Mad Max, Fury Road: Bear Witness, For Glory, For Feminism

Imperator Furiosa pins Mad Max down.

I was really surprised that I liked this film so much.

As The Spectacle

I have not seen a Mad Max film in a very long time. The hype for this movie snuck up very quickly and so did the previews; one day it was not here and then the next, one could not escape from it. I was not convinced but as more and more of my friends started chattering about how excited they were to see it, I thought that it would be in my best interests to do so. The word “feminism” was coiling around the initial salvos of press and that’s what really ensnared me: could an action movie really do that? I still felt hesitant, because for as much as I consider myself a feminist media critic, I am allergic to the idea that a piece of media can truly be part of some “feminist”/”not-feminist” binary.

One of the first waves of criticism I heard was about how the film was pretty and truly well stocked with white people, despite this being post-societal collapse Australia. It is pretty common at this point to see fantasy and sci-fi movies neglect that the future will most assuredly contain people of color, so I was a bit dismayed.

However, before I could really ruminate on what the movie might possibly be doing, suddenly it was everywhere: MRAs were up in arms about this shit. It’s like the entire nerd portion of the Internet got a fire under its ass and demanded that we go watch this movie. It was our duty to go see this film! Won’t it piss off those backwards misogynists who think this film is carrying some subversive feminazi propaganda! It will be the feminist film for the ages! Any and all other criticism of what this movie might be selling was instantly extinguished and it felt like a banner for Feminism being waved around.

I didn’t feel those sentiments exactly, as I penned that day of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in theatres:

I find people (a lot of them ally men) becoming engrossed in punking more sexist/MRA men really gross. It turns away from wanting to elevate feminist discourse and turns it back around to power dynamics by two marginally different groups of men, separated by slight ideological gulfs.  This division being made to the tune of millions of dollars that goes back into the pockets of mostly male movie execs and producers doesn’t liberate anyone, really: it doesn’t guarantee that movies will take more risks in the future, that more WoC actresses will be hired, more female directors will get their projects green-lit and backed. The way to progressive media is not that we have to “buy in” with our participation. It is a pretty performative and meaningless gesture.

In the last couple of months, I’ve really shied away from the kind of feminist act that is purely oppositional; I don’t do what I do as a critic or a woman because it will piss off men, I do what I do to speak and live my truth. It benefits no one but other men, in this instance, to fork over money so that some group I do not talk to will be angry in spirit. Men will always be angry. A movie does not change this, nor does it drive my politics.

I was also extremely hesitant to buy into the idea, as I stated before, that this was a noble, feminist act, that this was a purely feminist film. While it might have some effect in Hollywood by showing that these kinds of films with the bare minimum of respect for women characters can be profitable, overall the world is as it is. My soul is restless at the idea that money can truly buy progressiveness.

(I found out that Eve Ensler consulted on the film as well, with regards to how women react in war-torn countries, for accuracy. Eve’s own politics veer very far from mine and I find her methods and treatment of many groups like trans women and women of color to be incredibly violating and distasteful. But I digress.)

As The Film

From the moment the first shot opens until this movie closed, I could feel myself not breathing.

This is an action movie of the highest order and it puts so many others to shame. We have been truly wandering in the desert up until this point – in terms of epic (actually epic, Odyssey-epic, sweeping epic) film-making and story, there’s very few others I’ve seen that attain a pure crystallization of vision. The film does not burden you with much dialogue and exposition. It is a tale of going there and back again, writ against the struggles of Max as he wrestles his demons and the Wives, under Imperator Furiosa’s care, attempting to gain escape velocity behind the wheel of a war rig.

The cinematography was sweeping, allowing for moments of delicate close-up shots of Furiosa’s face, wide-angle desert pans and action that danced, clear and lucid on the screen. At no point was I confused about what was going on, and the use of movement in among all of the vehicles was spectacular. What the movie did the best was that excellent sense of vertical space: everything loomed large, whether unseen or all-too-close in the rearview. What also shone was the stunt work and prop design – from the very real flame-throwing guitar to the polecats men that wove in and out of shots.

