential story choices were being handled regarding Warlords of Draenor from its debut at Blizzcon this year. Chris Metzen as well as another influential member of the Dad Crimes crew Dave Kosak, seemed to paint a pretty male-centric vision of Warlords that left many people with a bad taste in their mouth. If this was the opening salvo of the newest Blizzard product, why weren’t there more women involved in the offerings?

What further drove the wedge in between the developers and fans was Chris Metzen during the lore panel answering to a fan’s question about what Aggra would be doing and he alluded to the fact that she wouldn’t be there because it was a “boys trip.” While I think this was a moment of sheer Metzen-level exuberance that didn’t properly filter itself, it definitely left a profound impact on people already confused or bewildered by the expansion reveal. Here was someone at the top of the creative development for our beloved game joking around that going to Draenor was akin to a bunch of dudes packing their axes like rods and heading back into the Dark Portal for a beer-fueled fishing trip. It rang as a poor attempt at a joke but it, unbeknownst to Chris, created a rallying point for fans, women in particular, that was on a level with “Hush, Tyrande.” It’s much easier to start picking apart sexism and character representation in World of Warcraft when you are given such moments that are so overt and show such a lack of understanding and consideration for your audience’s makeup.

While I believe Metzen (or even Kosak by extension with all of his “savage” talk) to be a fairly well-meaning guy, the fact of the matter is the comment underscores a lot of what usually inserts problematic content or creates a problematic vacuum of certain key building blocks of a fantasy world you want to make. It’s a small group of people (in this case, the men on stage) being excited by things and forgetting that we’re not all jazzed up about seeing metalhead orcs go back in time to cleave things in twain with other orc dudes. It’s fun and cool to Metzen, who ultimately gets to revisit a potent and fun time in his writing career, but it doesn’t seem to take some of us along for the ride in quite the same way. This is where I feel the real disconnect is occurring: not that I truly believe Warlords of Draenor will be entirely absent of cool women characters (I’ll talk more about this later) but that main figures of creative development presenting the story to us didn’t feel it necessary to talk about most of them except only briefly.

It’s confusing for two reasons, one, because we literally just came from a world that is as close to an idyllic meritocracy as World of Warcraft will ever have (Pandaren) and two, because there doesn’t even seem to be very solid logic for why Aggra in particular wouldn’t be there. It’s this moment of non-consideration for the idea that a Draenor native mama wouldn’t be present to show her son the planet she grew up on that gives us pause because it isn’t particularly just about her but shoots an arrow straight into the larger problem of being overlooked or under-considered by some of the top dogs in creative development. World of Warcraft has, up until this point, been moving forward in both its’ lore and story with regards to representation and so it feels like whiplash to see this being the initial offering we’re given.

Though, if I think hard enough, we can look back again how even Mists of Pandaria was presented to viewers initially and extrapolate that when it comes to selling people on their expansions, Blizzard really doesn’t give a hoot about ladies. No matter how much progress you make in making a world that has tons of really enjoyable, memorable and complex women characters in it, when the wrapping paper on the whole she-bang (heh) still looks dominated by men, you find yourself more and more unwilling to open it. So in this aspect, you could say that this just a marketing problem and not a story problem. I think that’s fairly close to the truth, but despite this being an issue with how they want to sell an expansion, it does have an effect on the story after all.

This is is why, going back to the “boys trip” quote, Aggra’s seeming non-inclusion in the story is such a big deal. When women are not considered for being played up as a cool fixture of your story to your audience from the outset, you might find yourself overlooking them in other places. The idea of Thrall going ahead to lead the Horde with his parents without his wife or his kid says a lot more about how creative development wants to talk about fathers and families versus motherhood and the like. And it’s weird, as someone who is not a mom, but knows plenty of them who play. (I am going to address more of this in a later post, so just hang onto your pants.)

Does this ultimately mean that I believe that the expansion is going to feature no women at all? Absolutely not. Like I said, Mists of Pandaria, once we got into the meat of the story, featured many moments where I felt women had their role to play in both the overhanging story arc (see Isle of Thunder patch with Jaina and Vereesa) as well as the day-to-day stories that we see in the Pandaren people or even something like the Klaxxi. I felt that both narrative and quest development teams did a really good job creating a world that was seamlessly egalitarian, even if we crash-landed on their shores with war in our hearts and sometimes less nuanced character development. Pandaren gave us a world where all of the women were equal participants in everything, whether it was protecting the land, working it or being diplomatic entities. It wasn’t just strong women like Suna Silentstrike, but women that were humble, quiet or nuanced in some other way. And I felt that it rubbed off on even some of our regular Azerothian  sisters. Because of that, I have a cautious optimism that Warlords is going to have just as many orc and draenei women filling in the gaps that we didn’t get to see in the opening cinematic, not just as brave champions of the Light (like the hotly speculated Yrel) but as complex personalities all over the place.

