A Letter to Blizzard Regarding Rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Some Improvements for Playing with Portals

Apple Cider asks a portal trainer about portals.

Come on, how the heck do I get to Shrine of Seven Stars?

When I was writing another installment of my mage leveling guide today, I noticed something I had come across the night prior on my new level 20 mage – mages now get all their relevant city teleports at level 17. At the time, I didn’t realize this though. The system for mages of all levels to learn relevant teleport and portal spells is still very unintuitive. I believe that there is a reason why it happened and I hope to suggest some things to fix this, however.

With Patch 5.0, Blizzard significantly revamped the leveling and talent system so that when anyone is leveling up, they no longer have to visit a trainer to acquire new spells. This is great; it means you’re not constantly running back to a city and tracking down a trainer for your next spell. You can just pull it out of your spellbook and stick it on your bars. Mages had it slightly easier as we could, after a while, just teleport to our trainers. Everyone else was fucked though.

At level 17, all mages learn the base Teleport spell as well as the Portal spell at level 42. These two spells were designed recently to be icons that are a fly-out menu of every Teleport/Portal spell you have learned, making it easier for mages to pick an appropriate spell and keep your UI uncluttered. When you gain Teleport/Portal, you are given one free “out in the wild” teleport or portal spell to your “home” city (based on race). While leveling my Pandaren, I noticed she was given Orgrimmar. I figured I’d get other teleport spells at a later time. When checking the spells list on Wowhead, I noticed that every single city is listed as being learned at level 17. In order to learn all the cities available to you prior to level 60, you have to visit a Portal trainer.

This becomes somewhat of a problem to newer players (or even veteran players like myself) because it is not indicated anywhere that you can learn all the appropriate cities at level 17, or that to do so, you have to visit a Portal trainer.  Also, what city you learn for free is based on your race, so if you’re a Draenei, for instance, your free teleport is Exodar. This is great if you are still questing in that area, but most players I know skedaddle to Eastern Kingdoms by that point. Most cities are slightly more well-connected now but giving a mage a teleport spell to a city that isn’t central to their activities with no indication of where to get the other cities from isn’t very helpful. Sure, I eventually figured it out with the help of Wowhead, but what about someone who is new? Portal trainers aren’t listed on a guard’s gossip option, nor are they even standardized in terms of location when a mage teleports in.

This isn’t even limited to low-level mages either – it’s not immediately evident where to get new portals as you change expansions. I hit level 90 on my mage and it took me a while to find Larimaine here in Stormwind to learn my portal to Shrine of the Seven Stars. There’s no portal trainer in the faction capitals in Pandaria (despite having a portal room), unlike in Shattrath or Dalaran.

I believe that several things that could be changed if we want make this system better for everyone involved:

  1. Indicate in both the level ding pop-up and a mage’s spell book (similar to Riding skills) that there are additional teleport/portal spells available from a Portal Trainer.
  2. Standardize portal trainers in ALL cities, in similar locations. Some are near the Blasted Lands portal, some aren’t. Some are near portals to Stormwind/Orgrimmar in later content, some aren’t.
  3. Standardize a faction teleport – this directs all players to the faction capital. Make that portal trainer prominently standing when a mage teleports there to learn the other spells.
  4. Use a pop-up quest or tip to “teach” players where to go or who to talk to. Similar to the Dalaran quest about how to use the teleport stone at level 72, this might be an alternative method to teach newbies as to where to go.
  5. Give guards a gossip option for where a portal trainer in cities is located.

Hopefully if Blizzard makes some of these changes, it could lead to some nice quality of life changes for my fellow mages who are learning the teleportation arts. For any other issues with portals, please consult our handbook.

Edit: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/1012760/

I posted a version of this up in the Mage forums (for lack of a better place) so if you want to go discuss there or gives a thumbs up!

 

 

Learned Helplessness: A Cage Called Harassment

Trigger warnings: frank talk about sexual acts, sexual violence, harassment, animal mistreatment, stalking, depression and mental illness, and “slut shaming.”

This post is intensely personal/raw.

My therapist leaned forward a little.

“There was an experiment a long time ago, one of the first ones they had done regarding anxiety. They put a dog in a cage. This was a long time ago, obviously, before…”

“Before they had ethical guidelines, right?”

“Right.”

Continue reading

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.