The story was kept bare and allowed you to hyper-focus on the characters in the moment and on their impossible journey. Max is laboring under the sins of his past, and Furiosa is looking for redemption: for herself as well as the young women she wanted to save. All that we need to know is that they must get away, and when they do, what comes next is the arc that carries us triumphant across the finish line. The women’s struggles to exist in a world where they are nothing but walking meat felt familiar to me, set very starkly in the world of the film. Not knowing exactly how this world came to be made it easier to focus on what it was trying to say. Max and Nux are two men attempting to be their own true selves but unsure of what that means when their roles are so tightly defined at the beginning of the film and in the end, are allowed to be heroic and compassionate. Their sacrifices and bodily nurturing flips much of the action hero archetype on its head, and allows the women space to enact violence and empathy on their own terms instead of being on the sidelines to Max’s pain.

It’s been a long time since a movie has taken hold of me so strongly that I find myself laughing aloud at points, clapping or hooting and hollering from the back rows.

As The Work

The one thought that really itched at the back of my brain and made its way onto Twitter after I had seen the film was this: this would have been better as a film that wasn’t about Mad Max. The sparseness of story and his own participation as the point-of-view just made me realize that I would have really liked to have seen this from Furiosa’s perspective. Obviously, her ascension through the ranks is alluded to but it speaks to many questions: why is she not part of the base classes of thirsty people around the plateaus? She’s certainly not “fit” to be a wife or a milk mother and yet all of the war boys seem to be men. I would have liked to see this movie from her perspective, a heist movie of the highest order. Having Max’s titular story be draped on top of hers, rather than a supporting lead felt like the less attractive option. I know it is a franchise but I just think it would have leaned even further into showing that this world’s women had much more interesting stories to tell.

This is where I find the idea that this movie is “feminist” to be a really erroneous take. Does it have merit from a feminist critical lens though? Absolutely. As a work, it grapples with a lot of things that I find both add and subtract from my enjoyment of it, as a feminist.

The criticisms that the movie was dominated by white actors is absolutely on the nose, to almost literal effect. While there were a few people of color in the supporting cast, the story is surrounding two or three white characters in a world that also feels similarly white. I think it’s incredibly lazy to constantly create futuristic sci-fi worlds, especially dystopias that reproduce the plights of underclasses and marginalized people (resource scarcity, slavery) and making them completely about white people.

As far as the way the Wives and Furiosa were portrayed, I felt that overall, it was pretty strong. Each were given a least a touch of their own personality and way of dealing with things: confusion about the outside world, pleas for pacifism and compassion. The struggle among them over whether to give in and go back to Immortan felt too real in terms of what happens when trying to escape an abusive relationship, but the fact that they didn’t shit all over Cheedo for attempting to do so was a nice touch (the fact that this is later mirrored in her part to help kill Immortan was especially poignant.) I also loved the inclusion of the Many Mothers clan, while decimated, they were still glorious as well as key to the eventual survival of the entire group.

The violence in this film and seeing Furiosa save the day time and time again by the skin of her teeth, shooting guns and stabbing fuckers in the face, all while driving the war rig was thrilling to me. I know women enacting violence is going to be the biggest battleground over the ideology of this film and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, violence is not a masculine pursuit, solely. There is absolutely fuck-tons of masculinized violence in this movie and I feel that there needs to be a difference in looking at using violence as a survival mechanism (which is something Max does, repeatedly) and violence as a subjugation tool. The War Boys are looking to destroy the uppity women attempting to leave, and grind them back into their place. It is about conquest and attempting to correct a theft: the wives are property. What all of the women in this movie are attempting to do is to not even just get revenge (though that factors in) but to get away with their lives and their bodily autonomy. I couldn’t help but feel a stirring in my heart when Immortan Joe’s body was ripped apart because that darkness has been in my body for most of my life. We have to allow women who have been victimized this truth.

The flip-side of this however is when I saw the people claiming that this violence is what made it the most feminist without critical looks into what violence actually was doing in this movie. Frequently, violence from white women is seen as the ultimate power one can attain after being seen as weak and feminine. However, both this delicacy, prized and pure as well as the ability to enact violence is open to only white women. If Furiosa had been black or brown, I feel like the reactions would have been very different. It would have not been hailed as the second coming of feminist films.

All that being said, there was still something potent in seeing it, especially in a world that was set up to still continue the treating of women’s bodies as property, taken to a very scary conclusion. It always saddens me when we keep seeing bleak futures in this way and gives me a lack of escapism. While I felt that the film ultimately balanced the grossness of women-as-livestock metaphor with the tenderness of the main players with eachother, one day maybe we will see visions of the future where women are not crushed beneath the boot of Men, if not forgotten entirely from the world.