It’s because of this faith that I feel fully ready to rebut criticisms of those criticisms by saying that it is “too early” to know what is going to be happening in the story with regards to the women. Sure, it absolutely is too early and there’s definitely going to be cool powerful women present in the story of Draenor. (Again, Yrel seems to be held up for this a lot, and I can see why.) The problem is that because of the disconnect in marketing, because we are at this very initial point in the on-going reveal of the expansion, there absolutely needs to be unpacking and discussion and critical awareness. By getting ahead of more permanent story decisions now with our feedback, we stand a greater chance of having a profound impact on seeing ourselves in the story we love so much. This is really the beating heart of the problem, of why this omission felt so glaring. People love Warcraft, a lot of us women love Warcraft. We want to love Warcraft not just as the characters we build up in our heads as complex or nuanced, but to see our stories reflected in the ones that the company creates. Representation matters and the sooner we can have this discussion and make sure that we have a stake in that representation, so much the better. Blizzard has made very large strides in both its’ creative development teams and community management teams to ask for and receive feedback from us, the players. Not just on things like balance issues, obviously, but how we feel about where the story is going, what kinds of things are expressed and are we excited about them.

Feedback is crucial. Blizzard has let us know that it listens to the community and is willing to make changes should they feel that criticism is both substantive and will improve the game. Representation is also crucial. Our media affects and informs our lives and leaving a lot of different groups out of the story (not just women, but queer people, people of different genders, races, etc.) has a subtle but penetrating effect on the people who consume this media, namely us.

In her post about the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and QPOC representation on PolicyMic, Zainab Akande succinctly delivers why this is such a big deal:

“Why does this matter? Because media representation matters. Why does media representation matter? Because the media is a pretty central force and plays a vital role in society at large. Mass media in particular has the power to change or reinforce the habits of its consumers. It also aids in constructing worldviews of its consumers by reproducing reality— to an extent. Perception is the name of the game and it’s difficult to perceive what is non-existent — or in the case of POC and LGBTQ characters, severely lacking compared to the real world the diversity scale.”

If your game doesn’t gesture even a tiny bit at the important stories of 50% of the population that is both playing your game as well as participants in your story in the first offerings you serve to your public, you’re not doing a very good job. Not only in selling a product to as wide of an audience as possible, but in selling a product that has more of a dramatic influence than the work that has come before.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so cautiously hopeful that the chefs stirring the pot that is narrative and quest design in Warlords know what they are doing. Going back in time, not just figuratively for the purposes of the story, but literally, to an earlier time in Blizzard’s game development is precarious. While I understand that Warcraft is where many of the great women leaders of World of Warcraft spawned (Tyrande, Jaina, Sylvanas), going back to a place that feels less unconcerned with what we’ve learned in the past 10 years of gaming with regards to diversity feels tricky at best. So while the excitement is here because we’re getting to finally see a world that was merely hinted at in both Warcraft and World of Warcraft’s lore, a lot of us are feeling somewhat hesitant that it will do due diligence in being a past we want to visit for the first time. The story feels very male-dominated for multiple reasons, as I said, and by going back to it, we might lose ourselves in a timeline that feels unconcerned with the rest of us. However, much like Warcraft then and Warcraft now, we cannot ignore that all of these things are choices. Choices made by the writers, by the developers, and by people like Metzen and Kosak themselves. Fantasy not including women isn’t historically accurate, it’s just repeating sexist storytelling whole-cloth, most of the time due to the lack of perspective that some of their very male authors seem to have. We need to not only look forward to the work of the women who undoubtedly comprise the story development team, but let Blizzard know that everyone working on the game’s look, feel and narrative that they should make a world that all of us here in the present, would want to go back and save. Not only just as characters in WoW’s story, but as video game players in general.

Other posts on this topic:

*in case it wasn’t very evident, the title was written in jest.

Blizzcon 2013: Impressions

Blizzcon entrance, as seen from the glowing fountain of doom.

Blizzcon 2013 was not for the faint of heart. Between the travel woes, heat and the general fatigue that kept hitting me like a child with a wiffle bat, there was a lot of things to see and to do and it felt like I needed a time turner or perhaps de-aging myself 10 years to properly enjoy it all. Not to mention a lot more money. It was all worth it, though at times I wished I could have been curled up on my couch with the Virtual Ticket instead of braving the crowds. A lot of my best moments happened not in panels but rather behind the scenes hanging out with friends and meeting Blizzard people. However, this is going to be a rundown of the content we all got to see. I’ll save the granular discussions on particular issues for later.

Note: This is all based on my personal experiences and in the attempt to get this out today, I haven’t watched the panels I missed via the Virtual Ticket yet, so there’s gaps in my memory and knowledge. Be a little patient with possible corrections.

All That Real Life Stuff

Most of what gets discussed after the con is long over is not necessarily the panels but all the great memories you have while being at the con and getting to hang out with friends. This year’s Blizzcon theme definitely centered around the idea of friends and community and I felt like the feeling on the floor was no exception. Some of the greatest moments I had at Blizzcon was getting to just spend time with people I had only seen on Twitter or heard on podcasts. I admit that some of my real mopey-ness was feeling more like a public persona than being around people who know the “real” me like my guild-mates, most of whom weren’t in attendance this year. I did see a few though, which made me feel a lot better.

