One of the questions on everyone’s mind is who will be ascending to the title of Warchief after Garrosh bites the dust in 5.4. According to my sources deep inside Blizzard, apparently this will be none other than the wonderful Sassy Hardwrench. Miss Hardwrench, not content for being someone’s assistant and being passed over for leader of the Goblins, is a larger part of the raid on Orgrimmar than players may expect.
“We felt that the Horde, as well as the other leaders of Azeroth had too few women in charge and we felt that this was a pretty grievous error on our part. The idea of having the second most recognizable leadership of the Horde be Sassy seemed like a natural choice,” said a person who does not look like or sound like Dave Kosak in any way, shape or form. Other Blizzard story developers declined to comment on the record but it seemed to be like a unanimous decision.
But how will Sassy take over an entire population of orcs? Isn’t she busy running her weapons depot in Stranglethorn? Apparently her good looks, charm and even suspected romance with an unnamed (as of yet) lady orc warrior help win her the hearts of the people.
“There’s some gaps in our representation and we feel that Sassy is a perfect in-road towards showing more kinds of characters in the future.”
Archmage Modera, Jaina, Narasi, my shaman and Vereesa talk business.
This week, like many other servers, my little RP server participated enough on the Isle of Thunder in order to unlock Stage 2. For anyone who hasn’t really poked at Patch 5.2 content, the newest daily hub features the forces of the Kirin Tor Offensive versus the Sunreaver Onslaught. These two factions are the continuation of the story from Patch 5.1 involving Jaina and the purging of Dalaran, and for the Alliance. What makes it so unique is that it’s one of the few places I’ve seen so far that is a largely woman-dominated part of the story, at least Alliance-side. What got me thinking about all this is the scenario (“Assault on Shaol’mara”) that players have to do that bridges Stage 1′s landfall on the island to securing the tiny outpost in Stage 2. The scenario, especially if you play a woman PC, is entirely driven and acted out by women NPCs – Jaina Proudmoore and Vereesa Windrunner in particular. There are also a couple other notable Kirin Tor Offensive names such as Archmage Modera and Narasi Snowdawn from the Silver Covenant.
It’s the first time that I can remember in-game that the story moving around me wasn’t really due to the actions of men or being plodded forward for their benefit. Even more astounding is that it isn’t really a diplomatic mission but it’s you fighting to push back the trolls in a skirmish. Vereesa is your guide Alliance-side and you and her fight with panache (she even says she likes your style!) and help gain ground so that the Offensive can set up a permanent base of operations on the island. It is a short scenario, to be sure, fighting a couple of bosses and trash but it felt a lot more immersive than some of the other story scenarios I ‘ve done, save for Operation: Shieldwall, but the fact that this particular group is headed up by Jaina and her lady pals is a welcome change from a world where she’s (and other women NPCs) have been shit on for taking the reins. While Garrosh and Varian are still duking it out like saggy diaper babies over Krasarang, Jaina and Vereesa are pushing with the Shado-Pan to unseat Lei Shen’s forces from the Throne of Thunder.
I always thought it was particularly weird that despite Azeroth being mixed gender, that women NPCs haven’t largely been as visible as “fighting” forces outside of Sylvanas. Even as leaders, they still assume more of a “calm” face to opposition. It wasn’t until Mists of Pandaria that it’s been more or less shaken up and not always in ways that I appreciate. Varian has always been presented as a hot-head but it isn’t until Jaina or Tyrande (in the Little Patience scenario) get their own need for anger that it’s suddenly not okay to be an aggressive person. I’m over-simplifying a bit but it seemed a little bit like women were still getting painted with a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The Kirin Tor Offensive feels like a somewhat better outcome for the Jaina vs. Varian power dynamic than what Patch 5.1 had initially implied with Varian tsk’ing her into a corner because she had dared to go against his plans that she wasn’t even allowed to be a part of. Jaina’s anger has always felt justified to me, especially as someone who read Tides of War, and I felt sad that most players, particularly Horde-side ones, wouldn’t necessarily grasp that her disgust with the Sunreavers would come from the fact that the ultimate betrayal of Theramore came from someone inside of Dalaran. The fact that the Offensive is also staffed and maintained by high-profile women that haven’t been seen in a while and would have largely been left to rot in Dalaran is a fresh take on the “daily hub with even more reputation grinding” dilemma.
For all of the problems that Mists has had so far with some of the PVE progression, the storytelling feels pretty top notch. I’ve long been a critic of some of Dave’s Kosak’s work in story development (I really hate his NPC!) but if this was his baby, particularly the scenario, then I can’t help but thank him. Women have too long taken a backseat in Blizzard’s stories and it is nice to see them doing something proactive and unguided by the desires of a male leader thus far. I’m really interested to see where the Kirin Tor Offensive goes as we unlock more stages, and I definitely feel more optimistic about then I have about some of the other things in this expansion.
Patch 5.2 finally drops next Tuesday and with it, there has been quite a few things of note, particularly regarding the Twin Consort bosses I discussed. The 5.2 trailer, which was posted yesterday, was actually exciting and got me pumped for the raid content. The poetry, the story, feels like some of the patch trailers we’ve gotten before but a lot more cinematic. And while we got a glimpse of a lot of the story behind the Thunder King and his lackeys in the raid, guess who were missing.
That’s right, our wonderful twin ladies, Lu’lin and Suen. Kinda curious, don’t you think? Unfortunately my cynicism that Blizzard left them out of the trailer due to overwhelming shame might have a slightly more logical explanation, courtesy of the developer interview regarding all of the Throne of Thunder bosses earlier this week. This interview, incidentally, is what spurred me to post yet another discussion about these two Mogu sex robots bodyguards.
My thoughts on why the Twin Consorts were left out of the trailer might have been a mid-stream design change to their lore, as per Lead Encounter Designer Ion Hazzikostas:
An earlier version of the concept for the fight had them actually being spirits of the Sun and Moon, but that didn’t feel quite right (and we all know that the only true spirit of the Moon is Elune, and clearly she was not locked away by the Thunder King).