If there was any one thing that gave me a small bit of hope that we can achieve this, was seeing Max give his blood to Furiosa so readily. A man putting aside his own needs to help and comfort the woman whose crusade drove the entire plot almost made me cry. It was well worth the price of admission.



Monday Round-Up, Part 1: Lucy

LucyI’m going to lay it out here: Lucy is a terrible fucking movie. It barely has merit as a film at all. It’s much like Scarlett Johansson‘s eponymous character in the movie: cool to look at but very little substance beyond that.

I chose to watch this because I like to punish myself.

The general conceit of the movie is that Lucy, through some vague machination of a man she’s been dating a week, is forced into being a drug mule for Korean drug lord (Choi Min-sik) in Taiwan. While in captivity, the bag holding the drugs that have been sewn into her organs is busted open and she suddenly gains the ability to use more than 10% of her brain. The rest of the movie is the even more improbable events of her trying to reconcile with this fact and seek revenge on the organization that put her in this state, along with a professor (Morgan Freeman) and a french detective (Amr Waked.)

Movies have been playing around with the idea of drugs that somehow give us superhuman mental abilities (like Limitless) but have done a way better job of maintaining believability; this movie harps visually on Lucy’s numeric brain potential rising over the course of the story and it’s ridiculous. The idea that we only use 10% of our brain’s “potential” is trash science (imagine if you didn’t have access to the 10% that controls autonomic functions) but the ultimate conclusion that we’d be able to access X-Men level powers of telepathy and time-control just sort of spirals out from there. It doesn’t even try to make the movie logically consistent, and I consider myself willing to swallow quite a lot of science-fiction (except that the Flash can move faster than the speed of light.)

Narratively, the movie is cob-web thin. Both plot and dialogue are insubstantial and wholly unbelievable.  Lucy moves from location to location, beating up people, using her powers inconsistently as she grows more and more into a supercomputer of terrifying proportions. No, I am not even being metaphorical on this count: she literally turns into a giant oozing black supercomputer, Akira-style, and then dissipates into the electronic ether. (My head-canon for this is that she eventually transforms into the voice-activated AI from Her, in a cruel twist of fate.) Characterization is also in short supply, as well. Characters are no more than talking heads or action-doers, simple organisms that shoot or throw out lines. The only characters who seem to merit names or individual personalities are Professor Norman (who provides the flimsy scientific plot hooks and awed expressions), Pierre del Rio, Mr. Jang and that’s it. It would be clever to say that they are merely obstacles to Lucy’s ascension into a pure being but that would imply a level of depth that is not found here.

Lucy’s characterization is similarly shallow but in a more problematic way: I noticed that the larger her brain capacity grew, her humanity fell away. I know this is intentional, as several times through the film they make a point of her remarking that human beings and their “lower” brain capacity are ruled by base desires and fear. It is a really gross and fairly ableist view of intellect and emotion, positing that rationality and pure knowledge rule out over feelings or that people with more brainy pursuits are somehow a higher echelon of human being. It comes across to me as a more artistic interpretation of gendered views on reason, that rationality is better and emotionality is not. Lucy moves from the beginning of the film where we are given nothing but a scared lady wearing typical club gear, scared out of her wits, to being transformed into a robotic, and even god-like (there’s an actual scene where she touches a primate ancestor’s finger in the exact method of Michaelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting, I shit you not) being that is “so much better” then her former self. This leads into where I felt the real problems of the film were from a feminist perspective.

When the movie’s marketing engine first cranked up, there were some initial salvos that this was the “feminist film” we had all been waiting for, with a particularly bad-ass Johansson wending her way through Taiwan with a flurry of gunshots and kicks. Feminist it is not, not in the slightest. Not only is Lucy’s transformation presented in a very flat, unappealing “strong female character” way that relies entirely on masculine traits of violence and stoicism, but there is nothing feminist about the staggering amounts of racialized violence that occur in this movie. All of the aggressors in the movie are portrayed as some combination of Asian gangster stereotypes without acknowledging that one of the biggest aggressors in the movie is Lucy herself. I guess a white woman shooting down several Taiwanese people (one of whom is merely on a surgical table at the wrong time) is totally “kick-ass”? I was not really seeing how this was some feminist triumph when Lucy is basically a white female version of a thoughtless white male action hero with even less concern for human life.