Getting to meet some of my heroes (and new faves like CM Nevalistis!) too though was also a big highlight – I got to meet Dave Kosak (head of Narrative), Helen Cheng (Quest designer and story bad-ass), and Craig Amai (head of Quest) as well as Bashiok and Nethaera, who was a personal inspiration. I had great conversations with all of them, some of whom I’ll go into more detail in other posts! I got to talk with Craig about Ji Firepaw and the need for representation in WoW, Helen and I got to finally meet and talk about the new expansion, and I got to briefly talk to Kosak about story stuff. Nethaera in particular is someone I got to speak with at length and as someone who particularly enjoys community engagement and public relations, seeing such a talented, storied woman publicly fronting Blizzard makes me really happy.

Warlords of Draenor

Let’s be real, there’s a lot of stuff about this expansion that I’m cautiously nervous about but I can unpack that later. The new expansion, despite all the weird timey-wimey-ness still seems really enjoyable to me. The quality of life changes (HIT, GONE! EXPERTISE, GONE!) are what really caught my attention overall. I love the idea of a garrison as someone who is an avid Animal Crossing: New Leaf player. Buy upgrades for my own personal town? Sure! Have helpers and followers? Absolutely.

The fact that the raid sizes and flexibility changes are now across the board except for Mythic is interesting; it might give me a new lease on raiding again, at least enough to do Heroic (basically the new Normal difficulty) even with a casual social guild. Being able to raid cross-realm from the start of the expansion on new content is basically what I had been hoping for since the beginning as much of my love of raiding comes from doing it with friends but often we didn’t have enough people to field a full 10P raid on new content. Flex mitigated that somewhat but not being able to do it with my core raid team was sad a lot of days. This might give me the needed flexibility (ha!) to get back into raiding a tiny bit. We shall see.

The idea of going back in time to a revamped Draenor is pretty interesting to me, even if it is just that my fangirl dreams have always included seeing a restored Temple of Karabor. From a roleplay standpoint, I know that I will be dusting off my deadspeaker draenei priest for sure.

Also, hello? Did anyone see those new model previews? Is anyone overjoyed at that sassy gnome lady face? Yesssss.

The fact that they also hinted at sticking in new content for explorers like myself as well as a lot of stuff for those of us who are on the more casual end of things (Potential future transmog changes? What!?) means that I feel less alienated by this new expansion even moreso than when I hit Mists of Pandaria, which was pretty alt-unfriendly and killed a lot of my drive to do stuff at 90.

I unfortunately did not get to play the demos as often or as long as I would have liked. When I sat down the one time to play Warlords, it was mostly to poke around Shadowmoon Valley (which is gorgeous by the way) and to explore. I didn’t tackle any of the quest content, which I really should have. I got most of my information about that from my boyfriend Alex and Sally Pine from WoW Insider.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard jumping into the MOBA/DoTA-like genre is both ironic and also not surprising. What is surprising is that I’m hearing that it has more elements of a character brawler and some PVE-ish elements to make it slightly different from your other fare in this category. I’m not a MOBA player at heart and I’ve never really done well with PVP-based games, nor grasping the complexities of item building and such. If Blizzard can make something similar to League of Legends but with an ease of entry for those of us who have been too scared of the community or too confused by the mechanics, then I suspect they will have a runaway hit on their hands.

The cinematic for the game also featuring two women was also a big plus for me. We will just have to see if there’s tons of female champs and if they go to the route that Riot did and made them pretty skimpily dressed. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Unlike the case with Diablo 3, where I got to try it out at last Blizzcon, the line for this was so extensive both days that I didn’t have the heart (or the feet) to stand in line to poke at it.

Diablo III and Hearthstone

I must admit I don’t have many things to say about either game. I know there’s been sweeping changes with D3 and I’ve been in the Hearthstone beta for a while now. What might push me back into doing D3 is the the demolition of the Auction House as well as transmog changes. My biggest gripe with D3 wasn’t combat or gear but rather that I was doing the same content over and over multiple times. As someone who is not used to that type of game, it was very boring to me despite liking the story, aesthetics and gameplay. So I’ll probably pick D3 back up when the new expansion material gets added.

As for Hearthstone? I’m really glad to see a potential e-sport that mechanically requires no trash-talking. Card games have always been alien to me but the idea of one that I can play on tablets or phones while I’m doing nothing else and don’t have to worry about gross people is really cool to me. I’ll get good at this game eventually. Eventually.

Blizzcon was really great for a lot of reasons and even though the negatives were there, I felt that it all balanced out. The only real drawbacks was that it exhausted my poor body very thoroughly and I’m going to take some time to recuperate. I know this rundown wasn’t nearly as juicy or potentially inflammatory as it could have been but I’m looking to do some piecemeal analysis once I get back on my feet. Expect stuff in the next couple of hours or days!

As always, it was a lot of fun meeting fans, listeners of my podcast as well as friends. You’re all wonderful. Same goes for the Blizzard employees who had to spend long hours working and dealing with fans.

 

 

Blizzcon 2013: Intermission

Hey, if you’re reading this because you got linked here by the very generous Nethaera about Warlords of Draenor, welcome! I am very sorry that this is not actually a post about my discussion with Helen Cheng (quest designer from Blizzard) but rather a sincere apology that I literally haven’t had the resources to post anything up yet.

The reason for this is because I’ve not been on consistent Internet outside of my smartphone and it’s very hard to compose blog posts there. Once I get a couple hours on steady internet with my laptop or Thursday when I finally get back home, I promise I will brain dump over the next couple of days about my more critical experiences at Blizzcon.