 

It’s Time to Stop Time Warp Abuse

Apple Cider uses Time Warp outside of the Caverns of Time

Mages, have a seat over here. I need to talk to you about a subject of crucial importance. It is about your meddling with things better left in the hands of more experienced arcanists, or dare I even say it, shaman. The Powers-That-Be saw it fit to give us access to one of the highest forms of the arcane, the ability to bend time to our wills. And here I see so many hedge wizards and disgraceful magisters fiddling with it heedlessly. Didn’t we learn from the Bronze Dragonflight that time is very, very fragile thing? That it needs care and concern, wisdom and experience?

I am concerned with some of you in the mage community, particularly in Looking for Raid, who seem to not know a jot about when to pop Time Warp. Maybe some of you were never taught outside of the whole “PRESS THIS BUTTON MAKES DPS GO UP” thing, but we need to have a Serious Talk. Time Warp, like its sister spells Bloodlust/Heroism, are very powerful and need to be used responsibly. There’s nothing that raises my blood pressure faster than popping these spells at the wrong time, but mages need the sternest lecture, as most shaman at least have had a few years to get the hang of proper cooldown timing.

I’m looking at you, mage who used Time Warp on the last 15 percent of Mor’chok in LFR. I’m shaking my damn head.

How Do I Even USE This Thing?

Time Warp is a powerful raid-wide cooldown and has a severe debuff (shared with Bloodlust/Heroism) that keeps you from using it again for 10 whole minutes unless you die. It also has an internal cooldown of 5 minutes for use, so misusing it does have some consequences, especially if you hit it accidentally. The best way to keep yourself from using it when you do not mean to is to give it an accessible keybind that isn’t going to be smushed (or “fat-fingered”) if you are doing your normal mage business. I have it on one of my many mouse buttons, but set back from my normal keybinds so I don’t do just that.

Along with not using it at an incorrect moment due to user error, it’s also helpful to let people know that you used it as some people do not always pay attention to nor have notifications for when Time Warp goes out. There are mods that do automatic raid and party chat messages, but I am old school and just use a quirky macro to tell people when I use Time Warp. Be creative, you’re a mage! That’s what we’re supposed to be good at. Here’s what mine looks like:

#showtooltip Time Warp
/stopcasting
/cast Time Warp
/p WIBBLY WOBBLY TIMEY WIMEY STUFF!
/raid WIBBLY WOBBLY TIMEY WIMEY STUFF!

See? Now you can use Time Warp at the proper time and with maximum intent!

Since you seem to be so concerned with people who don’t use it at the right time, when should I actually hit Time Warp?

While I am a firm believer that the fight should really call for specific Time Warp or BL/Hero usage, there’s some general Rules of Thumb for “good” Time Warp casting.

  • Start of a fight – This is your basic, standard time to pop TW. Just make sure that it occurs after the mob has been pulled and your DPS is actually had time to start attacking and use cooldowns. This is usually your “heroic dungeon” flavor of Time Warp, where it shortens the fight.
  • Burn Phases – This is a specific kind of boss fight that demands that you do more DPS at a particular point rather than at the beginning or end of a fight (see: Zon’ozz, Hagara). Whether this is due to a mechanic that makes you do more DPS, takes away more of a boss’ health or is crucial to keeping your raid alive (periods of high group damage), this is something you should be aware of and not waste it beforehand. Note: Fights that have multiple burn phases should usually save heroism for later, rather than sooner.

These rules will cover your butt 90 percent of the time, especially in a casual setting. If you are playing at a higher level than just heroics or LFR, a rule that supersedes all of these is:

  • When Your Raid Leader Tells You To – ignoring the person who best knows the concerns of all roles involved (tanks, DPS and healers) in a fight will land you on the bench or possibly only conjuring food for your raid’s shaman if you’re not careful.

I do stress though, that educating yourself about a fight as well as a particular group’s strategy does way more good than any guide I could give you. However, I feel it is every mage’s best interests to know the reasons behind why people tell you to do things.

Note:  This post previously indicated also possibly using TW/BL/Hero during “execute” range at the end of the boss fight but see here as to why this is not actually mathematically advantageous.

Gosh, I Get It, Time Warp At the Right Time, Yadda Yadda, Why Do You Care So Much?

Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility!

But seriously, Time Warp is an intensely beneficial spell that benefits everyone in the group, not just you. Being selfish, careless, using it willy-nilly or with little regard for what’s going on  will earn you scorn, or even impede progress on a fight. I know that most people don’t care about LFR in terms of “doing things the right way” but it should be treated less like “anything goes” and more like a good place to refine your basic skills and have fun. Part of this, as a mage, means giving Time Warp to the group when it is sorely needed. It makes the rest of us look bad if you have no idea when you should be casting it. If I catch you mages goofing off with Time Warp, I will yell at you, make no mistake about that. See that I don’t have to.