It was not surprising to me that this movie was written and directed by Luc Besson. Besson has a pretty solid body of work that features complicated women characters like NikitaThe Messenger, and my favorite The Fifth Element.  This movie felt weighed down by a huge CGI budget, confusing visuals and a really shoddy script. It felt like the typical Besson “girl” on the surface but the rest is phoned in, offensively so. In other films, particularly Fifth Element, the woman’s “chosen one” status is played artfully or at least in a clever way; Lucy is just incredibly hamfisted and empty.

Overall, I’d say that this movie was disappointment, but that would imply that I had high expectations going in.

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

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.

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.



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.

Can We Not, Razor Hill?

Misandry the undead mage glares at two gross orcs.

 (Tried really hard to make the title an homage to the infamous A Chorus Line song, “Dance: 10, Looks: 3” but it didn’t work out. Pretend I did. – ed.)

Patch 5.4 just hit and with it a wave of new content. Unfortunately I am not here to talk about the excitement of Timeless Isle or Flex raids just yet. It came to my attention this morning (hat-tip to Lhivera on Twitter) that someone from my server had posted on the general forums about two gross sexist NPCs that had been dropped into  the game due to the changes in the patch.

Turns out that as of only two days ago, there were now two refugee orcs hanging out in the Razor Hill inn that have a discussion that highlights the looks of the other refugee woman stranded at the inn while Ogrimmar and all points surrounding are in utter chaos. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s the fact that both orcs are using the “rating system” of ranking a woman’s beauty on a scale of 1 to 10 and not being precisely kind about it.

Orgrimmar Refugee says: Oh, look at her over there. She’s be beautiful. A perfect 10!
Orgrimmar Refugee says: A 10? Ha! Maybe in Razor Hill. In Orgrimmar she’d only be a 6.

I skimmed the thread before it got deleted – it was the usual hot garbage with a couple of bright spots where people were defending the OP and calling stuff out. The real sickening part of this for me though was just how normal people believe this stuff to be. Rating women like they are consumer products is objectifying, dehumanizing and hurtful if you have to deal with it, which a lot of women do. Ranking women reinforces the idea that the only thing of value we have is how men judge us based on arbitrary notions of what they find attractive, or more bluntly, “fuckable.” It’s coarse and piggish.

I was dismayed that this was even in the game, especially as of the latest patch. Here we are not talking about content that’s been embedded in parts of the game from years past but something someone recently felt was okay to stick in a little corner of the game, with all the added contextual grossness due to the fact that it’s displaced citizens describing a woman away from her home. I thought that Blizzard had gotten at least slightly better since the Ji Firepaw fiasco, that maybe we had started to get on the right track away from some of the more dudebro aspects of design. It’s been elucidated to me that developers take pride over their NPC creations, no matter how big or small, so who takes pride in this? Who takes credit for this? Why did someone feel comfortable sticking street harassment in here? It rightly makes people feel uncomfortable playing, like this world isn’t also ours to partake in.

Thankfully, as a small silver lining, CM Zarhym tweeted in response  (right before I put the blog to press) to several concerned parties on Twitter that this gossip text was being removed. Swift action is one of the best courses of action for something small like this, but I think we still need to get at a place where people consider that these things are a) not normal b) are hurtful to quite a few of us that play the game. I still hold out some shred of optimism that World of Warcraft overall is improving, but a lot of that is due to those of us in the community who feel more bold to call this stuff out. There’s a sea change coming and I suspect it is because of the efforts of bloggers, Twitter folks and forum posters that are doing most of the work.

Misandry the mage yells at these bags of amalgamated hubris.

Misandry the mage yells at these bags of amalgamated hubris.

Still, much gratitude to the community team for passing this internally and getting it changed so quickly. It was really weird to fly into Razor Hill and have to skip over the cool lore events that are going on there to check out two nameless orcs critiquing an orc woman’s looks rudely every minute or so. We ultimately need to keep pushing for a game that builds a world where the shitty things we have to contend with in real life aren’t the same things we run across randomly in game from NPCs.

(Thank you to Misanthropology 101 and Ember Dione for their blog posts.)