Things you can expect:

  • Discussion about the women of Warlords of Draenor, including my  notes from speaking to Dave Kosak (briefly) as well as Helen Cheng.
  • Meeting Craig Amai, head of quest development about Ji Firepaw as well as his thoughts on Warlords and representation.
  • Presentation of Warlords in broad strokes of masculinity and “boys trip” from Metzen.
  • Summary of all the people I met.
  • Aggra and the #RiseofAggra hashtag.
  • The use of “savage” and other racial tropes via the orcs.
  • Assorted notes from the panels I attended.

Lots of things to look forward to, and I say hello to all my potential new readers. I was up to a lot this last week. If you’re interested in hearing Helen Cheng talk about quest design from Mists of Pandaria, feel free to listen to the interview we did with her over at Justice Points.

Blizzcon 2013: The Relaxining

At Medieval Times

The lengths I go through to get the absolutely important coverage to you, dear readers. Because the internet in our hotel is somewhere in the “not worth it” range in terms of prices, I am sitting in the Hilton lobby stealing data like the gung-ho press hound that I am pretending to be, drinking a comically oversized coffee.

California has been largely good to me and yesterday was no exception. If you may remember from my blogpost yesterday, Days 1 and 2 of my Blizzcon odyssey were traveling so Wednesday was the first day I really got to sit down and hang out.

The day started off very early again as I think my body still hasn’t adjusted to the time or daylight. I managed to get up, grab a shower and breakfast before anyone in my room even had woke up so it made me feel vaguely productive even though technically I am only here on vacation versus doing anything useful like report on the actual convention. More people had started to trickle in. The first person I got to see was Ilaniel (aka Sarah Pine from WoW Insider) and we spent a bit of time together.

We decided to walk over to the fountain and met some podcast people that I’ve only ever watched/listened to: Jules from Tauren Think Tank (and her husband Arcayne), Hasteur from Group Quest, and Robert from Blizzcon Countdown. It always feels so strange to meet internet personalities or content creators for the first time since you have this image of what people look like in your head, even if you watch them online and them being in three dimensions is still incredibly startling. Maybe I’m just a robot.

I also met up with my hotel room-mate Hestiah. So great meeting one of my fab feminist lady pals finally! She had a great idea that we should go to Medieval Times so after getting to meet Olivia from Wow Insider as well, we took Anne, Alex and myself in Hestiah’s car and drove to Buena Park.

Now, I went to Medieval Times when I was 12 or 13 and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as this. I think that a lot of it has to do with who you go with and your enthusiasm for really getting into the story. We all bought flags and settled into the green section to cheer on our knight and be a part of the story. Also something I had forgotten about Medieval Times: the sheer amount of food they give you. We got half a chicken, short ribs, bread, tomato soup, drinks and a pastry. It wasn’t the best food but it was definitely good. The story was basic but the atmosphere is what made it so enjoyable. It also didn’t hurt that our section was the rowdiest and loudest when cheering. The Green Knight was also by far the hottest hot dude out there and we suspect that he’s the guy who plays Varian when the arena puts on the Warcraft-themed story. After everything was said and done, our voices were shot, our bellies were full and we had giant grins. For a group of nerdy 20-and-3o-somethings, it was pure unabashed fun.

After that, we drove home and I moved my stuff from Alex’s hotel room to mine in the Marriott. It’s very weird being in a hotel that feels upscale and is so close to the convention center. It will definitely help when the Saturday muscle soreness sets in and it makes me feel more centrally located to all the socializing. This was pretty apparent after Hestiah and I decided to sit in the lobby and drink and we kept running into people we knew. I finally got to meet Anafielle (of Sacred Duty fame), Kelesti, Sha of Happiness and saw another lady pal of mine, Dysmorphia.

Eventually we decided to take the party to the Hilton lobby and the atmosphere was decidedly different. Hilton lobby effectively acts like a nexus or a bus station for a lot of con-goers. It is consistently packed, especially at night because there’s a bar right on the ground floor, dead center. There were already many drunk people there and while I got to be introduced to some Twitter names or faces that I had heard of, I mostly felt alienated. Drunk people en masse, particularly when I am not that drunk, tend to wig me out. It didn’t help that most of them were dudes and I have problems with drunk dudes for obvious reasons. I left early and spent some time sobering up watching late night TV by myself. I’m not a sad sack, really, I promise.

All in all, yesterday definitely felt like a nice way to get in some vacation time before the madness of Blizzcon truly descended on Anaheim.

Editor’s note: I’ll add content links when I’m not in a hosed data connection and not on a laptop with no mouse.

 

Blizzcon 2013: The Road to Blizzcon

The Anaheim Convention Center, home of Blizzcon and blue water fire.

My promise to fully document my trip to Blizzcon has fallen slightly short just do to the level of fatigue that accrues when you fling yourself into the meat grinder that is modern air travel these days, on top of the whole Daylight Savings Time, time-zone wibbly wobbly timey wimey nonsense. But I will endeavor to record as much of my progress thus far, despite being on a laptop in an awkward position due to how our hotel room has a very low desk chair and a very high table.

If you would like to read my boyfriend’s version of events, you can do so over here on Wow Insider.

