Respect: Advice for my Fellow Cis People

ACM carries five bags of rice.

It’s not hard work to treat trans players with respect.

Note: “Cis” is short for “cisgendered” and is a gender identity where a person’s perception of their gender matches up with the biological sex they were assigned at birth.

You can imagine my facepalm when I read the Drama Mamas column yesterday and saw that they had answered a letter from a trans woman in the audience.  This column in particular tries its best to give good common sense advice to most WoW-related social problems but usually goes off the rails whenever a really serious subject is concerned. It’s terribly problematic to read advice that doesn’t treat the subject matter compassionately, but in the case of the trans woman, goes so far as to insinuate a lot of awful things.

I think one of the most critical things you can do with regards to a trans person in your guild is making the guild a comfortable place for them to play in, regardless of whether or not they want to disclose or “come out” about being trans with you. This means a lot of things like making it a place where you don’t use slurs or other disrespectful language, letting people talk as little or as much as they want about their identity and generally undoing a lot of problematic types of thinking.

First off, a trans person is allowed to represent themselves precisely how they wish. Point blank – whether this means disclosing to you or not. They are not “lying” or not being “non-transparent” if they don’t tell you they are trans.  It’s not your business. If they feel comfortable doing so, awesome, but it’s not required. There is this narrative that a trans person’s gender identity is some sort of “falseness” to the gender they express themselves as, when it’s not. If someone says they are a woman, then they are a woman. End of story. You don’t know a person’s situation and it’s unfair to make someone “validate” their identity in that way.

Secondly, don’t give a trans person shit if they presented as one gender and came out later as another. A trans person coming out can endanger them to a certain extent. Trans individuals are attacked, harassed, stalked and killed on a regular basis and many times will not disclose for their own well-being and safety. If someone decides to transition while in your guild and they wish to share this info to you, make the space more comfortable for them but don’t announce it for them or otherwise. This process is a personal one and should always be on that person’s terms. Simply listen, ask what you can personally do to make them feel more comfortable in the guild and stick with that.

Thirdly, this means respecting and being sensitive to your guildmate’s needs. You need to make the guild comfortable for them, not the other way around. Ask your guildies what pronouns they use if you are unsure or use gender-neutral ones like “they” when referring to someone if you don’t know. Misgendering, even unintentionally, can be hurtful and should be avoided. Apologize sincerely if you do!

Being sensitive also means that if they don’t wish to use a voice chat, respect that. In the case of the Drama Mamas column, the letter writer was worried because she wanted to tank for the guild’s raid but that meant speaking on Vent. If someone doesn’t want to speak, then let them be quiet. As someone who raided progression and still continues to raid with main tanks who do not talk on Mumble, it can be done. Conversely, if someone does want to speak, be respectful. Don’t expect someone to sound a certain way and don’t ridicule someone for sounding “different” than their name suggests. Everyone’s voice is their own.

Finally, remember that this is not about you. It is about their feelings and not yours. They are allowed to be angry, upset with how stuff plays out in your guild. Expecting them to take everything “with a smile” while you catch up to treating them how they ought to be treated is unfair. Listen to what people are saying and respect their wishes across the board.

I think Jasmine W, a trans woman and commenter on the Drama Mamas column, summed it up pretty well:

As a Trans* gamer (and wow player) myself, i hope i can provide some insight. there are several reasons why a person can seek to inform their guild that they are Trans*. As Meer said everyone ends up talking about their RL selves and it can help keep issues down, second and more importantly, member’s of the Trans* community seek support for one of the hardest times of their lives. there’s also the fact that people who have no issue with people based on sexual orientation, sex, or race, do have issues with gender identity which can go into another issue entirely 

it can be very jarring to hear a male voice over your (insert VOIP client here) and by ingrained habit you start to call them the gender you heard over the headset. for a trans* individual, though you may not mean it, that not only can be but IS very rude and offensive, so the OP would rather head the drama that could start because of not saying anything and then being hurt by being open about her and her partner it also helps to make sure it’s a guild they can lay down roots with and make a “home guild”

 the only choice about being Trans* is that you choose whether to LIVE and transition or DIE because of all of the stress, hatred, ignorance, lack of support, and other things, and once a person does start to transition, then they face much WORSE, when you find out all the things a Trans* individual has to go through, you’d be impressed with the strength of character we have, and also why there’s a 41% suicide rate among Trans* people because of everything that’s given up.

Everyone has a responsibility to make the gaming world as safe and supportive for our community’s trans gamers, if not everyone at large.

 

 

Patch 5.4 – Mad about Moon Moon

Moon Moon the wolf falls on his wolf friend.

This is one of the least objectionable Moon Moon meme images.

Trigger warning: ableism discussion and terms.

The first Patch 5.4 notes and PTR came out this week and with it, all the fervor over our first real peek at the content that’s been talked up since Pandaria came out. People have been going gaga over set bonuses, new boss models, but what caught my eye was something way less exciting – a battle pet. Originally when I saw listed that there was a Moon Moon pet dragged out of the datamined content files, I thought it was just something stuck there that wouldn’t have anything meaningful around it.  Contrary to my belief,  Moon Moon is a pet dropping from a new Darkmoon Faire boss and will most definitely be in Patch 5.4. This has me pretty annoyed, if you could guess from the title of my blog post.

Moon Moon is a reference to this meme that got started on Tumblr. It is yet another meme that capitalizes on the mental differences of someone, with a host of veiled ableist insults and terminology. What is ableism? It’s specifically discriminatory actions and language towards someone’s physical or mental disabilities. Ableism usually and casually often occurs to making fun of people with learning disabilities or being on the autism spectrum (“spergin'” “retard/ed”), or for mental illness (“crazy”/”schizo”/”bipolar”/”hysterical”), and physical disabilities (“crip/cripple”, “spaz/spastic”, etc.) or using those terms against others as a negative.