Now, this exceptionally generous on my part, but I suspect it is the only reason why they’d leave these female bosses out of the trailer video, given how long the machinima take to make. But like so many other things, I wonder if it because they like to leave developing female models for things out or to the last minute because everyone at Blizzard apparently is terrified about designing female models (worgen anyone?) Either way, it’s pretty odd that they are not in the trailer. I can distinctly remember most of them getting at least a second or two of screen time. (The only other female boss is Mar’li and the Council fight she’s a part of wasn’t in the trailer either.)
From people who have tested the bosses on PTR, and in even in just looking at the boss design, it’s pretty clear they kept the Sun/Moon aesthetic in the two of them.
It’s the rest of the interview that left me sputtering yesterday on Twitter:
Rumored to be the only known female mogu in existence, Lei Shen keeps his trophies close, and their combined arsenal against interlopers closer.
Players may have noticed the complete absence of any female mogu in their exploration of the continent of Pandaria.
Indeed, these were specifically created by Lei Shen and empowered to serve and guard him, and they are a direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole.
Are the developers reading my blog? It seems like they are taking the heavy early criticism of why the hell there’s two female Mogu as raid bosses but not anywhere in Mogu society to heart. However, there’s so many more questions left open here now that it’s canonically known that they are the only two in existence and only created by Lei Shen. Such as, “Why would an essentially monogender culture have a leader that creates women” or maybe “Why are they sexualized?” Consorts are very specifically a sexualized term, and maybe the developers are mixing real world stuff with Mogu again, but there’s this lingering feeling that these two women weren’t shaped out of stone just to guard Lei Shen. All of this bothers me, little piece by little piece.
Maybe it’s the objectified language in the copy and interview – “treasures” “possessions” “trophies.” Lei Shen created the only two women in existence for their race and they aren’t even granted true humanity in any discussions surrounding them. It’s the fact that they were created to be submissive and servile to him, to protect him. It’s the fact that they are the sexualized equivalent of guard dogs. Giving life out of stone is a pretty terrifying concept as well when you wonder where Lei Shen got the souls (do they have souls) for this purpose.
The only high point in the discussion about these two was the fan-ramblings about what possibly inspired Lei Shen – why not create a bulky Mogu woman, particularly if they are bodyguards? Cynwise suggested that it might be possible fashioning after Burning Crusade eredari, which would explain the model choice. However, I suspect the model choice is less a reflection of Lei Shen’s ideals and more the developers still.
All in all, these two bosses are a serious dig in my excitement for this upcoming patch. We’ve had a lot of trouble with female NPCs in Pandaria thus far and the raid dungeons have not been exempt from this – the last three did not heavily feature any canonically indicated female bosses aside from Lei Shi (the elemental) and Grand Empress Shek’seer (whether or not any of the other Heart of Fear bosses were women is up in the air.) So the fact that the new raid only features three women, two of whom are prized constructs created by Lei Shen and were left out of the official trailer, makes me upset.
Throne has an abundance of bosses and only 3 of them (the Twins, and Mar’li) are actually women. This is in fact a step up from the last raids we have done, but it still feels like a step backwards in terms of Blizzard’s creative development choices.
Last week a preview of patch 5.2 dropped, with all the attendant fanfare and data-mining. It seems the focus of this newest content patch (which is going up on the PTR after the holidays) is the Thunder King, along with a corresponding raid Throne of Thunder, which is supposedly reminiscent of Ulduar in both size and aesthetics. What caught my attention initially, other than benefits for Sunsong Ranch was this gossip about how a female mogu model had been dug up.
I raced over to Wowhead to get a gander at what it might look like and was presented with this. We finally get a female version of one of the NPC races in game (out of so many that do not have female counterparts) and it is that? I mean, I’m always glad for more representation but this feels like a step in the wrong direction. It is obviously skinned over a draenei female’s animations/skeleton for the most part, but it is intensely dimorphic (like draenei, troll and worgen women) and very sexualized. Granted, while the clothing isn’t much different than what mogu dudes wear, the effect combined with the posture, ornamentation and -ahem- amplecleavage skews the aesthetics in quite a distinct direction. At the very least the faces and headdresses radiate more power than sex. That is something, right?
Apparently this model isn’t an added NPC model for mogu areas, this is one half of a set of raid bosses. Yup, that’s right, we’re getting the Eredar Twins v.2 in the Throne of Thunder! Two more specific, incredibly sexualized models that only ever make an appearance as a raid boss (and one quest NPC.) And get this – the name of these mogu women in the raid are Twin Consorts. That’s right, the Thunder King has two royal “partners” (or chattel) in whatever way you take that to mean. But given the name, the attire and the history with this sort of thing, I am guessing we are in for a boss encounter that is full of breathy, sensual emotes. We’ve seen it before, why not again? Why not make them curled up and flanking the Thunder King’s throne? I’m not holding my breath that there’s going to be some radical change of tack for these ladies.
But that’s not even the weirdest part.
Given the idea that these Mogu female models are only going to be present in the raid, it sort of rattles the tenuous consistency that pervaded the Mogu as a race. While most other NPC races that only feature male models sort of laugh off this idea that their women are tucked safely away in villages somewhere, Mogu could pass as a seemingly male-only race because as far I could understand, they weren’t really constrained by the issues of flesh that most other races are. The idea that they were brutish proto-beings (or maybe even Titan constructs?) twisted by the waters of the Vale gives rise to the idea that created, rather than born. This means that they aren’t tied to reproduction and so Mogu females could just be a figment. Or, if they originally were mortal, just hidden away from view like every other group of NPCs that Blizzard has neglected to realistically portray. It raises a lot of questions and creepy concerns with this sudden and very specific appearance of just two women in the entirety of Mogu society – especially if they are merely decadent sexual companions to the Thunder King.
The Mogu are adept fleshcrafters and spiritbinders and very often view death as inconsequential. They also have a habit of putting spirits into shaped stone bodies, some from Mogu who “died” and were resurrected and others from those they’ve conquered or enslaved. Are the Twin Consorts created out of stone and enslaved spirits of the Thunder king? Were they his lovers or companions prior to his death and entombed with his unmarred body? Were they brought into being as some sort of Mogu ideal of decadence, like Pygmalion creating his ideal woman out of marble? So many possible theories and all of them make me squirm. Given the fact that Blizzard has a terrible track record with populating the NPC world with women, coupled with their narratives regarding their place in the world, it seems likely that these consorts could be far more chilling than I could ever imagine.