Day 1 

We began our auspicious journey by staying up all night so we could leave to go to the airport at Dark O’Clock. While I feel that air travel is largely still the most expedient way to go, especially long distances, the convenience is hampered somewhat by how much airlines have mangled service due to flagging profit margins. In the past 10 years or so, it has turned from something exciting where you step on a plane and land in a new magical place into a hellish torture that maybe only sadists would enjoy inflicting on people. Our itinerary to get us to Colorado, where we’d meet Anne Stickney, our third, took us via Houston. Milwaukee to Houston is not a convenient route by any cartographers stretch of the imagination and going several thousand miles south out of our way to swing back up on another flight is bizarre. There’s also the problems with the fact that airplanes are now just expanded sardine cans. Barely any amenities are given out despite the ticket prices and you spend most of your time cramped, hungry and irritable. I suffered the least given that I am half the size of my poor boyfriend, who was folded literally in half to try and squeeze into the airplane and then his seat.

Despite us almost missing our connection, we did make it to Colorado and it was all as promised. We met up with Anne and quickly got onto the road since we had to be at least to our Utah midway-stop by nightfall. Driving through Colorado and Utah was everything I dreamed of and possibly a bit more. As someone who grew up on the East Coast and largely around very small mountains covered in trees, the alien landscape that we were presented with on our drive was breathtaking. Mountains that went beyond the clouds, striations of every hue imaginable and alien landscapes that I know I had seen in quite a few sci-fi movies were around every twisty-turny  mountain pass or long desolate straightaway.

Driving by car, preferably when you’re a passenger, is easily the best way to do trips. Getting to laugh at jokes, debate World of Warcraft expansion news and goggle in awe at the scenery made the flight torture worth it.

The beauty of Utah.

We ran into a sudden snowstorm on our way through some mountains and so we went from Fall to Winter in the span of an hour. It also gave us the chance to see vistas kissed with snow once the sun re-emerged and then fog that would put Silent Hill to shame rising off the scrub grass.

Stopping on roadside stuff wasn’t really a highlight of the first day but we did get to experience the creepiness of truck stops. Including one in Beaver, UT, which yes, did have “I Heart Beaver” merchandise. I felt like mentioning that because I’m actually 12.

We pulled into St. George, Utah by the time it was dark and stayed there for the night, enjoying a part of our first day that didn’t involve being cramped.

Day 2

I do not sleep well in hotels. Either the temperature isn’t right or the blankets are too heavy or I am really uncomfortable. Despite only getting a handful of hours of sleep the day before and being so exhausted by travel and adrenaline, I still woke up at 4 AM with no ability to go back to sleep. I meandered around the hotel parking lot in the deep chill of the night and waited for the lobby’s complimentary breakfast to go up at 6:30 AM. Once the sun lightened up the sky some, I noticed that our town had a giant red cliff ridge directly above us. Talk about surprising.

We managed to get back on the road again by 8 AM for our second and slightly more exciting leg of the trip to Anaheim. The views were largely as expansive and inspirational as the first day but once we passed through the large mountain range nearing the Arizona and Nevada borders, we came across way more high desert flats. It was very Night Vale-esque for those of you who listen to that podcast, and suddenly the sights got a lot more weird. Tiny burned out shanty towns dotted the shrubby plains, odd roadside attractions and places that had only one stoplight or one church and nothing save for trailers seemed to be the norm.

We skirted around the outside of Las Vegas and it didn’t disappoint even if we didn’t stop. I got to see some of the glittering towers of gambling, the pomp of roller coasters and elaborate facades.  Alex commented on how most of the names we were seeing on signs also appeared in Fallout: New Vegas and I can see why. The idea of a post-apocalyptic game taking place in the desert of Nevada seemed all too apt. Given the number of ruins of old tourist attractions that we saw littered on our drive, it almost felt like we were  in the game already. (We made a plan to visit the grafitti-ed shell of a waterpark that we passed somewhere around Minneola, NV on the drive back)

Then we saw it: A giant road-side ad for Alien Fresh Jerky. Given both our propensity for good dried meat and the strange, we decided to follow that lead all the way into Baker, California where the jerky was to be found. Our questions were pretty routine – “Do the aliens make the jerky or are they what the jerky is made  out of?”

In a town that literally one road with a handful of greasy spoons, burned out trucks and bluffs, there was one shining beacon of tourist hysteria: Alien Fresh Jerky. It was a clean looking establishment with a made-up alien car, spaceship and promises of jerky on the inside. Once we stepped into place, we know why we went to all this trouble to get there. Sure, it was mostly overpriced food and tzotchkes of dubious provenance, but the excitement was being a participant of something this bizarre. We all love a good story to share and this is precisely why roadside ghost towns, giant balls of twine and houses filled with baby dolls continue to excite. We tried some invisible jerky, bought relics with alien faces for too much money and giggled at all the paraphernalia.

From there we sped on towards California proper. We stopped in Barstow, which was an official Route 66 stop and got to peer inside of a traincar shopping center and racist gas stations.  Finally we started to hit places that were familiar to me, as I had driven to Blizzcon from Arizona three years ago and it felt properly SoCal with the tiny oases of planned communities with palm trees dotting the crispy landscape.