Given that the person who started it all said that Moon Moon would be the “most retarded wolf”, it’s not surprising that everything else has followed suit. Memes, due to nerd culture in general, really like to constantly revolve around this sort of everyperson (or animal) that has speech impediments or some sort of mental “slowness.” It’s gotten so casual to the point that most people don’t realize that it IS insulting, but the reason these jokes proliferate is because denigrating people’s mental capacity has always been a trope for humor, because people consider themselves “better” than others for that reason. It’s hurtful, in short, but very few nerds really care.

Since Blizzard has a really inconsistent policy on including meme fodder in their game (Nom Nom Nom as a druid talent got scrapped, but we have this, plus look at how many Slapchop references there are), the fact that they felt it necessary to make a battle pet (as well as a raid boss, really) dedicated to a fairly recent,  insulting meme is frustrating to me. Meme culture is persistent but often long after it is actually funny, on top of the fact that a lot of them are generally offensive in some way. Did we need this? Not really. I’m sure this is considered by some to be a very petty gripe, but popular culture making its way into World of Warcraft doesn’t always mean it is good.

 

How to (Role)Play With Others

My blood elf looks out in Booty Bay.

I’ve found that the best way to spruce up my World of Warcraft experience sometimes is to do something radically different, just as an experiment. Lately, I’ve been feeling the itch to roleplay again, despite the fact that I ran screaming from that particular community some years ago. Things Alliance-side on my RP server tend to be extremely insular and filled with the same people that I didn’t want to deal with. On the recommendation of my friend Mainfloortank, I decided to roll a fresh new toon on Wyrmrest Accord. Not only that, but Horde! There’s nothing like rolling on a faction you’re largely still new to and as a role you’re fairly unfamiliar with (tank) to get the old creative juices pumping. It’s been a pretty weird experience so far – Wyrmrest Accord is stuffed to the gills with roleplayers. I’m serious, they are everywhere. I’ve been so used to the RP only happening in a major city and only holding specific events, but you can go most places in the world on Wyrmrest Accord and find people tucked away chatting with eachother.

This has been mostly daunting to me, as one can expect. It’s one thing to wander around Silvermoon City with an RP flag, it’s another thing to actually roleplay. Coming new to a server, new to a faction, new to this race’s lore means you have to hit the ground running when it comes to developing a story for yourself. I made sure to note that I was returning to RP so people might go easy on me. I picked a fairly open character concept that allowed for some confusion regarding lore or world events. My warrior is a discharged Shattered Sun Offensive soldier that’s been wiling away the years in Quel’danas and only recently got shuffled back to the mainland. She’s missed a lot about what happened to the Horde, or even her fellow blood elves. She’s got a military lean to her sensibilities and her language, but for the most part, I’m still working out how she moves and acts. The weirdest part of it is just getting used to other people again.

Before our guild went completely social, we actually used to RP a lot. But a lot of us got out of it due to burn out with our particular server’s community of godmodding, creepy or just straight up annoying individuals. RP flags become less and less about finding good hooks and more just to lampoon people with bad writing or erroneous synonyms for eyes. (Because forbid you describe your eyeballs with the proper term. It’s not orbs, they are not hues!) So trying to completely get out of the Stadtler and Waldorf mindset when it comes to roleplayers and actually doing some roleplaying has been a bit of a challenge for me. Do I still screenshot really bad flags for my own private collection? Absolutely. Do I tell people who try to ERP with me or are otherwise gross in /say to tone it down? You betcha. (Because that shit is creepy, okay) Getting into character and not breaking constantly just because someone has bad punctuation or wants to tell me their life story immediately at the bar is tricky, but I’m really trying hard. Meeting a group of friends who absolutely take this a lot more seriously than I do has helped some with rolling with the punches and sticking to my blood elf’s story. It’s fairly essential to the experience that you at least take it a bit seriously, which in turn is why I think some role-players get so defensive of their craft, even when it’s not fair to other people. They spent a ton of time writing that terrible profile that makes them the children of Arthas and Illidan and by golly, they still walk around Silvermoon City with a smile on their face.

So you could say that playing a fictional character in a video game has given me some insights into how to properly interact with other real people better. Sometimes you’re not going to be surrounded by people who agree with you and you have to roll with it.

That being said, the particular intricacies of social interaction in WoW outside of my guild is still daunting to me. Being outside my little safe space of a guild has been a bit more of a shock than I was expecting. I met a pretty nice RP guild the first night I RPed and ICly/OOCly joined the guild immediately. Despite making some fast friends, I still had to contend with was, for all intents and purposes, a guild full of people who are not really as invested in minding what they say. Several casual misogynist jokes about hookers, prom queens floated by. I joined voice chat and had to contend with homophobic/ableist slurs. This is how the other half lives. It made me uncomfortable to the point where I talked to one of the officers and while they did enact a more stringent language policy at their latest guild meeting, I still had to leave. It felt so weird – are my values such a sticking point that I have to walk away from an RP guild that my vacation RP alt is sitting in? And with a lot of debate with myself, that answer is yes. It sucks but despite meeting people I genuinely liked and wanted to create stories with, I had to not be in a guild with the rest of the people there. But overall, it was more fair for me to leave than expect an entire guild to bend to my standards. I bucked up, talked with the officer who had recruited me and went looking for another guild. I’m in a new guild now and while they are not RP per se, they have language policies that a lot more in line with mine. It means that I can relax and not feel weird or awkward. It just makes me a tiny bit chagrined that I carry a concern so large like this that it informs all of my choices no matter where I go – it seems despite rolling an alt to “escape” and do something different means that I still miss how things are back “home” a lot.

This experience so far has been fun but seemingly like anything else I do and relate to this blog, it always seem to come with a lesson attached. I still have a long ways to go with learning how to be a bit more understanding of other’s time spent in-game, but definitely see why I don’t always mesh well with other WoW players. However, it is good to always take them as well as myself seriously. Both are worthy of respect, after all.

