Memes, Context and Teen Girls: How ‘Just Warlord Things’ Rings False

#justwarlordthings image macro

Image courtesy of Just Warlord Things tumblr.

Memes and other forms of memetic communication that have sprung from various social media outlets are something of an interest of mine. Whether it’s Twitter jokes (like Jobs/Hope/Cash) or Tumblr text posts, there’s something charming to be examined about how we talk to each other in-group in the various spaces we occupy.

One of the stranger things that has come about from this is that companies have definitely noticed that there’s cache in adopting the mannerisms of the population they wish to sell to, especially via the same channels their demographic will be browsing. Most times the attempts are incredibly tone-deaf or straight up incomprehensible, with at least one notable exception. It feels goofy on the surface but the larger capitalistic intent is to try and don the apparel of your audience in order to get them to identify with your brand. Most companies do not realize that they are not people, as much as they like to try. Plus, since most social media outlets are moving towards making their huge client base into more active consumers, the effect feels chilling.

Memetic jokes and language in online spaces are designated for entertainment and to also bolster a sense of community, but something people often forget is that they are also purposeful and create cultural meaning. They inherently refer to both the medium and the people who inhabit said media. Companies often run aground because they attempt to remove the contexts that created the language in the first place.

Take, for instance World of Warcraft.

Warcraft started a Tumblr this week called “justwarlordthings” and has created both image macros and video content to go along with, plastering both (with attendant tags) on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. The whole shebang is an artful parody (homage?) of the well-known #justgirlythings Tumblr. For those people who weren’t aware of that blog, #justgirlythings produced the kind of basic but relateable image macro that was delicately indicative many of the things people ascribe to Tumblr generally: teen girls. The pictures often of headless white young women frolicking often dreamily talk about boyfriends and simple pleasures that are no doubt the height of femininity.

Warcraft is not even close to being the first to do a send-up of #jgt, given that the blog itself was so easy to poke fun of. Many parodies often subversively undermined what is presumed to be a very normative, white performance of femininity by suggesting that it is typically girly to summon demons or be a witch. There’s a resistance there, via satire, to the presumption of what it means to be “girly” when that meaning is so rigid. It is powerful, especially when Tumblr’s high population of girls, women and other femme individuals is so soundly made fun of.

It’s this general scorn for Tumblr by the rest of the Internet community that makes Warcraft’s joke feel less like “laughing with” and more like “laughing at.” There’s also the matter that their meme overlays what is traditionally a pink, feminine meme with their newest expansion’s trappings: masculine, brutal and violent. There’s nothing smart being said here, but rather another instance of nerdery that adopts something for girls/women (even if it is problematic) and makes it about men and their interests. The ability to critique can come from outside the group, but it often rings false if there’s a substantial power differential at play. This goes doubly so for a company who has no real interest in making a statement or undoing societal structures.

The extra layer to all of this is that Warcraft is not absent of girls and women; the giant MMORPG boasts quite a large population of both. This, along with past issues with representing gender is why Blizzard has been making attempts to rectify how they come across to their audience. They just recently debuted their newest IP, Overwatch, which prominently features women as half of their new characters, as well as replied to many of their fans who felt left out by Warlords’ story.

It is weird that Blizzard is doing a campaign like this. Given how their expansion was marketed prior to the release, it feels off-base and callous. No one owns a meme, per se, but given a company’s ability to leverage it into sales or a deeper community buy-in, is it really Blizzard’s right to cash in on something that is largely not theirs to dance all over? Do they really want to alienate the people who might have created the whole girly meme from playing their game? Who knows.

This just feels like another instance of a big business not really getting what some of their potential demographic is really all about.

Writing In the Margins: Bayonetta 2, Sex Criticism, and Power Dynamics

I won’t pretend that this is even remotely an objective look at literally anything and rather a bag of cats that I’ve had going around in my mind for a week now. It’s almost 4 AM my time and this is nothing but one of those dreadful, self-absorbed noodlings on personal experiences and feminist theory. But isn’t that the point of discourse of in our community?

All of this started because I started seeing (whether some phenomenon or actual increased usage in just specifically my circle of Twitter acquaintances) sex positivity and sex negativity being mentioned in the last couple of days. It feels good to see feminist discourse happening in the video games community because I think it is sorely needed after the last 3 months. Admitting that we’re allowed, as feminists, to disagree with each other, feels like a positive first step in healing and growing a community where we’re not letting harassment cause us to constantly have reaffirm each other’s humanity to disgusting people versus having diverse discussions about the nature of our critique.

This seems, of course, all related to Bayonetta 2.

(Here is where I admit I have not played either 1 or 2 to any great degree. As a cultural work though, I feel it has quite a lot of innate context just from the the design and mechanics.)

Not only have I seen several comments painting Bayonetta 2 as enjoyable because of a sex positive viewpoint, but I’ve also seen sex negativity specifically float around as the opposite of that. If you enjoy Bayonetta, you’re the champion against sex-negativity. I find this really hurtful and reductive, especially as someone who tends to fall closer to sex critical or sex negative. I feel that reducing one’s ideological stance to your feelings on literally one video game character undoes a lot of the real nature of sexual discourse in feminism.