Once we finally made it Anaheim, we promptly dropped our stuff off and went to peer at the convention center. Much to our surprise, there had been a lot of landscape work done. The entire front of the center that used to be a glorified taxi park and car-driven death trap for pedestrians in a hotel corridor was now this beautiful walkway with recessed lighting, statues and sculptures. There’s even a new fountain in front that lights up blue and white, with heavily graduated steps that take some climbing to get to. It feels like a much cooler place to meet up, hang out or take pictures now and while I know that it wasn’t really for that intent, it still makes this already magical voyage look the part. We took our pictures and went to finally relax.

I’m fully hyped for what the convention proper has in store now after that long, strange trip.

Blizzcon 2013: Where in the World is Apple Cider Mage?

Having fun at Blizzcon! Featuring Deedle, Zable, Tadge and Boddi.

Having fun at Blizzcon! Featuring Deedle, Zable, Tadge and Boddi.

I think my excitement generator for Blizzcon is now permanently cranked to 11. I’m starting to move from “This is in the future” to “This is really happening! I better go get things ready!” Thusly, I thought that taking a moment to write up my grand plans for Blizzcon might be of interest to some of my readers, fans and friends who want to know where I might be and what I’ll be up to while I’m gone. This year’s Blizzcon trip is different from my last go-around in 2011 in that it is:

  • A full-fledged vacation. I will be on the road for 10 days.
  • The first time attending Blizzcon as both a community entity and content producer.

The first point is pretty fun – I do not really get to go on vacations save for Blizzcon (this will be my fifth) so the fact that I will be traveling with my boyfriend is exciting. We’re also combining Blizzcon with a fun road trip to the convention and back with one of his co-workers, hence why we will be gone for so long. It takes a day or so to drive from where we’re flying into to California. I always love road trips so I’m stoked. I’m sure we’ll (Anne and I) be driving Alex up the wall with our incessant talking. I also will be bringing along my laptop, Nintendo 3DS, Kindle and phone because I cannot properly disconnect from technology or Internet while I’m gone. This also means that I will try to document my trip, potentially for my own amusement and for the blog.

The fact that I have a blog and podcast now, heading into Blizzcon, is why the second point is a wee bit scary. When I went to Blizzcon 2011, my blog had been up for maybe a week or two. Handing out business cards may have gotten me new readers but most people had never heard of me. I also wasn’t as active in the WoW fan-community as I am now – in fact, I missed meeting a couple of people that I consider really good friends because I simply had no idea who they were. I’m nervous of running into people that potentially hate me or see me as a fire-breathing man-hating ogre. I’m decently sure at least a couple of Blizzard CMs have my face up on the wall like a Wanted poster. The only thing I have going for me is that most people have no idea what I look like, so I’ll just say I’m actually Ghostcrawler.

This year’s Blizzcon feels like a lot more pressure to perform as a community entity and to talk to fans or present myself in a more professional manner. The list of people I’d like to hang out with, chat with or generally just touch base with is miles long. The parties I have on my docket are numerous and “making an appearance” seems to be tantamount to most other things. I want to hang out and have fun but I also don’t want to go to a giant place with thousands of people only to have people wondering where the heck I was. This is definitely an added layer of my persona that I will be grappling with now – not just going to the con as a casual participant and fan, but as someone that other people look to and want to meet. Most of it is a type of peer-ship, obviously. I don’t feel like I’ve reached any sort of celebrity status and given my work, I doubt that will happen any time soon.

The upside to this being is that people can finally see who I really am behind the internet “mask” of my persona that I have to present via my blog, podcast or Twitter account. A lot of people always presume I’m a really mean or angry person in real life but the truth is that I laugh way too much and I’m just as awkward and nerdy as most of you. I’m a bit outgoing (especially when I’ve been drinking adult beverages) but for the most part I like to chat and crack jokes. I’m not the humorless, nasty feminist that most people think I am. It’s hard to be that way all the time, though I might tell people to knock off bad language if I hear it! I hope people don’t feel like they can’t come up to me and say hi or have a conversation with me, I don’t bite (much).

Anyways, enough navelgazing, on with the schedule (that is due to change)!

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Blizzcon 2013: A Survival Guide

 

Cosplayers from Blizzcon. A blood elf is helping a hunter with her helm.

This sums up Blizzcon for me. (Taken at Blizzcon 2011)

Blizzcon (November 8th-9th) is almost upon us, GET HYPED!

However, before we get completely  hyped over this awesome event, I should probably give you some of my invaluable information regarding how I’ve managed to make it through four previous Blizzcons and been alive to tell the tale (and attend the fifth!) Most of this is pretty common sense information, advice but if you’re new to the Blizzcon or even convention scene, it could help make your time spent in Anaheim go from “meh” to “wow!”

Take care of your rad bods!

Unless you’re someone who spends their day walking upwards of 8 hours a day on pavement, the bodily toll on you during the convention will be anywhere from moderate to severe. Make sure you pamper your body and give it the best possible chance of recovery. Firstly, make sure you dress appropriately. This Blizzcon isn’t taking place during the scorching heat of the summer like previous years, so we don’t have to worry as much about overheating, but wearing good supportive shoes and temperature-appropriate garb is a good idea. With the exception of cosplayers, it’s better to go more for comfort than style!