Uneasy Lies The Head that Wears the Crown

It’s really easy to let my blog lapse sometimes but then other people’s words prick me.

Lodur’s assessment that hate language is a weed that needs to be uprooted wherever it grows started my thoughts on the track of how I try to shape the gaming environment around me, but it was Snack’s fairly moving, personal account of growing as a healer and a GM that possessed me with the motivation to get up and write today.

It is no secret that I am the guild master of my guild. I’ve mentioned it before but I don’t think I’ve ever outlined precisely how or why I came into this job. It is a recent occurrence, all things considered, in the long storied history of our little guild. We’ve been around since December 2004, which is ancient in terms of guilds. We’ve been through every expansion, had several membership shifts and have gotten in and out of a lot of reputation scrapes relatively unscathed. We went from being a well-known roleplay guild on our server to part of a well-known raid team to a social guild that only old server-mates remember.

The one constant throughout most of this was my boyfriend, the former GM. For most of my memory of World or Warcraft, he was always the person running the show (along with our-then-main-tank, Edagh). There had been one or two GMs prior to him but they only lasted a short while before moving and Alex (that’s his name) had arguably been the longest-running and most beloved out of anyone. Our guild has always prided itself on being a fairly loose dictatorship, with not much need for officer-ing. Even most of the formal positions were voted in for the sake of roleplay, they were never strictly necessary. Having a guild master was a  function forced by game mechanics but only meaningful in terms of having someone to look up to on the very rare occasions. Our guild was founded on fairly fun, sensible policies like “Don’t be a dick” and “Please be over 18+ years old” and “Have someone within the guild invite you” that everyone took pretty seriously. There’s only a handful of incidents (and by handful I mean 3-4) that I can ever remember someone getting booted out of the guild. I have a very warped view of what it means to have guild drama, for that reason. Our guild has always been pretty stable on the surface, and I owed a large part of that to how Alex ran things. He’s just one of those guys you can’t help but like and want to not tick off. But underpinning that was a sense of wanting to do right by everyone in the guild, regardless of who actually was in it.

So it is in that vein that I was promoted up to an officer position fairly early on in my WoW career. It was for my outspoken nature when it came to representing the “under-60″ crowd. I felt that many people in the guild who weren’t at max level were being silenced to some degree, so it was my spunk even as a pathetic level 40 that earned me a spot that I’ve held since late last year. I took the whole notion of being representative really seriously, being passionate for this group of people playing a video game. I got into raiding and graduated up to being not only a guild officer but an officer in the guild collective we were a part of. I liked being a “people person” and helped recruit for the raid as well. I was a morale booster and definitely someone who drummed up participation by knowing everyone on the server. The only real wrench in the works was that when Cataclysm started looming on the horizon and Blizzard basically forced our collective’s hand. The raid team decided they want to be a guild and proceeded to suck most, if not all of the officerships out of the four constituent guilds to form the officer crew for the raid guild. By that point, most of the officers for my guild had quit WoW or gone casual, so all that was left representing our guild on the raid team was the GM and myself. And we were not leaving our guild – we had seen what it was doing to the other guilds in terms of cohesion and membership. Alex was pretty firmly in the idea of “the captain goes down with the ship” and considering that a large majority of our guild was a social community and not related to our raid team, we stayed. It almost cost both of us our raid spots, truth be told, but in the end, we pushed to stay on even as officers. It caused a lot of underlying tension as we were part of a raid team that had benefits we couldn’t immediately access or use, that we were seen as being fairly traitorous to the cause, but I digress. It wasn’t until the raid officer squad was pared down to people who could access the guild’s officer chat that I felt the sting of abandonment. I was basically asked to step out of a position of several years just because I couldn’t see green chat. But I dealt with it. My guild was always going to be more important to me than the raid and I think everyone knew that.

Shortly after, Alex quit raiding to work full-time and play other games. I felt kinda alone but kept on with the raid team and as his involvement with WoW scaled back, I found myself running the guild more day-to-day, in whatever capacity was actually needed. Our guild never NEEDED a ton of babying, just the occasional guild invite for alts, managing the guild bank and handling crises. I always told myself that our GM would be back, I was just keeping the seat warm.

As Cataclysm wore on, it was pretty clear that my boyfriend wasn’t really coming back to WoW in any capacity for a while. There was a joke between myself and one of my friends that once Blizzard implemented the protocol for the “chain of succession” mechanic, that I’d take over the guild. We counted down the 30 days since Alex last logged on and on the fateful day, I kicked the guild master title to myself with very little fanfare. It was a foregone conclusion at that point and I had already done the job in all ways but having the name/power. I thought, “Well now I have the tools, I’ll keep on what I’m doing and the guild will be here intact until the real GM gets back.”

It’s a funny business, this whole “realness” thing. I had always, always looked up to our GM while he was here so I couldn’t even imagine anyone BUT him doing the job. Here I was though, the captain of a ship and I was steering it into uncharted territory with the promise that the actual captain would be back at the helm any day now. That is no way to sail and that is no way to run a guild. I needed to be not only the GM that the guild wanted, but the GM that the guild deserved. I needed to start doing things my own way and not the way that I thought Alex would want things. It was a bit of a weird internal conflict and definitely a hard one to think about especially considering that he is someone I live with and care about. But it had to be done. Deep in my heart though, I knew that I had been doing it without explicitly saying so for a while. There had been a lull in membership just due to our casual “know someone else in the guild” chain of dynamics, and it had started to perk up once I had started inviting more lady friends of mine from various places. It was a seed that had been planted deep inside my head somewhere along the line and I was finally acknowledging it growing back there. Questions still troubled me, however: what did I want that flower to be? What had I hoped would blossom? How would I leave my mark? What was really important to me and how could I transfer that to the guild?