This expansion has been slightly better than most in terms of representing stories and background characters that are also women. This just feels like a step backwards and a reminder that so many times, women are an afterthought to the creative development team. I know that making two models just to represent a non-PC race is extra development time, but default models for NPC races are still coded as men only (Vrykul/Hyldnir aside), and this bothers me. It makes the female exceptions in the Eredar and now the Mogu stick out like sore thumbs and it always seems to give rise to really sexist representations. This creates the message that the non-PC women of Azeroth are not terribly important.
In all likelihood, Blizzard doesn’t see this as a problem and it definitely shows. Taking the time out to fully represent NPCs races in such a narrow way intimates a very specific mindset. It is probably “natural” to stick a couple of women (sexy ones, no less) to “change it up a bit” probably because so much of our world (not just Azeroth) is still depicted as men only. It is catering to a male audience and the male gaze when the token women stuck in the scenery are there as eye candy. While Blizzard has made leaps and bounds in both their main stories and player character races (to some extent), their lack of thought into fleshing out the rest of the world is pretty clear to anyone who cares to look.
Technically I meant to title this as “Amber is the Color of my Sex” to be scientifically accurate but I figured it might attract the wrong kind of attention. Yesterday on Twitter, I was reading a really interesting discussion on the nature of Klaxxi gender. The reason for the speculation was because, despite Blizzard’s past laziness with regards to gendering their non-player races, it could easily be left open to interpretation with a bug race like the Klaxxi.
World of Male-craft
Unfortunately my skepticism that Blizzard made a race that wasn’t populated with dudes unless otherwise specified (Grand Empress Shek’zeer) is high. While Blizzard is exceptionally clever and the Mantids have been left open to interpretation, I don’t think it was done on purpose. Warcraft constantly defaults to “maleness” as the norm when it comes to NPCs unless there’s a reason to duplicate women elsewhere (in the case of some NPCs that have player races.) This isn’t surprising at all given that it is way cheaper on both resources and development time to only create men. Why?
Their logic seemingly is that in a world of war and aggression, wouldn’t most women die or be hidden away so you can perpetuate your tiny little race infinitely after adventurers slaughter billions of your kind every day? On top of that, they seem to not quite “grok” how to gender models as women without extensive time put into it if a model doesn’t have tits or a pink bow on it’s head. Those two facts make representation in the game world a fairly open-and-shut-case. There are notable exceptions to this: Centaur, Naga (who have explicit male/female models), Dragonkin (at some levels), and Harpies/Dryads (who are exclusively female.) The rest are seemingly neutrally gendered or typed male, even in the face of actual logic. That’s just how gameplay will always clash with lore.
This is the largest point in the idea that Blizzard may have made the Mantid at large a mixed gender race. However, this doesn’t stop us from using their lack of detail to our advantage to speculate otherwise.
BUGS, BUGS, BUGS
I’m not an entomologist but insect societies, which the Mantid and such seem to based on, wouldn’t necessarily conform to Blizzard’s “all men all the time” rule when it comes to NPC races. By setting up a female Grand Empress with an unclear line of succession (there’s combat and corpse eating but it doesn’t say if it is matrilineal or what) as well as offspring being sired by her (presumably), they seem to leave the door open for contradicting themselves with their own male bias. Insect societies that behave with a “queen” being the mother figure (see: Grand Empress Zek’hara) like ants and bees do not have an overwhelming majority of their society as male. Most of the workers tend to be female drones, with some breeding males groomed for the queen. It would stand to reason that if the Mantid were similar to these species in terms of being colony insects, that most of them (including the Klaxxi) would be women. However, a couple of facts about the Mantid move them away from being simple colony insects.
1.) They are fearsome in the singular, more-so if fighting in a swarm.
Insects that are typically colony-based do not have individual characteristics such as these, whereas Mantid seem to be capable of doing great damage all on their own, moreso if any group of them stick together. A single Mantid is able of making personal decisions as well as defending themselves, and could live away from the group.
2.) They do not communicate via collective.
Unlike the typical sci-fi/spec-fi convention, Mantid and Klaxxi talk to eachother using technology via sound frequencies boosted over large areas and developed language, rather than things like scent markers, swarm intelligence or the ubiquitous “hive mind” where all members in the society are linked telepathically to the central power and do not think independently.
These two indicators mean that it is very possible that Mantids are not specifically majority female and may perhaps be a mixed-gender population (which is still not majority male.)
Not So Much Man-Tids: Meritocracy Within an Aristocracy
My strongest case for there being mixed gender despite Blizzard’s plans to leave a fairly non-dimorphic insect species mostly male is the cycle of the Mantid Swarm.
Mantid assaults on the Serpent’s Spine are a terrible thing to experience, both as a defender, and as a mantid. Only the smartest, strongest, or most agile of the mantid survive this encounter, and pandaren defenders are slaughtered outright in terrible numbers.
Mantid survivors make their way back to the great trees, often bearing trophies of their conquests. There, they are welcomed back into the mantid society, and take their place among their civilization according to the level of their deeds. The purpose of this rite of passage is unclear. but those who travel beyond the wall are forewarned: any mantid you encounter beyond the wall is a hardened veteran, to be feared and respected.
– Mantid Swarm lore scroll in-game
In short, the Mantids and by virtue the Klaxxi, are a merit-based insect society. Those that we see in-game that are not throwing themselves against the wall as cannon fodder are the highest achieved in Mantid culture. At no point are these best and brightest codified as male, even those who are pegged as the most strong. Blade dancers, manipulators and bladeguards alike are, despite the game’s norm, potentially female. Due to WoW having no dimorphism in body types among the Mantids (save for the Empress) means that we have a potential for yet another mixed-gender NPC race. Granted, I still believe that this is by accident, but the idea of the Mantid society defining themselves by accomplishment seems more a true reflection of the Warcraft gender politics than even us as player characters are. In this vein, it’s very possible that the Empress ascends to the throne by virtue of being the most accomplished female within the group, rather than strict familial succession. We could conjecture even further and say that gender is fairly irrelevant as how Mantids define themselves in all aspects other than the singular Empress hierarchy. Gender as a societal construct seems fairly irrelevant to them and solely a biological indicator of sex. What a Mantid does during and after the Swarm cycle is far, far more important and is the pinnacle in individualism.