Also really crucial is hydration. There’s water fountains and plenty of drink vendors inside and having a bottle of water with you when you’re outside of the convention is good, even if it isn’t very hot out. Water is amazing, drink some! On the subject of fluids, I know that I may have partaken of adult beverages while at Blizzcon and making sure you stop drinking well before you go to bed every night and getting a lot of water into you (and eating while you drink) keeps you from having a nasty hangover the next day. Make sure you know your limits as well and don’t get sick! It’ll just make Blizzcon worse.

If you’re someone that needs to eat on a regular schedule, there’s quite a few vendors inside but also restaurants within walking distance of the convention center. Making sure you get a good breakfast has always worked well for me, but also bringing snacks to your hotel room can help you feel full and not cranky all day when you’re constantly running and doing things.

Last but not least is making sure you get plenty of rest! Rest includes getting a decent amount of sleep but also possibly taking breaks during the day – it’s not even a “out of shape” thing but just making sure you don’t push yourself too hard. Sitting down inside the convention center or going back to your hotel room is great to let your legs get some recoup time. I also advise napping if you need it as well as just getting some “quiet” time away from other people. If you’re someone who doesn’t handle social situations very well, it’s amazing for your piece of mind to have silence and introvert energy replenishment.

I’ll spare you guys a hygiene spiel because you’re all adults and you know the benefits of washing your bods regularly. (Do it!)

Make a plan…but don’t necessarily stick to it.

Now that Blizzard has finally released a final schedule of events for the con itself, it means we can all better plan what things we want to hit. Perhaps you have meetups you want to go to, parties to attend as well. Pick and choose the things you really want to see and do. It’s hard not to want to do everything – everything looks really fun. Knowing at least the top things on your list you want to see helps you prioritize but let me tell you, not every panel is going to be as great as the rest, and oftentimes the best fun you can have is randomly wandering around just looking at stuff or hopping to a restaurant with some people (guildmates?) to grab a quick lunch. Every year I’ve made a really detailed plan of stuff I wanted to hit and only ended up doing a third of it. It’s so chaotic at times between people you want to see and content that you will just have to make some choices.

On the subject of getting your tickets, however, there’s only two real ways to go: Do you want to absolutely attend the opening ceremonies? If you do, get into the huge-ass line on Thursday as early as possible, otherwise take your chances on Friday morning and have way less of a line (or none at all) to contend with. I’ve done both and honestly, either strategy is fine. I definitely want to attend opening ceremonies this year, so I’m going to try and get mine on Thursday afternoon.

Speaking of Thursday, this is when most of the parties happen. Wow Insider/Wowhead’s party is happening then (at the Anabella), as well as World of Podcasts (Red Lion Inn). Some happen Friday, and then the final corporate one happens on Saturday night. But the big fan meetups tend to be Thursday evening, so that’s always something to consider hitting if you like that.

Also for the first-time attendees, most panels are simulcast in different places or spillover panel rooms so don’t fret if you didn’t get into the main D hall to watch something big. While it is nice to be in the room, so to speak, avoiding crowds and just chilling in a quieter hall isn’t a bad option, especially if it means you might snag a seat.

Get used to standing in lines.

This is central to the Blizzcon experience; you will be standing in a line a lot. Whether it is for buying merch, meeting someone to autograph something, or wanting to test out a game demo, you will probably be entertaining yourself in a myriad of ways. Bring a DS, or your phone or a friend to talk to. Otherwise, get used to memorizing all the lines from every cinematic in Blizzard’s history (They will be playing on the screens overhead, mostly likely.)

Make sure to actually get people’s phone numbers.

This is more of a concern for those of us who have smartphones, but your data traffic will get hosed. The convention center tends to either kill a lot of carriers or is so completely overloaded with data traffic that you cannot expect to be able to check Twitter to get in touch with people unless you’re outside. So get people’s numbers if you want to hang out with them. But also know that texting gets similarly hosed for no reason I can figure out so plan accordingly. Having a solid time and place to meetup is great because once you are inside, there’s no guarantees your phone will be useful.

Due to this, don’t expect to be able to live-tweet a panel. Trust me, I tried to when they announced Mists of Pandaria and it didn’t turn out so well.

Respect everyone’s space, time and privacy. Conversely, if you feel uncomfortable, don’t feel bad about getting out.

This is hinging on the fact that Blizzard didn’t pass a Code of Conduct for the con (yet) and so I felt it needed repeating: respect people at the con. If someone is cosplaying, ask to take their picture. Don’t harass them or touch them. Same goes for any other con-goer. If someone wants to be left alone or spend some time by themselves, let them. This con is incredibly nerve-wracking and overwhelming for people who are not great with tons of social interaction, so sometimes people need space. If you are someone who doesn’t comport themselves properly, especially when you are drunk, then maybe you shouldn’t drink. Let people have their own space and privacy.

On the flip side, if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, even if it’s just a “gut feeling,” don’t hesitate to get away.  Make an excuse, duck out, lose yourself in a crowd. Let friends know where you’re going if you’re by yourself. Ask someone to come meet you at a party or walk you home. If something serious happens, get a friend and find a security guard or Blizzard employee, or at worst, a cop or a hotel employee if something happens on-site.