The joke going around had been that we were becoming a space for “wayward women” and pulling people out of abusive guild or social situations. It wasn’t untrue though. One of the first waves of people to come into the fold were a small group of women whom I consider my closest friends. We all had banded together snarking a particularly rambunctious Livejournal community and they started trickling over once some of their guilds turned out to be not what they wanted socially or had to quit raiding, etc. But it started becoming a reality once more and more people started turning up. We’d mention off-hand how we were lady-friendly and suddenly someone would want to roll an alt. Then they’d transfer over. Then they’d transfer all their alts over, their SO or best friend would come with them. If Blizzard had some sort of referral plan for transfers, race/faction changes, I would be a very rich person right now. We had a magnetism for a certain crowd of dispossessed, affable outcasts. It was easy to see why – we were laid-back and didn’t tolerate a lot of nasty business that other guilds seemed to traffic in.

That was when I discovered where my true guild heart lay. It was in making sure people felt safe and happy in the guild. This coupled with my growing passion for feminist theory and social justice issues meant that we were not going to allow disrespectful/hate language or shitty jokes. The guild never had much stock in them to begin with but given that we were starting to become up to our ears in women, queer individuals and the like, I wanted to make it abundantly clear to everyone that this wasn’t going to be tolerated. No slurs, no sexist language, no rape jokes. Lodur’s post makes a lot of sense to me because if you want to grow a garden (to extend my plant metaphor), you have to weed out problems that strangle the growth. I believe with all my heart that -ist language across the board disallows people being able to be who they really are. Our guild is founded on respect and you cannot respect someone if you use language that puts them as a lesser being, an othered group. We’ve had some personal sloughing and education on what these concepts are (as far you as you can in guild chat) but overall, it’s been pretty stable and easily implemented. I didn’t want to tout this guild as a place where you could be comfortable and have abusive language sneaking in the cracks. The more nebulous and harder parts of “safe and happy” were where I feel I’m still failing, but doing better with. “Safe and happy” means a lot of different things to everyone, whether it is certain activities being done (like PVP, raiding, roleplay) or more abstract concepts like “open communication” or “emotional stability.” I’m still working on that – getting everyone to open and push for more transparency in our social interactions given that most of us are pretty socially awkward. It’s been going well but we still have our knots to undo.

The other big change I wanted to see other than a more socially aware personality was our own identity back. We had soldiered on so long as part of a now-defunct guild collective. With my final resignation from the raid team, as well as its eventual collapse, I felt we needed to stand out and have our own space with our own ideas and rules. We had come first, we were the ones still standing. With some help from Vitaemachina (for our own Mumble server) and my guildmate Bee (who donated webspace and set up our message board), we finally felt like a separate, real guild with our own little home and place to socialize. I also pulled up some of our veteran members into higher ranks and elected a couple more officers to handle invites when I wasn’t on as well as disputes. My sincere apprehension towards raiding seriously as well as some of our guild’s relative inexperience with raiding meant that I didn’t have the time or energy to attempt organizing raiding but LFR eventually kicked those gates back open and now we have a very successful (if late-blooming) 10man team run by our officers (with me giving some raiding tips here and there). We just downed Heroic Morchok the other night and I couldn’t be prouder. We also run Firelands so one of our mages, Probata, can get her dragon staff (so I’m not the only dragon in the guild). Guild members as well as myself have kept a nice Saturday night Fun Run tradition, got another priest a Vala’nyr and plenty of wicked cool raid drop mounts for people. (No phoenix yet though.) I’ve AHed enough crap out of our guild bank and gotten enough kickback from guild perks to help our second rogue purchase the first part of the dagger legendaries and we’re working with Bee to get her the first set. All in all, I feel we’ve grown bigger and better together, not just because I was at the top of the guild list.

Snack’s post really highlighted a lot of intense emotions for me, though. It doesn’t hurt that he’s had to hold my hand through some of the dark nights when I felt like I couldn’t be a guildmaster to my guild. The hardest part of power, if you are not the corruptible type, is worrying about if you’re abusing it. Worried if you’re doing the right thing. While I’ve not lost a lot of sleep over it (though I can sympathize with that sentiment in my heart), there’s been moments when I’ve been a shitty GM and have wanted to barf because of it. I’ve fucked up deciding who got a retro legendary, I’ve mishandled internal conflicts within the guild, I’ve slipped up in being impartial. In short, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I know that I’ve tried my best to be who the guild wants me to be, but I still sometimes slip into this mode of thinking that I wasn’t cut out for this. Leadership isn’t just doing the right thing but also being the right person. How could someone like me be a GM? I’m notoriously anxious, secretive and emotional. I’ve kept myself and my business closed off even from my officers and closest friends for well over 3 years now and it’s caused some friction. The hardest part is forgiving myself for all of these things. Being so close socially means that it’s hard to remove yourself emotionally when you do something stupid. It becomes less like mitigating a bad business decision and more like a personal failing. There’s not a day that goes by though that I don’t think about my guild and smile proudly to myself. I’ve been in the same guild for my entire career and this is why: it has accomplished something that I feel so many other guilds do not do, which is be a place for people to do what they want, be themselves, and feel cared about even while playing a video game. I couldn’t imagine gaming life without these goofy folk in my life, much less in Warcraft.

So this is not only a treatise to all of you other scared, new GMs out there. It is not just a mantra to myself to give myself more space to learn and grow as a leader. It is a love letter to my guild for not only teaching me how to be a better person, but letting me become on. It is for all the nights you guys put up with me accidentally removing myself from a raid, dodging shitty disagreements, forgetting to change the guild notes or being moody without saying why. It is my adoration for you that spurred me on to make the guild a place where you guys could be happy and I try my hardest to do that for you every day. You make me laugh, smile and even cry sometimes and I’m not too distant to admit that. Gaming is something that people always shit on because the people on the other sides of the screen aren’t “real” but you guys really are. I’ve lived with some of you, met some of you at Blizzcon, are going to meet in the future, or may never meet. But whether it’s hearing your laughter on Mumble, or seeing Pom’s dog pictures on Twitter, hearing Cass make really off-colour jokes, Lept’s eternal sighing over gear that won’t drop, or Met and Odacaer’s adorable puns to eachother, I enjoy it all and I’m glad I have them with me whenever I log on.