New Podcast – Justice Points!

In case you don’t follow me religiously on Twitter (and who does), last week myself and Tzufit of Tree Heals Go Woosh! announced that we would be collaborating on a project together. That project is a podcast! We’ve named it “Justice Points” as it is a show that features World of Warcraft from a more social justice perspective. It’ll be our trials, tribulations and jokes about WoW with a little feminism thrown in.

Our first episode is up on at and we should be posting an episode a week if you want to join us for the fun.

You can also follow the podcast on Twitter at @justicepoints.

Thanks for listening!

A Guild Shared: How to Collectivise in World of Warcraft

A mass of World of Warcraft players.

This is a blog post brought to you by a project organized by Sheep the Diamond on collectivism in MMORPGs. If you’d like to read his thoughts on the idea, as well as a cursory overview on collectivism itself, check it out here. Other Collectivism project post on WoW is from Troll Shaman, “And Why Should I Care What Happens to You?

I feel the eternal struggle in a harsh world such as ours is between protecting and furthering the interests of one’s own self and the potential interests of others. Right now, I don’t think we’re realistically at a place where we can achieve the ideal of collectivism overnight. However, I believe it is something we should strive towards in the coming years. But what if we could shrug off the pressures of a more rugged individualistic and capitalist society in a virtual world? Would that make collectivism possible? I believe it does. Enter my World of Warcraft guild.

Collectivism is any philosophic, political, religious, economic, or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human being. Collectivism is a basic cultural element that exists as the reverse of individualism in human nature[…]and stresses the priority of group goals over individual goals and the importance of cohesion within social groups (such as an “in-group”, in what specific context it is defined). Collectivists usually focus on communitysociety, or nation. It is used and has been used as an element in many different and diverse types of government and political, economic and educational philosophies throughout history including democracy, totalitarian nationalism, monarchy, socialism, and communism.


A place like World of Warcraft makes enacting something like collectivism a lot easier since a lot of our concerns that we as people face in our lives evaporate – shelter, health, family, work. It is a lot easier to make money in World of Warcraft and share this wealth without the worry that someone might end up starving or hurt if we fail to use our resources correctly. At worst, we have to take another trip to the Auction House or repair our gear. It makes it easier to use our time and resources towards helping a group  and working collectively without risk to ourselves.

As Sheep pointed out, WoW is not geared towards group work as much anymore, if it ever was at all. A lot of player achievement can be attained through personal goals and thinking of oneself only; the bastion of group resources has been and will always be a guild. Ever since Blizzard introduced guild perks and rep, this has become much, much more apparent as well. Many of the structures that the game has introduced to make guilds important emphasizes collective thought. However, much like my feelings on hate language and respectful guild culture, I believe that collectivising your guild (and my guild) takes some work. Often the most ideal “conditions” for sharing and group culture is just that you find a guild that all really wants to help one another.

Enter my guild: we are a group of people that has, over time, slowly become more and more collectivist. Was this entirely planned? Probably not. The efforts of our mutual generosity and tight social structure has just born fruit. We have similar ideas on the values and identity of our group as well as the goals we wish to work towards. People’s projects can be organized and supported by any and all members of the guild without hierarchical stress (most of the time) and everyone’s contributions can be put towards the greater pool.

It is easier to talk about this stuff in abstract, but lets have some examples of what I really mean when I talk about contributions, resources and efforts.

The guild fishes out of blood pools in Borean Tundra.

What Blizzard Did:

  • Cash Flow: This perk alone fuels a collective pool of money by “force.” I could talk endlessly about this one mechanism and what it means towards group capital and guild power, but I’ll spare you guys for now. Allowing everyone in the guild to have their solo or group play give back to the guild is pretty essential. However, it is triggered automatically and isn’t subtracted from a person’s personal earnings, but generated over top of what they collect themselves, making this slightly more “fair.” However, the time and work put in to complete quests is still valuable.
  • Guild Challenges: Money earned from collective group play in PVP, raids and instances means more collective resources.
  • Guild XP is earned by all members of the guild. Higher level perks are achieved by the work done by all.
  • Guild recipes are earned by collective tradeskill use or achievement such as the Seafood Magnifique feast.
  • Guild rewards are earned the same way.
  • Mechanisms like Have Group, Will Travel (RIP) and Mass Resurrection allow any player within the guild to summon or revive a fallen comrade. Granted it doesn’t necessarily have to be a guild member, but it is definitely oriented towards group play.