In this respect, despite Dread Wastes giving me the major wiggins, I find the Klaxxi/Mantids very exciting and hope that we see more lore about them in the future. As someone who uses the game to escape the ridiculous gender politics of reality, seeing a society work solely on individual merit makes me gleeful.
TW: Some minor discussion of rape and rape culture.
And like a familiar tide, I find myself being pulled back out to the blogging sea, adrift on my annoyance and frustration.
I had planned to write a full summation of Mists of Pandaria thus far, but I’ve been having too much fun actually playing it to sit down and blog. It’s been really intense to like an expansion so much that I rarely have time for other things, but there you have it. However, as you may have guessed, the new content is not without its problems. The specter of something sinister was already there waiting to greet me as I hit the shores of this new continent.
That something is sexism and rape culture.
It sucks, let me tell you. I’m really having fun and enjoying myself for the first time in a while and I hate myself for seeing this stuff. However, I hate it more for being there. It shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to be reminded of the real world, of the grotesque behavior of people, when I want to escape to the bright world of Pandaren and farming and oooh shiny. But unfortunately game developers are still dudes. They still add stuff like this without realizing that this hurts people or how it might come off. Much like Ji Firepaw, I suspect this is a decision to include things that developers see as “normal” — this only enforces my opinion that this stuff exists for many people as something humorous or positive. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit to say that this is unintentional. Maybe it is just a lie I want to believe more than the alternative.
When I was questing to 90 on my main, one of the first zones I really got into was Valley of the Four Winds. The serene music, the lightly falling rains on a verdant farmland looked like it was ripped straight out of a Miyazaki film. But one of the quests early on set the alarm bells a-ringing – The Farmer’s Daughter. Cuppy over at Borderhouse Blog went over this quest’s problematic elements in great detail, which is one of the reasons I felt like writing my own post. Mina having to dance with her furry feet while virmen pelted her with carrots may seem really lighthearted, but much like some of the other things I found later on in the game, it is floated really heavily on an entire set of stories and cultural touchstones that bother me. The idea of a farmer’s daughter (which was mentioned as being a common joke/trope) being kidnapped by sentient rabbit creatures (the mobs are called oglers, for fuck’s sake) to amuse them is weird. It obviously distressed Mina and so I find myself distressed as well. But I brushed it aside because I’m used to doing that. The first thing that anyone tells you when you speak up about something being sexist or part of rape culture is that “you are seeing things that aren’t there.” So I kept on questing (but not without taking a screenshot, incidentally.)
I got into farming at Halfhill in a really bad way. One of the dailies that you do at level 90 for Gina Mudclaw (a relative of Mina, incidentally) is called “Money Matters.” It is pretty obvious to anyone who spends any amount of time in the Heartland that the Mudclaws are a family that run the entire place. They have powerful positions on the Tillers in terms of voting (Gina and Haohan respectively comprise two of the five votes you need to enter your farm) and Gina herself runs the market as both the quartermaster and coinkeeper. She has a lot of prestige and money. This money gets loaned out (without the vig, even!) to various townspeople, and gets collected by you, the hired muscle. The quest has a circulating batch of responses from all of the debtors – some days they pay up, some days they do not. On the days they do not, you are given the option to either pay their debts for them (usually 1G) or beat them up. The first couple of times I did the quest, I paid for people because I felt sympathetic. I wasn’t really reading many of the responses people give, which are sometimes downright obnoxious about Gina. However, it is Spicemaster Jin Jao that takes the grossness cake.
“Gina? That girl down in the marketplace? Hah!
Tell that pretty little thing to come collect the money personally. I’m sure she and I can come to some sort of… agreement.”
His attitude and his desire to rectify his debts with sexual favors made my skin crawl. Despite the fact he owes hermoney, he still treats her like a frivolous child, but a woman he’s still attracted to and feels that he can “pay back” with sex because he desires her. Her money nor her power or agency are not even a concern here. It’s weird as hell. This one little thing really rubbed me the wrong way. Needless to say the only recourse I had for this was threatening him with violence.
However, that shouldn’t even be in the game in my opinion. Sexist crap shouldn’t be a short-hand (as someone people have argued with me) for “bad character.” You can show evilness or flaws without falling back on gross attitudes that women have to deal with in real life. Someone like Garrosh comes to mind in this instance — they are already priming him for loot pinata status by making him a fascist dictator but his part in Tides of War as sexist scumbag was so fucking awful. When he backhanded only Kelantir Bloodblade (the only major female Horde presence in the book, I might add) or referred to Jaina as “that Proudmoore bitch,” I winced. It isn’t sexism to make a point, it is sexism because that’s what you know as a writer or a designer to indicate certain things about someone. Very often, it isn’t even to indicate bad things. It just exists there because it is normal and natural for you. Garrosh might be getting painted as a super-bad character (because sexism is that last great bastion of evilness, apparently) but people like Spicemaster Jin Jao? Oh, that’s part of a natural stack of responses to a woman asking you for her money back.
My question is why it has to be there at all? Why do we have to use things that make us as woman players feel uncomfortable and reminded of real life in order to strew character development here and there? Why do characters in a video game have to participate in the same shit some of us deal with every day?
One of the final things (so far) that really bothered me was brought up to me by a guildmate. She was doing Golden Lotus dailies and got to the single-time quest that you do when you get to Honored. The quest called “The Secrets of Guo-Lai” and has you entering the Guo-Lai halls with He Softfoot (the worst rogue in the world) in order to find out what the Mogu are planning in Vale. He inevitably gets caught by Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter, who starts crushing the life out of him by a Jade Statue proxy. The quest has you futilely trying to save your friend but you end up both caught.
Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter says: How noble, rescuing your friend from certain death… Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter yells: …and all for nothing. Take them! The adventurer and He are both trapped in nets. Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter says: Your struggle is pointless. Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter says: You are ignorant to the powerful secrets contained within this vale. I will take them, and then I will destroy all of your kind. Zhao-Jin the Bloodletter says: Throw these prisoners in the cages. Let the men have their way with them.
I feel like Fox Mulder when I say that “I want to believe.” I want to believe that the quest designers forgot that the most common insinuation with “have your way with someone” is rape. Granted, it gets prettier terms like “ravaging” or “ravishing” but let’s get down to brass tacks, it means rape. It is never consensual. I want to believe that meant that the Mogu were just going to beat you and He up or feed you to a pack of quillen or something. However, as a woman, this quest chilled me a lot. It bothered quite a few women in my guild and for good reason. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of stuff that’s happened to women in both our fictional worlds and even real worlds. Get taken prisoner, get put in a cage, be left to get raped by your captors. This stuff isn’t the fancy of someone’s imagination, it is stuff that’s happened to real people. This is why it bothers me so much to have it turn up in my video game. Yes, I get that it is a war game. Warcraft is chock-full of rape if you look close enough at the dragonflights, at Draenei/orc relations. But to have it be a part of the player’s own peril just brings it a step too close for me.
The fact that it came up in an interview with Dave Kosak goes to show that Blizzard feels that this is a part of their storytelling, their quest design. And the fact that I keep finding it turn up in unexpected places goes to show that sexism and rape culture is alive and well even in this new continent of Pandaria. It bothers me wholeheartedly that I have to put up with this in my video games, even in one that has been making strides including more varied and strong women in their quests. So I’ll keep being bothered and talking about it. I hope that Blizzard, like with Ji Firepaw, realizes how much it affects their player-base and moves away from it. I don’t want to deal with it anymore.
Life will always blossom from the darkest soil. – Alexstrasza
Blog Azeroth had a really amazing shared Blog Topic last week that I really, really wanted to talk about but I got caught up in other stuff. Akabeko from Red Cow Rise suggested it:
Canon refers to the actual events and characters that exist in a fictional world. Headcanon refers to any situations or characters that are imagined by fans of said fictional world. Sometimes they are silly, like the fact that Garrosh’s favorite treat is lemon squares. Sometimes they are serious, like positing that tauren store grief in the lungs. For my writing, I’ve come up with a lot of headcanon. Got a theory about a torrid romance between your favorite auctioneer and the patrolling guard? Given any thought to where mounts and pets go when they aren’t summoned? Do you know how your characters do their laundry, or what Baine Bloodhoof does in his free time? What are your headcanons, and where did you get the idea?
As I’ve explained before, I practically live in a world of my creation when it comes to World of Warcraft. My grasp on lore is shaky at best and I have some very strong opinions that Azeroth could be better if I was one of the Titans. As someone who frequently isn’t represented in games because I’m queer woman, a lot of what I have to do is fill in the gaps when it comes to representation, amongst other things. So it should be no surprise that a lot of my headcanon satisfies that need to see “myself” reflected in the world I spend so much time playing in.
It all started with a rare out in Tyr’s Hand and Rades. If anyone ever listened to the best episode of Bifactional that we ever did (about rares), one can remember the discussion that was had about the mysterious Lynnia Abbendis. Why is she there? Who is she? What kind of life did she have? It was joked that Lynnia must have known Lilian Voss and the two could fight crime together. I dreamily imagined the idea of two undead women careening around Eastern Kingdoms righting wrongs; so many things right about that scenario and yet I felt it was missing something.
I really don’t consider myself some sort of “shipper” because I tend to adhere to an author’s wishes in romantic choices and I don’t like to pare away stories to just flat and rigid relationships. However, the idea of two young Scarlet Crusade women finding solace, friendship and dare I say it, some sort of complex companionship over the tenure of their brief lives before meeting tragic ends is right up my alley. Since that seed of a thought got planted, it’s only grown stronger and thicker until now when it has managed to strangle a lot of my other ideas about Azeroth. It is a story that deserves to be told and expressed. There’s no way, in my mind, that this couldn’t be the truth. There really could have been a Scarlet Crusade academy, and all of the young Crusade children could have been friends with eachother (it’s canon that Voss and Gebler were). Considering that Lynnia is an Abbendis, it’d be assumed she’d also be there. Lynnia and Lilian strike me as having some sort of age differential but nonetheless could have been friends or close to eachother.
You can see what kind of castles I’ve constructed out of the air from the tiniest motes of dust.
I’ve spent at least 2 IM conversations with Rades discussing the plotline and arc of these two women’s lives when they still had a pulse and what might be in store for them now. What would have lead the two of them to have such different places in the game? The obvious answer is because I am the only person that considers them linked in some way but as far as a story concept, it does bend what ifs in a particular direction.
The story of Lynnia and Lilian is a sad one, even if I truly believe there could be a bittersweet ending for both of them. Lilian’s childhood was controlled by her father and Lynnia is called the Fallen Hope. They are in wildly different locations and doing very different things when we find them in the world. There’s not a lot of sunshine and kittens to be had here. And now that the two of them aren’t even “alive,” it seems to me that joy is in short supply. Maybe that’s why the idea of their feelings for eachother surviving is so persistent in my brain; to give them an ending that Blizzard never intended and never wanted for the tragedy that was the Scarlet Crusade. What would the two of them meeting now be like? Have they not seen eachother since they died? I get a little choked up thinking about it. It spurs me to put words on the page and draw lots of art.
I have hope though, even if the story will never be told by Warcraft. It is something that can live on in my imagination for now. Considering that Voss plays a very large role in the new heroic dungeons in Mists of Pandaria, I will not let this story fade to black just yet.
I admit, I haven’t been using my beta access to its fullest since I got it a couple of months ago. The other night, however, a tweet came across my timeline regarding friending options and so I updated my game and hopped in to test it out. Afterwards, the person I was partied with and myself decided to fuss around with pet battles. I was flying around to look for critters to battle with my Spectral Kitten, listening to dance music very LOUDLY, when I heard it.
It was a woman’s voice saying something.