I might not play WoW forever, but I will enjoy it until that day comes, whether I’m guild leader or not.

Ji Firepaw: Now More Than Ever

Hello, I’m Apple Cider. You might know me from such great Internet Blog Posts as Ji Firepaw: Creepy Dude and Ji Firepaw: Cardboard Gentleman. I’m here to talk to you today about a serious matter.

Joking aside, I’ve been away from my blog for a bit, after dousing the Internet in man-hating gasoline and setting it on fire according to certain inflammatory MMO-Champion trolls.

However, sharp-eyed blog reader Failadin caught this bit of dialogue in the beta:

I cannot tell you how much this tickles me. Not only did Ji change his dialogue in the first place, but he has enough self-awareness to realize that dropping a compliment on Aysa apropos of nothing might be a little off. Blizzard’s sense of humor about this whole thing is really amazing, and it makes me feel a lot better having raised the point originally. Not only do we get a “reckless” character that may learn a touch of reflection from another, but it shows a real tongue-in-cheek jibe at themselves as writers. I love it. I love when flawed characters grow and learn and possess the ability to learn. I hope Ji and Aysa, despite their personality differences, bring eachother much needed balance to their personalities, as well as the Horde/Alliance in general.

See that people? Ji Firepaw is now more self-conscious than your average Reddit poster. Zing!

What do you feel about this change?

Poised and Ready

I will have screenshots up when beta servers are not dying due to turtles blasting them off their racks, but apparently Ji Firepaw’s dialogue got changed. He now refers to women Pandaren by how poised and ready they are, making his character arc a little more subtle. As Llandrywyn on the MMOC forums espoused:

Where I find myself agreeing with the people who find it inappropriate came about by considering a simple question; “If Ji Firepaw is a flirtatious, bordering on sexist, lecherous old panda, what benefit does it have to his story?” Honestly, I can’t find any real benefit; without this line of dialogue he’s still define as being somewhat flirtatious, impulsive and reckless. His character is still developed in the same way and my overall impression of the character remains unchanged, except I find him somewhat more endearing in that he retains a little more dignity. I freely admit my personal feeling shouldn’t be a factor in the decision making of a creative enterprise, but the question I pose to this thread is this:

“If a character can be conveyed in the same terms, for the same overall feeling and with the same overall character traits, is it not just good and respectful practice for the designers to minimise content that might offend?”

I’m so fucking overjoyed with emotion right now that Blizzard changed this. There’s some speculation that this was part of a larger sweep of changes. Maybe we didn’t cause them to change it directly, maybe we did. I’m counting it as a victory anyways. I’m so proud and emotional about this – Blizzard, you did good this time. You nipped something lazy and uncreative in the bud and worked towards making an NPC that I don’t feel slimy talking to. I’m really happy with myself and everyone who took the time to talk about this issue. We really did something today.

Screenshot from courtesy of Xelestri:

Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions and Nitpicks

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

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

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

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

See for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

New Pandaren Female Teaser: Critique on Video Game Women Bouncily Abounds

Pandaren Female

Very early this morning (3 AM or so my time) Blizzard decided to drop a teaser image on us of what is presumably the female pandaren model for Mists of Pandaria. The full reveal will be on the 19th of March. Considering how we’ve already seen not only  how the males of the race move and look, this was arguably one of the most hotly speculated things about the expansion that wasn’t revealed at Blizzcon last year. The full image is posted up at World of Warcraft’s Facebook, here.

A couple of things really leap out at me and my especially trained lady-figure eye (so sue me): first off, it’s not as heavy as I would have liked, perhaps. There’s obviously curves there, but as Pewter from Decoding Dragons commented, “[it] is still  hourglass shaped.” It gives off feelings of dwarf women, which is fine, but I felt that maybe Blizzard could have gone to a different body form this time around. Slightly more rotund or bottom-heavy triangle would have made sense given how the males are shaped. The arms and their length definitely feel more “animal” than humanoid given that they sit slightly more bulky and longer than where they’d fall on humanoids. They are very goblin-ish in that regards. She has a confident gait, which means she’s not going to be slumping or stooped. The shape coming off her legs and midsection suggests a swinging tassel or tabard. It’s unspeakably Asian-influenced too, with the hair sticks. There’s still a lot of things that trouble me with regards to the Pandaren and Pan-Asian influences, especially where the women are concerned. All in all though, this doesn’t look like a terrible model. The real test though will be to see the face; given what a botch job female worgen were, I am cautiously hopeful that this lady won’t have bedroom eyes or a side-wise snarl.

What really interests me about this is not Mists of Pandaria but what criticism of said female video game race models says about our feelings on women’s bodies, even if they are “fictional.” If you take a gander at WoW Insider’s or MMO Champion’s comments, you are going to get an eyeful of criticism of various body types, sexualized language, and a lot of snark about these “panda women.” (Usual rules and warnings about reading comments apply here, guys. Approach with caution.) Not only criticism but a ton of wolf calls and value judgements like “normal” and “real” which is always exceptionally pernicious when it comes to discussions such as these. A lot of intriguing language that persists in our own discussions about larger women’s bodies pervades with an uneasy metaphor: being “thick” or “having meat on their bones.” It says that we still have a lot of weird concepts with regards to seeing women as edible, consumable or outright sold off the docks to restaurants, if you want to be perversely literal with this metaphor.  All this ever does, aside from whatever homophobia and fat-shaming goes on, is serve to reduce how us actual non-fictional women feel about our own bodies. Sure, Pandaren exist only in Azeroth, but we are the ones who play alongside the gamers saying things like what kind of badonkadonk they have, how big the boobs are, or how ugly and fat they are. A lot of us want to see ourselves in the video games we play (to a degree) and despite eagerly accepting fantasy, there’s ties between our own looks and how these races look (even for men.) As much as men feel the slights of a male power fantasy by not having a 6-pack, women tend to feel bowled over by the sexually-charged, often sexist approaches that video game companies take when representing their fantasy women. It’s still about how we are not part of the audience who is looking at this, and this audience often speaks up quite loudly without thinking about the ramifications of what they are saying.