What We Did:

  • People can put in and remove materials from the guild bank. We have tabs for crafting, gear/bags, consumables, reputation/holiday items, glyphs, and raiding materials. There is an officer’s tab that is locked, but every other tab can be added to or withdrawn from.
  • Any guild member can organize and create events on the guild calendar.
  • Guild money is put towards repair bills (150G daily cap), purchasing additional materials for things such as consumables and bags. We’ve also helped people pay for flying skills as well.
  • Rules are relatively fixed, but they are actively enforced by all members of the guild in terms of calling out and discussing problematic behaviour. The roots of things set down in our rules and modes of conduct are things that we as a group have agreed as being important to us.
  • No set method of contribution: everyone is allowed to do what they do “best” and give towards the guild in that way. Some people are really into fishing, so they are happy to fish up stuff for feasts. Some members are avid gatherers. Some are good at finding best pieces of gear for transmog outfits and share knowledge. Others share knowledge of raid strategies. Some are good at leading people in group dungeons. Everyone has something unique and purposeful to contribute so we don’t limit what people can and cannot do for the group.
  • Excess guild bank materials are auctioned off and put back into the guild funds.

All of these examples are just to illustrate what is at work here. The real driving force behind most of this, especially within our guild is putting the group ahead of the individual. However, everyone is unique.  No one has to be interested in the same things in WoW, or have a specific task they need to do. They are allowed to create goals and everyone pitches in to help as they see fit according to their time, desire and energy. Our guild activities seek to benefit people:  raids to get people gear, group content for pretty vanity items and mounts, and events to cheer people up.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Collectivism

While most of our guild functions collectively along the horizontal (the group decides how to organize collectively), the structures put in place by Blizzard with regards to the guild does lend itself to some level of vertical collectivism (hierarchies determining collective efforts). We do have a guild leader (myself) as well as a couple of officers. We serve the guild but also do things like lead the guild and enforce the rules above and beyond the group’s ability to self-police. One of our officers is the raid leader and she takes everyone’s wishes into account with regards for raid composition, scheduled days for raiding and the like. Hierarchy within a mostly horizontal collectivist group is unavoidable in a game that forces it by nature. However, we do try to steer clear of deciding everything for the group rather than letting everyone have a share in what is done about the guild.

Everyone Can Do This

Group action and recognizing interdependence on each other within the gaming world is a really important thing to me as I’ve found out. And it is something I believe anyone can do, even when it looks like our Azeroth is founded on the principles of but a few self-interested individuals. Banding together with a group of friends and making sure they are taken care of before myself has been a real eye-opener in terms of identity and group dynamics. You will not lose yourself if you active collectively; collectivism does not ask anything of the individual in terms of stripping away the things that make us unique. It only asks that we use the things we are good at to help each other out. Being taken care of becomes easier when everyone is looking out for everyone else and the dread and the fear that we are left behind if we do not fend for ourselves slips away. I know that WoW is merely a game but it can be a good place to learn and teach the ways of collectivism in an environment that is low on risk. I know that it has been comforting to me knowing that there is at least one place where I can help out and be helped in return. I have no problems spending my time doing things for others because it helps us all succeed. It makes me feel good at the end of the day, especially in the face of such bleak reality when it comes to stuff like this.

Don’t be afraid to collectivise your guild. Don’t be afraid to take care of the people within it. We all have something to do, something to give. If our guilds are important to us, then let’s give it our all to make them the best they can be.

Flowers Made of Tears

Warning: This post features so much lore-breaking! You might feel nauseous! This post came out of an idea I thought up late at night.

It’s really no secret that I’m more of a dreamy “I have all the FEELS” sort of person when it comes to lore, rather than an all-knowing lore expert like so many people in my immediate vicinity. (Rades and Catulla come to mind, as well as Mythrai and Bug) I tend to get caught up in the half-truths and emotional contexts to the characters and stories I see in the game, filling in the gaps with my own inventions and notions because I cannot be bothered to read EVERY relevant text or my brain cannot stitch together the pieces well enough to un-fragment the whole. Out of these wisps of imagination comes fanciful notions like:

“Maybe Garrosh is capable of receiving my sympathy because he’s downtrodden by other’s expectations” (He isn’t.)