I’ve got my Eye on you.

“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.

 

Let’s Get Rid of “Slut Plate” Forever

Draenei women in sassy plate and mail transmog outfits.

Ah-ha, I’ve skewered you with my provocative title.

It’s true that it was a just a ruse; I’m not here to talk about abolishing the many, many sets of  evocative armor in World of Warcraft. I’m here to talk about getting rid of the disgusting language and thoughts that surround them! As I’ve discussed before, I’m a big proponent of the idea that the words we choose to express ideas with inform many of our feelings. A word that encompasses an entire disgusting ideology: slut. Sluttiness is both a term used to denigrate female sexuality as well as denote when it occurs in a way that extends beyond what the judgemental person feels is “respectable” “healthy” or “acceptable.” You can be a slut if you do X, Y, or Z. You can be a slut if you do something X number of times or have X number of partners. In that vein, I feel the landslide useage of “slut plate” in the WoW community puts that same unhealthy/sexist perception around even something as fun and aesthetic as transmogrification/roleplaying gear. The very term itself makes my mouth pucker up in my characteristic sour sneer. It makes me legitimately angry.

Unfortunately, this kind of gear has existed for a very long time in Azeroth, if not other game universes. There’s been no end to blog articles and topics that revolve how women in World of Warcraft, particularly while leveling, are subject to a very different appearance to their male counterparts. Simply put: anyone playing a female toon, particularly if you wanted to play a mail or plate class, has put up with gear that left almost nothing to the imagination. It feels very objectifying and caters to a very specific audience. This is not new territory. The crux of it is the lack of choice and the lack of consideration. It says that the designers do not always think about anyone other than themselves or a segment of the consumers for their game. Given that this segment has historically been straight, young males, it is no surprise that this stuff has been dubbed the aforementioned “slut plate” (or sometimes “stripper gear”, etc.) It is gear that is designed to make female characters look sexually appealing rather than clad in functional items that would provide some measure of protection. Making this the only option while making your way through pieces of armor disallows the player’s feelings to enter into the matter.

What happens though when you are suddenly allowed to dress up how you want? Enter transmogrification. What was once the sole realm of roleplayers that eschewed PVE practicality for storytelling aesthetics while chilling out in Silvermoon City is now everyone’s game. Choice is back on the table in a big way and with that, it stirs up a lot of feelings. Not only can you buy your way OUT of a terrible outfit that makes you feel weird or gross, but you can buy your way into being scantily clad full-time. Not only that, but it is a hunt and a big business. These sets fetch quite a high price on the Auction House and I see many flesh-baring outfits around Stormwind when I’m standing around. I feel that this is one of the reasons why I’ve seen a big resurgence of posts that include the term “slut plate” and a lot of nose-sniffing at “toons that look like they belong around a stipper pole.”  There is both the glee of booty-watching and the derision of game-supported dress that echoes “disrespectful” expression in real life.

I feel that the term “slut plate” represents the problematic elements of both of these opinions. Calling it “slut plate” even mean in jest or in a seemingly positive way, or even just as a “neutral” descriptor implies that being scantily clad indicates a certain character point, one which is tangled up a very harmful word from our society. A harmful word that reduces a woman’s expressed sexuality into an ever-shifting, very narrow definition: one that has little to do with her feelings or choices in the matter. Using it in a negative way or expressing that people that choose to dress like this need to cover up is one facet of that narrow definition of feminine sexuality. Both opinions basically reduce the choice to wear such armor to a simple message: “This is bad, except when I feel it is good.”  All of this over vanity armor in a video game, no less. However, we are naive if we think that the problems with how women dress in real life don’t have unintentional parallels to gaming spaces, especially when one can choose to be female and scantily clad (most of the time.) Much how people should be allowed to express themselves via their clothing in real life, I feel that should cross over into gaming.

Choosing to wear something skimpy in real life or World of Warcraft should be because someone wants to, because it makes them happy, and should not indicate anything other about a person’s personality or sexuality other than what they wish it to indicate. It should not give you carte blanche to use sexist terms, reduce women to sexualized figures for your pleasure, or to shame women or make jokes about having jobs in the sex work industry (Sex workers are human beings too.) All of you who use this term frequently should really step back and think about what lead you to using this and how it shapes your views on characters running around in Azeroth looking like this. Break down the relationships between revealing armor and what it “says” about someone. Stop thinking of other’s expression of sexiness or fashion as solely for your consumption or derision. The world does not spin on what you feel is appropriate for dress or mannerisms when it comes to non-harmful behaviour, especially in a video game!