I blinked and looked around. Since I was still in Stormwind limits, I figured it must be an event with buggy zone sound. I asked in party chat if they had heard what I did and they said no. I wondered what it might be but I looked back in my chat log and saw this:
The warm embrace of Tarecgosa’s presence encircles you.
For anyone that doesn’t have a completed legendary staff, this is the text emote that the staff randomly pops up from time to time. I’ve always really loved that little touch; I saved Tarecgosa’s essence and now it is a part of me. It is there to comfort me when I need it. It’s like a little hug when I’m doing stuff in-game. My question then was, “Does this mean there are voice emotes as part of the staff now?”
Due to the addictiveness of pet battles I was in beta for another three hours. My emote popped up again and then I very distinctly heard her voice.
“Your deeds will live on forever in the memory of the blue dragonflight.”
I admit, I started freaking out (in a good way) at that point. I started doing a little digging and it turns out that according to the two MMO-Champion threads that I found (that only got a couple of responses, what gives?) that the staff has a random choice of 5-6 voice emotes when the staff says something to you. It seems like this little easter egg was added in a content patch at the end of July. I am really stoked about this, obviously, as a staff wielder and a dragon fanatic.
But what does it mean? My boyfriend pointed out that they’ve always done little Easter egg stuff with legendaries even after their relevance. (Remember what happened when you brought Atiesh into Shade of Aran’s room?) I want to think that it might be something significant; some additional lore might be down the road or us Dragonwrath holders might be allowed to keep our staves longer into the expansion. I know that this probably isn’t true and it breaks my heart to think that I will have to put down my wonderful staff in a couple weeks; I won’t hear Tarecgosa’s voice again unless I’m AFKing. This is just another regret along with having to weapon-swap just to turn into a blue dragon as well.
Getting a Dragonwrath was such a game-changing experience for me and not just because I had a piece of lore strapped to my back. My experience getting the staff and all the feelings that went along with was so important to me and validated a lot of things I felt about myself – that I was good enough, that I deserved this. Add to this the fact that Blizzard finally decided to give a little more story to some of the female characters in their world (even if Tarecgosa’s time in this plane was limited) and I was a part of that? Mind-blowing.
So many times in game, hearing voices has meant that something evil was lurking around the corner, undermining our confidence in ourselves, our friends, our sanity. This is a distinct change from that and I am glad for it. I know this won’t mean much to most people, that it is just a collection of pixels, but it warms my heart. There is a wonderful lady dragon’s spirit watching over my gnome, protecting her. Cheering her on from another realm. I know that I will miss having this constant presence gone from my game after it being part of my everyday life for six months now. Still, I have a feeling she won’t be very far from my thoughts.
When I was flying up to the Skyfire to go to Pandaria this morning, I heard her whisper to me.
The Mists of Pandaria cinematic finally came out this morning, a few short weeks before the release of the pre-MOP 5.0 content patch and a month shy of the expansion dropping. I watched the whole thing a couple of times to get the full effect. My initial feelings is that it is lighthearted but with a touch of seriousness and conveys a tiny snippet of the overall tone of the expansion well. It illustrates the inherent conflict in the Alliance vs. the Horde and sets the Pandaren nation as a contrast to that. It sets up the initial events leading up to the Azeroth primary races finding Pandaria after a naval battle and revealing the rich landscape that they didn’t know about.
Past that though?
MANLY MEN DOIN’ THANGS! HITTING STUFF! BREAKING SHIT! SPITTIN’ ON GROUND! MRARRRRRR! MEN MEN MEN!
I can’t get an accurate confirmation as to whether the pandaren man in the trailer is Chen Stormstout or not but the fact of the matter is that this trailer is literally and utterly masculine. It features male power fantasies and counterpoints them with a more wise, agile man. It’s all men! All men, all the time. Just the way we like it, eh?
I could easily see this being an amusing bit of symbolism for masculine conflict resolution and colonialism. The problem is that most of the viewers are not going to reflect on some of the subtleties here. Let’s take a magical journey through this trailer, shall we? (If it helps, some of this could be interpreted as the same tone as this. Thanks, @iateyourfood!)
Note: Lots of Images
I admit I really liked the voice-over asking the really hard questions but the nature analogy seemed very cliché. I will take this moment to say that the animation for the cinematic is a far cry better than the original cinematic. Very lifelike in some places. The cinematic also sets up, as I said before, the initial story of how people find Pandaria: a huge naval battle crash lands Horde and Alliance forces and strands them on this mysterious land shrouded in… well I’m sure you can guess.
Our first manly man, the delegate from the Horde! Let’s call him Thunk Rockjaw. Thunk, despite having eaten several full villages of Night Elves, does still manage to have a beautiful, expressive face. The detail on the armor, hair and his skin is just unbelievable. You can also see his WICKED SICK TATTS, BRO. Is this the same orc from the other cinematics? Who knows. I’m sure someone will figure it out.
And here comes the Alliance. Admiral Chestyhunk. Captain Hunkachunk. Slam Beefchin. Sizzle Beefslab. Reportin’ for duty with a very sharp stick.
He’s going exploring on this jungle island full of ruins that look radically different. This is NEW! STRANGE.
Secondary note: I hate to see you leave, Captain Beefypecs, but I love to watch you go.
Thunk Rockbuff spies the enemy. Sizzlechin Rockgroin uses up most of the animation budget on his glistening, dewy, chest hair. I really wanted to call this pic the PINNACLE_OF_MASCULINITY.jpg. My computer almost exploded from this much testosterone oozing out of my video card but I cooled it down with some compressed air and playing Cher on my iTunes.
DON’T MAKE A MESS IN OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES, THUNK, PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW
Smolder Beefgrin can ring my beelll, ring my belllllllllll…
I like the salt/mud detail.
I’MMA FIGHT YOU
A CHALLENGER APPEARS
Whoa, it might not be human. Look at those eyes. And the noises! I swear though, if Pandaren have roarly-morwrorrr noises like the Worgen sniff, I am going to turn off all my in-game sounds permanently.
The fur detail is really intense. I’m pretty impressed.
The animations for the Pandaren in the trailer was one of the more impressive things given the weight/height of him. Interestingly enough, Pandaren are as tall/taller than Humans or Orcs, but he looks rather short in the trailer. I liked the fighting stance though.