This is where I pause and say that you should all read Maddy Myer’s incredibly awesome look at Bayonetta 2. I don’t agree with all of it but I think it’s a really important line of conversation to have and it has a lot of nuance and angles to look at. This is the kind of stuff that games criticism should touch on and we should always make room for. Here’s also where I draw a circle around this conversation with salt , because, straight men, I do not actually give a shit how you feel about any of my thoughts today.

I think I should backtrack a bit and maybe elucidate on why sex positivity/negativity are particularly unsettling concepts to flatten out. For one, neither sex positivity nor negativity initially started as feminist dialogues. Both were schools of thought that date back pretty far in history and eventually came into the fold of critical discourse later on. Sex positivity was a celebration of sexual behavior without moral judgement and sex negativity was the fairly prudish opposite of that, crying that sex was a root of many different problems. Neither are particularly interesting at that basic level and I believe that they became much more interesting once feminist and other social justice movements got started. Much of what was dubbed the “Feminist Sex Wars” were a struggle between two wings of feminist thought – one that openly embraced the Free Love aspect of the 60s and 70s and the other wing that became much of the second wave’s anti-pornography collective. Again, both have really interesting things about them. Second wave also had issues with not just a lack of regard for sex workers but also trans women as well, which is why a lot of sex negative critique is largely not useable. However, moving past that into more 3rd wave and more intersectional analysis of feminist critique, we can see why both approaches are valuable.

I do not see sex negativity or positivity as wholly bad positions. I also don’t see them as opposites necessarily, either. If sex positivity in feminism is embracing women’s agency and sexual empowerment, then sex negativity is critiquing the structures that make enacting that agency and empowerment an issue. I think both together make up a body of sex criticism that looks at the ever-present issues of misogyny, abuse, rape culture and sexual performance, sexuality that is part of our work as a whole. Looking at one without the other, in my mind, does a disservice to large concepts and methods. Both, taken to logical extremes, also have sufficient issues. On the one hand, sex positivity performed in an uncritical way can ignore people who struggle with sexual behavior due to abuse, rape or other traumatic experiences. It can gloss over how sexual performances by women in our society can be co-opted by patriarchal concepts (Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, while a problematic text, rotates around this idea.) However, it’s also a way for women to embrace their own sexual agency that can be uplifting. It can define what that agency means. It can widen the way we perform our sexuality in our culture and ameliorate those who have been marginalized in a sexual way.

Sex negativity, when taken to this same way can be incredibly harmful to sex workers, focusing on how damaging things like porn can be without respect for the women who work in the industry. It can be incredibly narrow about sexual performance that does not happen in a male-dominated space or with the involvement of men. It can fall back largely on white supremacist concepts of sex that were enforced by colonialism and hurt women of color. However, sex negativity also pokes at the meaning of consent in a society that is founded and enforced by men (Andrea Dworkin’s work has a lot of this), it can tackle power dynamics that surround sexual performance as well.

Both things are incredibly essential to a larger critique of sexual practices and themes. Reducing them to “sex positivity means you think sex is good, sex negativity means you think it is bad” is hearkening back to those roots of the theory and inimical to progress in feminist discourse. Sex cannot be all good or all bad and even framing it in that way is reductive.  As someone who finds herself incredibly critical of sex, seeing these views crop up in gaming, which is still perceived as male-dominated, is alienating. It also falls back onto actually very misogynistic concepts that reduce women on some level to “bad” or “good depending on one’s views on sex. There’s two flavors of this, one being the more contemporary idea in nerd culture that fun women are sexy and cool, and bad women are frigid and stuck-up. The other older idea is the whole virgin/whore dichotomy, which chides women for being lascivious and sexually impure. Both remove the ability for women to act authentically with their sexual behavior and defines it in a moralistic way. The former is the one I see the most happening lately, especially given that nerd media, like video games, portrays women as sexual beings for men’s benefit only versus any of us. Maddy’s article squarely tackled the idea of male gaze being outdated and I largely agree with her. However, I don’t think that negates that there is definitely a very heterosexual male way of looking, especially in media.

A digression, if you’ll allow me.

One of the points that gets brought up in Maddy’s article regarding how rigid the idea of male gaze is that it does, rightfully ignore that the potential audience that is looking could potentially be queer women. Queer women are often a subset of participators when it comes to media consumption that are overlooked when it comes to women being sexy. It seems to follow logically that we’d be in the same general demographic as straight men when it comes to consuming sexualized women in media – except that it really doesn’t. I’ve felt very pushed aside when it comes to seeing the same images of women that are obviously styled for straight men due to the fact that they both reflect their interests (versus mine) but also have a double effect of how those same men perceive me. Many images of sexualized women are reliant on a larger context that derives from a very male-dominated, heterosexual society and it’s very hard to escape that, no matter who you are. Sexualized women are often portrayed as enticing due to their objectification, lack of agency as well complacency. To say that queer women don’t internalize both the idea that this is what we should find sexy in women, as well as ourselves would be faulty. But to say that that’s where it ends is faulty. I don’t find how women are created to appeal to straight men to be representative of my tastes, especially now as a feminist. It relies on too many problematic and frankly, harmful elements for me to feel comfortable.