How do we combat this term though? If I was better learned in linguistics and sociology, I could probably pull out several sources on a reasonable solution. Alas, I am but a lowly communication grad. In my experience, the best way to unhook deeply entrenched relationships between thought and language has been to abolish or replace, preferably with corresponding concepts that are better suited for everyone and less derogatory. Therefore, I think we should get rid of “slut plate” as a term and replace it with words that more precisely define what we are talking about in a positive or objective way.

Want to wear something pink and skimpy?

Sassy plate!

Platekini!

These are both fun ways of addressing the same kinds of armor without the added baggage of shame and sexism. You could also just use descriptive words like “revealing” “bare-it-all” “scantily clad” with a minimum of fuss. Personally, most of my characters are fairly battle-ready in dress but in the interest of being honest to this piece, I felt like that maybe I should dabble in a little bit of sassy mail. I have tucked away pieces in my bank over the years, maybe it is time to be fierce!

Shaman poses in sassy plate in Blackrock Mountain.

I look pretty badass if I do say so myself. Even if I un-transmog my gear tomorrow, I feel like I’ve made an important statement though. Our choice in in-game armor shouldn’t be a way of defining us, especially in a shameful way. We have to deal with this problem in real life, why does it also have to extend into our fantasy lives too? Half the point of a fictional world is that we get do the things that we might not be able to do outside. When we still live in a world where people believe wearing a short skirt is “asking for it” – why can’t we wear skimpy armor while running around on toons that can kill people with several fireballs or a well-swung axe? Expression in a fictional world should be a lot more fun and a lot less guilt-inducing than what we have to suffer through in our day to day lives.

Let’s embrace the sassy plate, people. It might just create a better World (of Warcraft.)

Note: If you want to discuss this post on Twitter, or just get the “sassy plate” train going, use the hash-tag #sassyplate.  

 

Shit People Say, Internalized Sexism and the Responsibility of Satire

I’ve only been on the periphery of the “Shit People Say” meme phenomenon as I do not often go to Youtube unless someone directs me there. This time,  it was a guildmate of mine linking me Trade Chat’s video in the same vein, titled “Sh!t that Girl WoW Players Say.” The guildmate expressed her disappointment but wasn’t sure if she was wrong in feeling like the video mocked other female wow players or if Panzer was merely being satirical. I watched the video and I came to the conclusion that it just felt mocking.

Nothing against Panzer, because it is not an isolated problem, especially if we look at the larger meme to begin with. My guildmate felt that a lot of what were people’s attempts at humor did nothing but serve to undermine already marginalized groups and take away from really relevant videos like this one:

This is what satire is all about. Satire, without going into a lengthy dissertation, is best utilized by the people who feel the slings and arrows of the majority. In short, satire really cuts when you’re criticizing someone who has some measure of power over your world. While the video above is very hilarious, it also really underscores a legitimate problem that black women have with white women and the racist things they say.

My problem with the Shit People Say meme as well as the original WOW video I linked is that a lot of them do nothing to really undercut or inform, just mock from a privileged position. Now, is Panzer a lady? Yes she is. Is it okay to make fun of other women? Contextually I feel there’s a time and place. Criticism of other women for things that aren’t internalized sexist concepts tends to fare better than reinforcing that women who “act like this” in video games are dumb and to be made fun of. It makes me sad and disappointed to see someone so well-liked and recognizable making fun of the things women say in WOW. It’s problematic. Is it probably just for laughs? Maybe. But the crux of it is that when a woman stands up and starts picking on women, it gives men even more “justified” reinforcement that women are stupid and prime for mocking. A lot of the things that Panzer highlights in the video (like “baby aggro”, push-to-giggling, and “my voice is not sexy!”) are things that men (and other women) take ladies to task for because they feel they are stupid or shitty when they are really symptoms of larger sexist problems. Ones that we as women frequently swallow at face value and in turn, criticize other women for. It does nothing to elevate ourselves and it gives more power to keep us down.