“The Naaru are benevolent but have no ability to grasp mortal concerns.” (Debatable, everyone thinks they are evil though.)

“Sassy Hardwrench is a can-do feminist lesbian who runs hot spring resorts for other queer Azerothians.” (You will never, ever sway me on this opinion.)

I’m not ashamed to say that I have desires to think about these things, even when I ask stupid questions of my friends to make sense to my constructivist self. I only feel embarrassed when I get the lore so profoundly wrong that everyone gives me the side-eye. It is fun though, to dream of an Azeroth that neither lore scholars nor Blizzard themselves have yet. Basically, when I’m not failing Influential Characters in Lore 101, I do like to make up stories in my head about characters that maybe don’t exist in WoW, or don’t exist in the ways that the game has presented them as. I make up facts and consistent logic is not very strong here.

The Azeroth of my dreams features way more women, for a start, and with more agency; a lot more people present as genderfluid and queer. Chromie and Androgos are male-identified dragons that love being lady gnomes. Lynnia Abbendis and Lilian Voss are vigilantes working to undermine the sinister forces afoot in the land, and they also are in love with eachother. Baine Bloodhoof sees his father regularly in his dreams, and it guides him. Fandral is seen as a tormented father rather than a loot pinata. Keristrasza gets the last laugh. The world that was broken is remade or improved in my head. It’s idealist as hell, but it makes me feel better.

Therefore we find ourselves suddenly in Duskwood. It’s chilly and damp, but it is mostly just hard to see. We’re standing on a small plot of land with a small shack. The stink of rot is here, cold and lonely. Scourge amble aimlessly. Fluttering softly on the only breath of wind here are many small white flowers. We see two adventurers run up and hack an undead man to pieces as he comes out yelling and waving his arms. Slowly, piece by piece, he will sew himself back together. He is cursed for all eternity to never die, only to live with the regret and shame of what he did. He is only starting to figure out why possibly he is doomed to this fate. It is because of you.

You look down and you are not the person you were. You are a woman, undead specifically. Your garb is lavish and clearly marks you as someone who dabbles in necromancy and fel energy. Every time you see Stalvan tearlessly weeping to himself in his shack, crying over a faded picture of your human face, you laugh. It is always his name that the villagers whisper to their children. Bitterly, you were forgotten, lost to the letters that he wrote to his family and friends. A footnote for a madman’s murderous rampages. Where was the memorials for you? Where were the tears for your family? A teacher with an unnatural lust for his devoted student, and no one cared that his story was the only one that was publicized. You were the shameful woman, the bad woman. You must have lead him on, giving him such a simple gift – a white flower. You didn’t notice the barely concealed contempt when you showed up with your fiance, you were too consumed with the idea of an arranged marriage.

All that is gone now. Gone because of his jealousy and his perversions. “The blood that was shed paled in comparison to the tears I shed.” Feh. You spit on the ground. Tears? Tears? You cried tears, Stalvan? What about the tears as you saw your family murdered in front of you? He left you alive for last, he left you alive the longest so you’d feel his suffering. His suffering, heh. He didn’t know the first thing about suffering.

When you took your first breath as one of the undead, you vowed to never let him rest. You were given a gift, a second chance to write the story over. You would hound him screeching until the ends of the world and time itself for what he’d done. So you learned and you studied. You were the darkness that overcame him, sitting unrepentant in the middle of the woods. You struck him down, his last moments alive were with fear in his eyes and heart as he slowly realized who you were. You grasped your bony fingers around his neck and as your corruption stilled his heart, you whispered in his ear, in a dirt-ragged voice:

I came back for you, your sweet Tilloa.

A stupid man in a stupid shack doomed to live his entire unlife in rotting, tortured flesh, bound to this place with the weight of his guilt. A thousand heroes of a thousand generations will come to steal his treasures, and judge him for the crimes he committed. They will piece together the measure of his worth and find him wanting, a curse on the name of Mistmantle. It is small justice for the woman who wanted to be free from her life.

You pick up a flower from the field and tuck it behind your ear. You always loved how they smelled, when you could still inhale their fragrance. There is time now for happiness, and rejoicing. Your work has been completed. You can do other things. You are the author of your own story now, and it is time to turn the page.