And this goes for everyone, if you see something happening, tell someone. Or help the person out. I know it’s incredibly easy to just say that stepping in would screw things up but often sometimes just saying “Hey, is everything okay here?” tends to break up a tense situation. I had an incident in 2011 where some guys were being gross to someone well-known in the WoW community and so I told them to knock it off and leave them alone. It might not have really done anything but it made them stop so I felt like I did the right thing.

PS: If you’re a Horde player and you’re yelling at or otherwise harassing Alliance players, stop that shit. Are you two? Come on. There’s no difference between factions, you’re all nerds.

Quick Notes on food, travel, and other pleasantries:

If you’re flying into John Wayne airport/SNA, there are shuttles that cost around 10 bucks that will take you right to your hotel. There are also cabs but those tend to be way more expensive unless you split with a friend. LAX also requires a shuttle or cab and I’d opt for a shuttle.

The main restaurants around the convention center are the food court in the Hilton, the IHop across the street, and any restaurants in the surrounding hotels. There’s quite a few more places if you care to walk farther, such as the Denny’s up the road or Main Street Cone Shop that’s beyond the Anabella (personal recommendation, great food!) I also truly believe the Anabella’s restaurant has the best breakfasts. I am sad I am not staying in the Anabella this year just due to this reason.

Within quick walking distance of the convention center is an outdoor mall and Downtown Disneyland as well.

…but most of all, don’t forget to have fun.

This is a great time of the year to meet up with all the personalities, Twitter friends and guild-mates you’ve always wanted to see. Hang out with people, chat, and have a great time. The convention is super great as well but I’ve always found that the socializing aspect is the best bit of the convention. Being healthy, safe and well-informed is what will make your experience at Blizzcon amazing!

Blizzcon 2013: Harassment Policy?

If you weren’t reading Twitter this weekend, I spent a great deal of time on Saturday thinking about how we’ve had a rise of incidents around some of the major gaming conventions with women and them being harassed or assaulted in some way. Lhivera brought up a good point about the stuff that the author John Scalzi has been working on with regards to not visiting conventions that don’t have harassment policies on the books, so I went looking for one for Blizzcon.

It should have one, right?

Unless it’s hidden in some obscure place that only an employee would know about, there seems to not be ANY conduct, safety or harassment policies for Blizzcon. This made me rather concerned as I know I’ve attended Blizzcon with the threat of being stalked hanging over my head, and I know of at least one person who was made to feel unsafe at Blizzcon for similar reasons. This seems like a place where a call to action is necessary! I meandered over to the official Blizzcon forums and made a thread detailing why a policy is very much needed.

Blizzcon – Harassment/Safety Policy?

Blizzcon attendees (all of them!) need to be able to attend the convention and feel safe – not just from assault, but from hateful language as well and I’m hoping Blizzard gets wind of the thread. So far it’s had some good, positive responses and I’m hoping it picks up steam as the week goes on. If you want to add your voice to it, or even just thumbs up my post, it’d be super appreciated. I feel this is a big issue – not only for us as attendees, but for Blizzard. Having a standard operating procedure for handling these sorts of events may be internal, but having it openly posted externally would go a long way to making con-goers feel that they are protected and have channels to go through if something happens to them.

I’m really hoping nothing EVER happens to anyone, but the reality of the situation is that things can and do happen and we need to make sure that Blizzard and their fans are on the same page: healthy, happy and respected.

I will also be writing up a guide about how to survive Blizzcon in the coming months so keep your eye out for that as well.

Blizzcon Badges for Sale

Sample badge for Blizzcon.

You can click on this to see it full sized.

Blizzcon 2013 – the social event of the real life Warcraft community is finally happening again. For those of us lucky enough to get tickets, it represents nervousness, excitement and anticipation! I myself did manage to get tickets for this year’s con again and it will be my fifth year attending. However, due to real life circumstances, I find myself needing a little bit more funding than previous years. Therefore I am offering to do badge art for other attendees who want something unique and commemorative for their voyage.

Note: I cannot afford to do printing/laminating of these myself. All sales will include a .JPG and .PSD that is at print-quality resolution. These will fit in the badge laminate that Blizzcon uses for their badges.

Price List:

  • Basic: This is just your character’s portrait with no armor. Includes character name (or other), server information and faction background – $10.00
  • Frill: Includes a head frill such as small decoration (eyepatches, orbs, etc.)  – $15.00
  • Shoulders: Includes shoulder armor. – $20.00*
  • Advanced: Includes anything else you could possibly fit on there. – Negotiable

*Some shoulder armor might require more time.

If you are interested in purchasing one of these badges, email veryapplecider@gmail.com with the following information:

  • Name
  • Type of Badge you are interested in
  • Link to appropriate character’s armory or a clear screenshot (this is probably better if the Armory makes your character hard to see)
  • Character details you want included

I will e-mail you back to discuss particulars and send you my Paypal information. I require people to pay upfront; if I cannot do your art, I will return your money. Turnaround time for badges should be 4-5 days but I will e-mail you if something comes up. If I get a lot of requests, I will work in a queue in order of who paid first.

If you don’t want a badge and just want to donate to getting my butt to Blizzcon, I also have a Paypal donation button on the sidebar of my blog!

Hope to hear from you soon!

(Font provided for the badges is League Gothic, open source font from League of Moveable Type.)