Satire, especially in the World of Warcraft community, should serve to undercut the inherent problems at the same time they crack a smile. When women are already a fairly oppressed class in the gaming world, having a notable female celebrity in vlogging using tropes like the Angry Female and the Mom and the Giggly Sexpot does nothing for us. Those of us who are marginalized content creators, in my mind, should use our celebrity and our platform to entertain, but not without Making a Point. And that point shouldn’t serve as just more fodder for male gamers to laugh at women, when a lot of what they criticize is often the direct problem of sexist ideas or sexist opinions.

A good example of satire within the WoW community is this video by WoPairs and a gaggle of awesome lady machinima artists/voice actors:

By flipping the genders around, it is amusing but it does highlight the actual problems women deal with in raids and with gendered language. This is the kind of stuff I like to see. Humor definitely has its place our gaming community, but not at the expense of others who are already picked on on a regular basis in every area of their lives. Make the culture you want to be a part of, not the culture we already find ourselves stuck in. It just might make people think.

WoW Celebrity, Twitter, and the Problem of Victim-Blaming

Paris Hilton wearing a bra and garter belt at a party.

This was linked on Crendor's Twitter last night. It is the first image you get when you GIS "Paris Hilton whore".

If anyone was paying attention to Twitter last night, it was a blood bath.  A fairly well-known WoW machinima creator by the name of Crendor (aka WoWCrendor) decided last night to use Twitter as his personal platform to berate women who dress like “whores.”  What surprised me the most was not that his fans jumped up to support him but the sheer number of people who Tweeted or re-Tweeted things that myself and others were saying about how sexist and victim-blaming he was. Instead of initially apologizing for the whole thing, he got wildly indignant and decided to dig the hole deeper, including tying a woman’s dress to the amount of times she gets creeped, abused or cheated on. Sound suspiciously familiar?

WoWCrendor finally pushed out an apology later, with little to no self-awareness of what he actually did wrong or why that train of thought was so damaging and promptly deleted most of the tweets. I have them all saved here if people wish to see them in the unvarnished light of day. I’m really disappointed by this as he was one of my favorite movie creators by far. I felt like he wasn’t one of the douchebags that randomly populate every aspect of gaming culture.

Now, I’m not writing this article just to point fingers at Crendor. Goodness knows I did enough of that last night on Twitter. I think we all need to sit down as a community and think about what he said, why he said it and confront some really thorny issues.  Because Crendor isn’t just a bad dude who said this. A lot of dudes say this. A lot of gals do too. This right here, this train of thought is what directly contributes to rape, abuse and other forms of harassment being so hard to punish for, because societally, we feel the real instigator of all of these things is not the person who committed the act, but the person who was victimized. They wore the wrong thing, they said the wrong thing, they dared to be in an alley or a bar, I could go on. We’ve grown so used to believing that the woman in this scenario brought it on herself that there’s little to no mention about the person who is culpable – morally, ethically and legally.

What is this called? The actual term that gets used in most feminist circles is “victim blaming.”

Victim blaming occurs when the victim(s) of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment are held entirely or partially responsible for the transgressions committed against them. Blaming the victim has traditionally emerged especially inracist and sexist forms.[1] However, this attitude may exist independently from these radical views and even be at least half-official in some countries.[2]

People familiar with victimology are much less likely to see the victim as responsible.[3] Knowledge about prior relationship between victim and perpetrator increases perceptions of victim blame for rape, but not for robbery.[4]

World of Warcraft is obviously a fictional world and a video game and we don’t all physically interact with eachother. So it might feel like a lot of what was said last night doesn’t really apply to my little blog, but it does. It’s very apparent if you read my blog that the feelings and mores that we have about the real world very often carry themselves into our virtual spaces. Not only do people we deem “celebrities” in our nerdy little niche of the Internet say terrible things about 50 percent of their possible fan-base, but we have to deal with victim-blaming inside the game, even. Victim-blaming is such a pervasive thought that at it’s weakest concentration, it is even a defense for bullying and trolling. Have you ever thought, “well, they were just asking for it” and then done something mean or rude? Yeah. It’s that too.

But let’s bring it back a little. I was stalked and harassed via World of Warcraft by someone in my friend circle. You might even say that we had a slightly friendlier-than-friends relationship. I dance around this because even though I have a restraining order against this person now, since he’s been harassing me via blogs, Twitter, and WoW for well over 3 years, I still know that there’s many people who will read this and say, “Well, didn’t you do XYZ with him? That’s why he’s doing this to you.” See? Why is the person who is sending me rape threats on a daily basis less culpable of harassment than me, the person who gets to put up with this abuse daily? See how illogical it is? Or did it not even occur prior to someone you know saying something like this for you to see that?