Do I think Blizzard is failing in this regard? Not as much as some other games, no. Blizzard, while still adhering to a mostly popular waist-hip ratio, still mixes it up with heights, body girth and bone structure (especially with regards to Forsaken, naturally.) It does so more than some other games that have a wide variety of races in their worlds. I’ve heard a lot of women who are happy with the fact that they can play a race that looks like them or makes them feel good about themselves. While the Pandaren criticism is going to be coming fast and hard, I urge you to make your own judgements, whether they be positive or negative, but let’s leave the shaming, the creepiness and the grossness behind. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with these new brewing-and-cooking women (which is fascinating to me, since women dominated a lot of the world’s brewing pre-Industrial Revolution) who can stomp butts all over. Mists, here we come.

Why “Make Me A Sandwich” Needs to Go, Like Since Yesterday

Sit down kids, I have a story for you.

I got invited the other night to do a retro raid with a good friend of mine’s guild. We were both pretty bored, so off to Naxxramas we went. We start plowing into trash and the raid leader (who is also someone I know) asked for someone to pull the damage reduction buffs off some of the mobs. I, being an eternal jokester, make some crack like “what do I look like, a servant” but happily do it anyways. Shortly after, one of the other guildmates on the run asks, “Well then, can you go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich?”

Imagine a record scratch here. I was on Mumble with my friend so he was the only one that heard the neck snap and string of expletives that followed. I was like “Um, what the fuck? Is he asking for a severe tongue lashing?!” My friend immediately got angry and embarrassed as hell, with good reason. He had spent time talking before about how nice this guildmate was, how well-liked and funny they were. And here  they were being about as subtle and annoying as a textbook Redditor. I hadn’t even realized he knew I was a woman. I swallowed my blatant rage and asked politely if we could skip making more sandwich jokes.

That’s where it ended right?

Nope, a minute or two later, another guildmate of my friend asked, “Well if he’s not getting a sandwich, can I get one?” The raid leader said jokingly, “No, you’re probably going to get an ass kicking.”

I spent the rest of the raid feeling like shit. My friend did too, mostly because he had basically assumed his guild would be nice to someone they didn’t know.

Let’s face it – this is a problem. As far back as I can remember while playing World of Warcraft, the easiest way to get some woman’s goat when it’s finally revealed that they are a lady was to rattle some variation of “Make me a sandwich/Get back in the kitchen” joke. Trust me, if you’ve made that joke, you’re not original. You’re not funny. You’re not the 10th, 20th or even 100th person to say that. It’s disrespectful and moreover, it’s sexist.

Unlike so many of the sexist jokes that are out there, I find this one in particular that most alienating and boggling. Women are getting into gaming in droves now, whether it’s casual Facebook games or being on your Call of Duty squad. World of Warcraft has a fairly even split of men and women now, if current numbers are to be believed. There’s no reason to NOT accept that at any given moment, you’ll be surrounded by women, whether they choose to reveal this to you or not. And a lot of times, a lot of them won’t. It’s pretty hard to deal with the fact that every time we are “discovered” or whether we come right out and correct pronouns, there’s a very high risk that it will entail people saying shitty things to us. So despite that fact that we are fairly legion in gaming now, gaming culture is still slanted away from us. It still feels, in a lot of ways, that it is a “man’s world.” So this is why making a “get back in the kitchen” joke is so injurious and ironic to me – not only is gaming rife with women now, but goes against the idea that gamer men truly want us to share a hobby with them.

So what am I really trying to say?

When you make a joke like that, you are saying that not only are women lesser than you (only valuable for creating and procuring food for you), but that they don’t belong in your video games. It’s one thing to denigrate a woman in a video game as being a terrible player, but the whole crux of the sandwich joke is basically saying that this isn’t even a place she should be. Do you really want a Warcraft devoid of women? They make up your raids, your dungeons, your guilds. They have your back in PVP. They organize your guild bank. They are community managers, raid leaders, guild leaders, auction house barons, ranked arena players and more importantly, some of your friends. Is this the kind of message you want to be making?

In case you haven’t been paying attention to my blog, the things we say are important. Even jokes. The source of humor very often has roots deep in truths and the reason jokes happen is that the joke reveals a change against the expectations of the audience. Making a sexist joke stands out because an audience will assume at least some level of parity between women and men and the punchline is that, HA! GOTCHA, you’re not equal to men, you’re good for cooking and crying at soap operas. It’s hurtful.

I guess that is my naive question, then: why do you want to say something that hurts someone else? Even if you don’t intend to, what drives people to say this shit to not only a mixed audience, but people they don’t even know other than them presumably being a woman? There’s a lot of reasons, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that most of the people making these jokes have never had to feel the sting of being excluded (oh wait, aren’t they nerds?) It also has to do with the fact that they don’t even question that they have the privilege to say such things without thinking about what it even means. Hey! You! When you make a joke you think is funny, you’re actually telling another human being that they don’t matter! You’re a shitbag whether this was your intention or not. You’re embarrassing to your friends who know better. Why don’t you try being a decent person and stop quibbling about how words are words and none of them are offensive to you with the insipid blindness that you have never felt dehumanized.

You need to really stop telling women to make sandwiches. Make your own goddamn sandwich, you giant manchild. We need to stop thinking that women don’t belong in the gaming world, because we do. We are here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to keep being visible as women.  If you tell me to get back in the kitchen again, next time I’m bringing back a meat tenderizer.