Captain Sizzlebritches cannot best the Pandaren. For shame.
I couldn’t get a good shot of it but you can see lots of really intriguing clothing details, including the bottles hanging off the belt.
YOU WERE BESTED BY A CAREBEAR, ADMIRAL CHESTHUNK
NOT IN MY HOUSE *expertly arranges post back into place*
Anytime I want to go into discussing toxic masculinity, I think I’ll just use this as a sort of LOLCATS-style reference. Because really, dual-fisting weapons, the vacant expressions, the INTENSE ‘ROID muscles, it is pretty much all jammed into this picture. This is like some sort of Liefield-cum-Conan manliness wet dream.
WELP, WE AT LEAST KNOW HOW EACHOTHER FIGHTS, SO LET’S STOP FIGHTING AND COOPERATE SO WE CAN FIGHT THIS DUDE! FIGHTING! YEAH
I LIKE BEEF JERKY!
The Pandaren moved with a lot more agility and weightlessness than his size would suggest. I couldn’t tell if that was intentional or a flaw in animating mass/gravity.
Uh-oh. Shit’s about to get REAL.
OH MY GOD, I GET WHY IT IS CALLED MISTS OF PANDARIA NOW
Beautiful scenery, with requisite monks training in the background.
Voiceover: What IS worth fighting for?
That’s a very good question, actually.
I feel that the trailer had a very deliberate message/narrative to juxtapose the beliefs of the Pandaren versus the beliefs of the Horde/Alliance. It’s pretty evident that this is going to be the thread that weaves itself through all of the stories of the expansion.
My biggest beef (heh) about the trailer was that despite it playing some notes about the conflict at large, it didn’t really give us a new or unique look that was different from any of the other trailers. Notice how there are no women involved. I know that women would have destroyed the giant EAST MEETS WEST, rage and fighting trope going on, since you know, women are not into being aggressive fighters out to push their empire outwards but would it have killed Blizzard to throw us a bone here? Also, no gnomes. There have NEVER been any gnomes in any trailers at all, ever.
Cinematics: An Interesting Retrospective
The lack of women in this trailer in particular got me thinking, however. How many women HAVE there been in all of the Blizzard cinematics since the game first came out? I knew that I had a pretty decent memory but I went back and watched all of them just to refresh myself. And surprisingly? The trailers have gotten more and MORE male-dominated since Vanilla came out.
World of Warcraft (2004)
One night elf druid versus the five other male characters (dwarf hunter, orc warrior, human mage, tauren shaman, and undead warlock) present in the cinematic. The voice-over is also done by a woman.
The Burning Crusade (2007)
One blood elf mage versus the SIX other male characters plus voice-over and additional footage of the masculine “big bad” Illidan.
Wrath of the Lich King (2008)
No woman in the trailer unless you count Sindragosa*. Trailer predominantly features masculine villain Lich King with voice-over done by King Terenas (also male.)
No women in the trailer at all. Trailer predominantly features masculine villain Deathwing with voice-over done by …Deathwing.
Total: 3* women out of 13 men in the first four cinematics, 3 out of 16 if you count MoP.
I can’t really infer much about this other than the fact that despite there being slightly more women involved in the actual storylines in-game, the trailers are woefully under-representing everyone, but mostly women and have been going backwards in this fashion, this newest cinematic being no exception. This also could include the box art and promotional items as well but that’s a longer post for another time. My real interest lies in seeing more women involved as major players in the stories present to the players inside of the game, but some recognition in the big showy cinematics or even the machinamatics would be a real treat.
Stop centering narratives around masculine, Western pursuits for conflict, Blizzard
Until then, enjoy the Thunk and Captain Burlychest v.2.
”I’m as fucked up as they say
I can’t fake the daytime
Found an entrance to escape into the dark”
– Metric, “Artificial Nocturne”
It struck me that I really do not talk a lot about the alts I have or played over the years. I have a habit of starting an alt, finishing it and promptly moving onto someone else. Some alts have rose in prominence while others have fallen quite by the wayside, often to my chagrin. The first alt that I rolled and stuck with was my shadow priest in Burning Crusade. As soon as I had leveled my gnome to 70, I felt a tug to work on someone else in a serious fashion. I was swayed by watching our GM play his shadow priest (a human female) at the time, and so I decided to ape him. But I didn’t felt particularly tied to being a human, so I chose one of the “new” races, a draenei. Little did I know how complex my backstory for her would be.
Draenei have a fairly extant commitment to being Lightsworn children of the Naaru, as well as being universe-wide diaspora. It was so intriguing to me to play a race that was effectively immortal; the piousness was as well. Considering I’ve lived my entire life as a secular human being, the idea of being a devout space goat kinda tickled me. But how was my priest’s inherent shadowyness (I refused to ever, ever heal on her) going to mesh with this? The Cult of Forgotten Shadow seemed like a likely avenue into this, but that was predominantly Forsaken. I admit, I was stumped. So I rolled her story around as I leveled, gathering bits and pieces here and there. It wasn’t until I did quests in Outlands (including the quest chain around Auchindoun and Nagrand where you gain the ability to see the dead) that her backstory really became concrete. She was a Deadspeaker, a death priest draenei of rare skill and innate ability to see and speak with the dead. Having this means of communicating with the dead and not being branded as “crazy” required a lot of attentive studying and reflection. The dead do not ask politely and seeing them is not something you can just shut out, but Neviim (as I called her) had mental discipline after hundreds of years. The shadows she clad herself in made her form more appealing to the spirits she frequently trafficked in and fortified her mind as well as the Light would. Sometimes it would shut out the near-constant humming of the Naaru she heard when near Shattrath, but that was an acceptable side-effect.