This is why I’m exceptionally annoyed with someone like Crendor using a platform that is public and open to his entire fanbase to directly spout victim-blaming and other sexist malarky. Because all it does is serve to reinforce some really scary ideas that, out in the wild, have managed to make it hard to report any sort of abuse or rape or harassment by the victim because of what the backlash will be. It’s even become so normalized that women should expect and understand that they will be hit on because they were dressing sexy. And that they should just deal with that. Why is it that when the crime becomes involved with sex or abuse that suddenly we don’t find the person who did those things responsible? We don’t say that the bank was “just asking” to be robbed by having all that money inside of its vaults.

I want WoW celebrities to rise out of the primordial ooze, much like everyone else in our culture, and stop putting the fault of a crime on the person who had the crime committed against them. I want people to stop using their status and their public forums to spreading the same garbage we hear every day. I want there to be repercussions and consequences for thinking this is an okay idea to espouse professionally. I want people to think about this in all areas of their life, from bullying to abuse, to rape and even stuff like just creeping on someone at a bar. Unhook your brain from its track of “they were asking for it” and think about “what can I do to stop this from happening to more people?” We can even try all we like to make people “less of the victims” as we have been for years, but we really need to focus our efforts on not creating new criminals and bullies.

Clothes are just clothes, Crendor. They are swatches of material we use to express ourselves. They do not, however, force a person to do something to them. They do not ask for things. They are garments we wear for various reasons. A woman should be allowed to wear what she wants and not be at fault when lots of dudes feel compelled to hit on her in a creepy way. Dudes should stop hitting on people in creepy ways and if you think that clothes have anything to do with it, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

(Note, the bridge is wearing pasties and a thong. Hope that helps.)

You Can Take the Gnome Out of the Raid

Tarecgosa roaring in front of Wyrmrest Temple.

But you can’t always take the raid out of the gnome.

While I’ve been meaning to write a keybinding guide/exploration, or perhaps a post on any number of topics, the holidays and wrapping up the last couple weeks of my job have been slaughtering my motivation to blog. However, one thought has really stuck in my craw enough to make me write a blog post.

Last night, my little social guild grouped up and did their weekly LFR run together. This is a lot of fun for us; we sit on Mumble and crack jokes on bad players, talk about other stuff and sometimes even alcohol is involved. It is a great way for us to see raid content together but the stress of people feeling terrible or unused to raid mechanics is gone. I consider it preparing people gear-wise and knowledge-wise for an eventual 10man. We cleared through both segments of Dragon Soul fairly handily. On Ultraxion, I won the chest tier piece. I was shocked! I have been running LFR for quite a number of weeks now and aside from my guildmate giving me the Insignia of the Corrupted Mind last night, this was the first piece of gear I had won fair and square. I was so excited!

Except then a druid piped up that I was wearing a 391 tier chest from Firelands. I was, wasn’t I? The tier pieces from LFR are 384. I immediately felt stupid. Did I forget that LFR gear isn’t necessarily* better than the 391s I was dripping in? Or the legendary staff I have strapped to my back? I probably looked like an overentitled jerkbag just then. As much as I’d love 2 or 4-set tier bonus for the delicious haste, is it really better mathematically than the 391 Tier 12 I’m currently wearing? What struck me immediately after that thought was this one:

Does it even matter?

I always made this argument when I saw people in various communities who only ran heroics complaining that they didn’t have access to raid gear. If you didn’t do raids, why would you need that level of gear. I find myself in this position now. While everyone has access to raid gear now via LFR (which is awesome), the fact of the matter is that I am no longer raiding but outgear the LFR in most ways, and find myself without even so much as a casual 10-man now. Do I really need to be doing LFR at all?  This is a question I wrestle with now. I’ve been part of the gear grind for so long, that long eternal lock-step of BETTER, BETTER, BETTER, BEST-IN-SLOT that now I have no idea what to do with myself. I’m not pushing content even on normal and theoretically I don’t need the gear out of LFR to do heroics. While running LFR is nice for capping valor points or updating certain slots, I sorta wonder (for the first time since 4.3) dropped what I really am going to do with myself. It’s been nice to have free time but I feel suddenly devoid of things to do on my main. I’ve been leveling a tank alt in my free time as well as my second mage, but this is the first time I feel like I’ve “finished” a character.

So for as much as I have “quit” raiding, some part of me still hasn’t. I think last night was a bit of a wake-up call.