 

“Slut Plate” Part 2: A Rebuttal and the Tyranny of Language

A list of search strings, various terms of highlighted in pink.

When I set out to make a point on my blog, it still surprises me at this “early” stage of getting my feet that people will not only take what I say seriously but run with it. Last week was a bit of a whirlwind for me – not just because I had a Serious Thing to Say, but that so many people agreed with me and passed the message on. There was also the usual round of criticism and I anticipated that. But the fact that it got discussed and debated and hotly argued over is really what impressed me. I like it when the things I think about open up a dialogue and make the gears start going with regards to our culture and how our language is symbolic of it. There were blog posts, comments and I even got linked as part of a larger post on WoW Insider.  I do want to address some things though before I tackle that particular hornets nest.

First of all, I felt like some people focused exceptionally hard on the precise terms I used. Is “slut plate” a term that has landslide usage? That could be debated, I move around in different circles than other people and I could say that they might be more prone to  using the term. However, is “slut plate” indicative of an very damaging, problematic concept that’s been going on for a while now? Oh, I do think so. (Warning: sexism/rape triggers) The screenshot linked as well as the header image are the search terms that lead to my blog – I know it was a joke tossed around that this is was a monster I birthed into being but I present to you some damning evidence that this is something that lurks in the hearts of many people who type things into Google. “Sassy plate” was my lighthearted attempt to at least use a term that didn’t feel so negative. I didn’t feel like people had to use it, but it felt a fair shade better than referring to something in such a harmful way.

The second and larger problem with talking about “slut plate” was that it focused on an entail without really giving my audience enough of a foundation in where my feelings were coming from on the armor in WoW in general, despite making several calls to it. World of Warcraft has a very problematic history with armor in that it’s consistently refused to give parallel coverage for both male and female characters in the game across all types of armor and that bothers me. It’s not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination and I’d love to see that changed. However, giving people the option to transmog in or out of said armor is a slightly more preferable option from the outset. Wanting to destigmatize choosing skimpy armor when giving a free choice was my ultimate goal, but largely giving people a way of thinking about why the stigma was so harmful in the gaming world. It was pointed out to me that wearing said armor isn’t inherently a feminist choice in and of itself and yes, I do agree. We all make choices that lie within the larger cultural context, even in gaming culture. However, part of gaming culture is shaming people who make a choice that is “sexual” and that includes wearing armor that doesn’t cover. I want to abolish the sexist rhetoric that surrounds it, especially when it is women who make these choices and the language is incredibly gendered. I want to talk about it, I want to get a discussion going. I don’t want to stand idly by and accept that this is normal or acceptable. I felt like some people got angry about the mere hint that I might be trying to control their minds about how they view people who choose to dress like that in a video game, and honestly, I don’t care. If you really want to feel your feelings on other people’s sexual expression, even in a video game, that’s your right. However, the problem is when those thoughts and perceptions influence others when you say things.

That right there is the biggest issue I want to crack.

Words Are Words Are Words Are Words (Not)

Anne Stickney published a really interesting opinion piece on Wow Insider shortly after I posted up my piece on slut plate and it really made me think. However, I don’t know if it made me think in quite the way that Anne intended; I largely disagree with her opinion on where the power of words comes from. She makes some really good assertions but I think comes to an erroneous conclusion, despite grasping most of the problem. However, her bringing it up means we can have a larger discussion about it. This is why I’ve written this secondary piece – that and some of the frivolity that embroidered the Twitter replies and comments I saw on my blog and elsewhere about wanting to hang onto slut/skank as both descriptive terms and bon mots of all things. It is this idea that at the end of the day, words are words. They are malleable and flexible in terms of being divorced from their meaning and shouldn’t really affect you, as the reader or audience.

A-buh?

Let’s focus on the WoW Insider article instead – “What Makes a Bad Word Bad?”

Stickney talks about what words are – a collection of lines given meaning and used. Their meanings can change over time, even from negative to positive and vice-versa. Language is flexible and this is not an inherently new concept to discuss. However, she asks a lot of questions regarding this, in the true nature of criticism that I find appealing:

When did that happen, exactly? How did people take a word with one meaning and give it another — and more importantly, whydid we let it grow and fester into a word that we are now ultimately offended by?

If we have the power to change the meaning of a word from positive to negative, why do we seem to lack the power to stop it from changing at all?

It shows an awareness that language DOES have power. She then goes on to place that power squarely in the hands of those who are offended though.

It’s a power play, and there are far too many people out there who buy into it on a continual basis.

In short, it’s not the words that are harmful; they’re collections of lines. Placed in order, and given meaning. The person who gives those words meaning is the person who holds all the power over those words, not the person who is saying them. The person who is saying them is hoping beyond all hope that the ones who are listening are going to give those words the worst meaning possible and have some sort of negative reaction to it.

This makes me sad, ultimately, and while I feel I understand her personal motivations for the conclusions (I mean, who wouldn’t? It gives you a feeling of control) the fact that she’s espousing this across the board makes me upset. You cannot acknowledge that words have power but say it is all resting on the audience to grant that power to said words. No, the power of words is precisely why word choice is so thorny to begin with. Anne’s analysis skirts dangerously close to a couple of concepts that get tossed around in feminist discussion all the time: victim blaming (which we’ve touched on before) and the notion that things will stop hurting if we “get over” them hurting us. It’s a thick brocade of guilt, shame and blame that often traps most people are marginalized in some way.

Let’s pull it back to see why making a point like that is so boggling if it wasn’t evident from what I said already.