Neviim became my preferred alt, even when I rolled the toon that eventually became my main alt (my shaman, Sedo.) I did everything on Neviim that I did on my mage. My priest has the Hand of A’dal title that I earned when it was relevant, getting keyed for raids in case we needed alts as well as several rare mounts and pets (Captured Firefly, Zhevra). She has a Benediction/Anathema, one of my proudest accomplishments. The one thing that I got interested in on my priest but not my mage though, was PVP. From the moment I started playing her, I was pretty much hooked on doing world PVP. Shadow gave me tools that were slightly harder to use than a mage’s arsenal but I found myself loving them a whole lot more. I’d spend days, once at level cap, just watching World Defense. Back in Burning Crusade, that was a thing that people actually did. Some of the high-level zones had PVP objectives people worked on for zone buffs or fun. Otherwise, it was all part of PVP/RP storylines or just general trolling. It hearkened back to the vanilla days of sacking Tarren Mill from Southshore. I’d go around zones with guildies or people I met in Trade and kill some Horde. It felt good. Really good. World PVP is not the same as battleground PVP, honestly. It requires a lot more strategy with terrain and knowing where you can effectively bottleneck people or outsmart them with guards, roofs, and running around to hide. You could use anything really, including strange potions and nets (remember those?). But my friends cajoled me into doing battlegrounds and eventually arenas. Eye of the Storm became my favorite map, as well as Arathi Basin. I liked holding nodes and using Mind Vision to zoom around the map and call out defenders at each spot. I could hold Draenei Ruins and see across to Blood Elf Tower and freak out the offense. I could watch what was going on in mid with the flag. I could fear and mind control people off cliffs at Lumber Mill. All the skills that world PVP had taught me served me well in battlegrounds. They also helped when I moved onto doing 3v3.
My initial forays into arenas in S1 had been failures. I was going to do a pretty typical DoT/Drain 2 x Shadow Priest, 1 x Warlock comp with my GM and our mutual friend but due to personal friction of PVPing with someone I cared about and not handling bristle-y PVP arguments when I was still new to the class, I quit. S2/3 went much smoother and I had an established 3s team with a guildmate who was a fantastic ret paladin and one of our world PVP buddies who went holy. Two paladins and a shadow priest was not represented anywhere on Arena Junkies, but we liked it anyways. We weren’t perfect, but we had a lot of fun. We’d stop for the night any time anyone got upset or mad, and eventually we went onto having a Rival ranking. It might be small potatoes to some, but it was a pretty amazing title for someone who had never really grokked PVP prior to this. There were elements to PVP I didn’t really like, such as the relentless shit-talking, machismo and anti-teamwork spirit the Alliance seemed to have, but I got over it. At that time, I was mostly friendly with all guys and this was just part of the “culture.”
By the end of Burning Crusade and the start of Wrath, my shaman had started taking a lot more of my time. When it came to leveling characters in Wrath, it went my mage, then my shaman. Then a few other alts such as a druid and a paladin. I leveled my priest out of sheer habit once I realized that I had gotten her 3 levels from just fishing and cooking dailies. What happened? Where had the light in her gone? I made up part of her story to be that she had gone into hiding because Northrend was an endless screaming pit of despair for her – that the voices of the dead overwhelmed her. She remained in the protective bubble that Dalaran afforded her and recuperated.
Little did I know that my priest’s story was largely my own. End of the Burning Crusade and beginning of Wrath is when I had started getting harassed in earnest. Deciding to date my GM had earned me a lot of scorn and a lot of my dude friends suddenly had no time for me, not to mention having a growing stalker problem on my hands. Wrath is when I was being impersonated in Trade Chat and having people whisper behind my back about what a slut I was. So was it really my priest that was going into hiding, or was it me? PVP was off the table. I couldn’t handle the insults, I couldn’t handle the stress. Suddenly all the things I had loved about it – the rush of victory, the tallies at the end – frightened me. The language backed me into a corner. It felt too harsh, too abrasive. I suddenly saw it for what it was: hate speech designed to demoralize and intimidate. As someone who was being demoralized on a regular basis, it suddenly was not easy to ignore. I gave all of that up – my PVP friends, the culture and the atmosphere, for whatever little I had been involved. One or two stuck around, but most of them faded into the background. My priest was pretty much just a disenchanting mule at this point. All of her accomplishments felt tacky and outdated now. I had put her away for good, as well as my love of PVP.
And so it went. Wrath had come and gone, and so Cataclysm. Once again, I carried my priest along to the level cap out of some sort of guilt to not leave her behind. To extend the metaphor, I suppose this is a symbolic thing. That part of me that I had locked so tightly up in myself, the dark parts, would never be that far behind. Until this week. I’ve been going through a lot of changes lately – changes I can attribute to not being victimized every day of my life. I was reminiscing with Buglamp about PVP and wondering how the fuck I’d get over the anxiety that was now a huge part of PVP for me. It wasn’t until I talked to Cynwise (isn’t that always how this stuff goes) that made me realized that like all the other things I’ve worked on in therapy, anxiety has roots in larger things I’ve dealt with in my life. It doesn’t come out of nowhere; anxiety is the brain’s way of expecting a certain outcome, how ever illogical, from a set of actions. PVP, and by extension, my priest, was tied up in a lot of gross feelings of shame, guilt, and victimization. She represented all the dark parts of me from that time period.
But didn’t shadow priests embrace the darkness?
The key features of shadow priests are how they deal in using the Light, the dark side of it, to ensnare the minds of those they fight. They don’t seduce or mesmerize, they get into the deep places of your mind and tear them apart. They play on your fears and your insecurities. They peer into your secrets. Think about it: Mind Flay. Psychic Scream. Psychic Horror. Isn’t that what I felt sometimes? That I wanted to inflict my emotional pain on someone else? That I wanted to cut people down with how badly they had hurt me? To hold someone not in thrall, but in turmoil? My priest was Light-abiding, but she was the vengeance of the dead that wandered, whispered in her ear. She was revenge for every spirit that was tormented and tied to the soil she tread on. It is a soothing thought to someone who has been hurt so badly; to have control back over your emotions and use them as a weapon instead of a weakness. To be able to shut out the screaming.
It is with that thought in mind that I logged in the other day and dropped a bit of money crafting a tailored PVP set. I need to rebind some keys, add some spells I haven’t used in 4 years, but in a lot of ways, I feel like my real-life adventures back into the sunlight world has given me the strength and the courage to delve back into the shadowy trails of my priest. I want to go back into battlegrounds, I want to kick some ass and I want to be the person I was so many years. I want to be good in the ways that only she can be. I want the power I had with her.