Language is a really fascinating thing – it isn’t just sounds, it isn’t just letters, it isn’t even just meaning or context or non-verbal/verbal gestures. It isn’t just tone. It is all of these things in a giant soup. They can be abstracted and pulled apart, mushed back together and analyzed a billion different ways. At its basest form, it is an attempt to put thoughts and feelings into a way that communicates them to an audience. We even think in “words” a lot of the time, which is a conversation to ourselves. Communication is the interaction that occurs between the sender and receiver, the speaker and the audience. The message and the medium, as Marshall McLuhan used to speak fondly about. Communication theorists, language scholars, and philosophers have all tackled the questions of the very nature of language and what it means, how it works. To me, the cornerstone of the process is words. Any way you want to look at language, you have to acknowledge that the gateway to all facets of its study is within words. A collection of lines or sounds, given meaning. They are the little sailboats we float across the river and hope drift safely to the far shore.

Where words get their meaning is a collection of simultaneous decisions on the part of us as a society, as groups, and as human beings. Words and their meaning can shift between precise and imprecise, with wildly different usages, histories or nuance given any number of things. As a communication graduate, a lot of what we looked at was how communication breaks down between sender and receiver and oftentimes that had to do with an imprecise or incongruous understanding of the meaning of what was said. The misfire between intent and reaction is fascinating. I could stand here most of the day and talk about why this occurs, but I’d like to interject two very big elephants in the room when it comes to the collision between language and social sciences.

I’d like everyone to say hi to Power and Emotion.

Power and emotion are two very complex, very different kinds of subjects that give some words and meanings more influence over others. It is what makes them more effective, more persuasive, more coercive, more harmful or beneficial. This is why Anne’s argument falls apart in my eyes. She feels that the power comes from the audience, but that’s looking at it from an emotional standpoint and it is a very lopsided way of understanding the dynamics between Power and Emotion. Words are given power by our collective society, and in turn, they have the power to make an audience feel things. In that way, she is correct, we do feel things from the words said to us. Anyone who has been taken by an enthusiastic speech or cut down by a sharp turn of phrase in a fight knows that words do hurt. We have the ability to be moved by the language of others. This is a natural reaction of sentience. However (and this is a fundamental part of philosophy and social issues), words and meanings have power that flows in from our larger network of societal advantages. A speaker can do a lot of things knowing what kind of power a word has, that’s the whole reason they are said. Our language has the power to inform, to shape our reality. This comes to a head when that power is given to the feelings of hate and discrimination we feel inside. Historically, there have been many groups we have cut down and kept down even with our words. Our words enforce and permit a cage that people can be trapped in, long after we’ve stopped physically harming them as a society (or even if we haven’t.) This is where the complex emotional latticework I mentioned before comes back into play. Even if the speaker has the privilege of not caring or not being aware of the power a word can have on someone, it still can wreck grievous harm on the audience. This is because words are never quite divorced from lived experienced, history, or context.

Pull this back out of abstraction and you have scenarios like this:

A woman is walking home from work in a big city. A car of young men drives by and shouts “SLUT!” at her. It feels scary. 

Same woman is reading the internet and comes across people in a video game discussing “slutty outfits.”

This might be a bit of an extreme example (thought it has happened to me) but it shows that one word used two different places can speak to a larger emotional experience as the audience and it comes from people having the power to denigrate the woman with their words. To say the people speaking said words are inscrutable and not culpable for wielding the power of destructive words and meanings is short-sighted and harmful. It gives people more social currency to continue not caring about how they affect others or gleefully allows them the permission to keep doing it for their own benefit. To chastise the audience (intended or not) for their feelings and to ignore the power we give words not only is double-faced (acknowledge that a word had power over you, now pretend it doesn’t have any power at all) but callous. While I believe is empowering if someone can move into a space of not being hurt by a long-standing slur or trigger, to believe that all people should move past it in the face of real historical or social inequalities (enforced and illuminated by words) is terrible. It says, “You should ignore people hurting you” when we should be focus on the people doing the hurting. We’re not stupid. We know what hurts people and when we don’t, and are informed that they do and why, why do we tell victims to shoulder it and move on? Why not acknowledge the feelings of others and become better people?

Does it suck to feel like shit all the time? Totally. I get, like I said before, the desire for control in a world that seeks to shit on your face regularly. Control and your own power where you’ve largely  had none. But I’m never going to feel comfortable turning around and telling people that it is their own fault that a word makes them upset when we’ve built social mechanisms behind making those words hurt as hard and long as possible, with very little consequences for people who use them thoughtlessly, aggressively, repeatedly. This is why gamer culture is feeling such growing pains lately – what has been a long-standing tradition of mocking those who feel hurt by legitimately hurtful things, to use words to denigrate and inflame others is now being criticized and studied, turned on its head. I do not accept Anne’s argument that we as people victimized by language are the sole arbiters of the power these words have when they have very large social contexts. When we let people in power speak the hate they feel in their minds and hearts, these words are a crushing blow to those they feel like discriminating. When you add in a culture that gives them a high five for doing so, that gives them justifications for dehumanizing people, it lets them compartmentalize their brains. It gives us things like “Well I didn’t mean it THAT way” because they do not value the feelings of their audiences.

It is a long standing edict in social justice discourse that “intent isnt magical.” What this means is that your intended meaning doesn’t matter if you hurt someone, what matters is that the hurt occurred. Gamers are some of the most egregious offenders of pretending that they can divorce their words and messages from their long-standing cultural meanings and viciousness to mean something “tame” and inoffensive. It is a false ability they believe they’ve been given when they’ve long been the group most likely to benefit from not being on the sharp pointy end of hurtful words.

We should not have to get over someone hurting us. What we should get over, as a culture, is using words to reduce others in a myriad of ways that speak to larger societal issues. We should stop letting our gaming spaces be trickle down streams of the gaping inequalities we still enforce in our culture. We should stop suckerpunching others with gross terms and smug positions of power and then telling our recipients to just stop feeling the blows. It is an argument that is the logical equivalent of “stop hitting yourself.” While I feel Anne’s heart was in the right place in that she doesn’t wish people to feel upset about the stupid shit people say, the fact that we should ignore the larger problems of said stupid shit is wrong.

Words are words, but they are very powerful things indeed.