The personal aspect of this is that as a queer woman navigating internalized misogyny, sexism and my own sexuality as a nerd, I spent a lot of hours sucking up to male friends by joining in their ogling and chatter of women in a sexual way. One of the easiest ways to fit in with nerd guys as a woman is to be “one of the guys” and being a queer woman who also finds women sexually attractive? That’s like a huge stat bonus. Being bisexual also meant I was technically available, so the possibilities were endless. It’s a fantasy of men to subsume a queer woman’s identity – have her enjoy his sexual overtures but also indulge in objectifying women alongside him. Nerds eat that shit up and so it was one of the ways I got my “cred” and tons of attention. It’s one of the most persistent strains of biphobic misogyny as well, that bisexual women are just attention whores and faking it for men. The fact that you are encouraged to do so for men’s validation is besides the point, right? (Heh.)

But when I really thought about it, especially after I broke out of that part of my life, my sexuality was confusing. I didn’t find women attractive in the same way these men did. I didn’t really want to degrade women or treat them like garbage or sex dumpsters. I wanted them the same way I wanted men – meaningfully, in a fun way, as a fellow human being, in a romantic, emotional or sexual way. In short, I wanted to treat them the way I wanted to be treated.

However, that directly deals with how we as people talk about ourselves, but what about applying these things to media? This is where it gets trickier and why Bayonetta is so contentious. Sexualized images in our media are both subject to the same things real people are but on a much different level. The easiest way to think about is that a fictional character does not have agency. A fictional character does not act on her own steam, she does or says whatever the author (or authors) want her to do. This is why when nerds fall all over themselves to say, “Oh she’s such a sexy, strong woman, look how empowered she is!” I roll my eyes a bit. The author has made a character perform in that way and it means that it’s not immune from criticism in quite the same way a real woman would be regarding her own choices (which are still subject to criticism, I must interject, but it’s still her choice to do those things.) This is why media is such an intriguing topic to engage on a feminist level – we have to both account for the potential author’s intent but at the same time reject it past a certain point. Looking at media on a critical level as a feminist means both picking apart what makes it problematic but can also be celebrating how to derive meaning and enjoyment from it.

This is where we turn back to Bayonetta. She is both the product of a woman designer, who had her own goals for her, as well as a product of our feelings towards her as a character. Her contentious position in videogames comes with a much larger context and that is why so many different people have different opinions about her. I don’t think you have to be looking at it from one particular way to simultaneously hate it or enjoy it and the idea that to embrace Bayonetta means to completely embrace sex positivity does both the character and the concept a disservice. Because from where I stand, I believe it is possible to look at her position as both a potential power fantasy that we rarely see in videogames but also positioned squarely in an industry that allows so few woman characters to exist at all that it’s hard to ignore the sexual elements. It’s an industry in a society that still is controlled on many levels by men, especially sexual performance. Sexual nuances to characters are never apolitical in this climate and they go over about as well as sex in our society. We all have our personal experiences and struggles to consider when wanting to engage with this kind of content and that’s where my fallback onto sex criticism comes – I want women to feel free to reject or embrace as little or as much of Bayonetta as they choose. She’s the product of many people and is both a fetish object and also a rejection of the dehumanization that often occurs. She’s a mockery of masculine ideals of sex appeal and also panders to them at the same time. Bayonetta is both strong and is also subject to the whims of her creators. She flirts with kink and domination while also potentially being a man’s idea of what that means. It’s a confusing bundle of many things and that’s why there is so much disagreement.

In that way, I do agree with what Maddy said – I don’t think she’s solely positioned within the debunked male gaze, but I don’t know how we are supposed to perceive her. Women finding joy and excitement from her, as much as loathing or criticism, is valid. Until we start seeing a landscape more thoroughly populated with nuanced portrayals of women, more of whom are sent out into the world by women authors, I believe we will continue to have this conversation. I embrace it and would love to see more of it, as long as we’re not shutting out other avenues of criticism.

 

Not A Photograph, But A Mirror: Sexism, World of Warcraft and Gaming Communities

A screencap of an item on Wowhead.com, called An Autographed Portrait of Jaina Proudmoore. It has flavor text that reads, "Before she went crazy."

A screencap of an item on Wowhead.com, called An Autographed Portrait of Jaina Proudmoore. It has flavor text that reads, “Before she went crazy.”

This is about a photograph.

But not really.

 

It’s about a fake photograph from a fictional woman, in the hands of a gaming company that made her, who also made her the butt of a joke.

But not really.

It’s about how we continue to talk about women, and how we talk to women in gaming spaces.

I had, perhaps naively, thought that when I quit World of Warcraft that it meant that I had a certain freedom to leave it behind and never talk about it again. But the problem is that even if I walk away from the game, the shittiness that permeates some of it and the community at large is still there. I still have friends and acquaintances who deal with this stuff. So while I gave up making World of Warcraft my 24-hour job in terms of combating sexism, seeing the continued effects of it ricochet around just makes me sad. In a positive way, it gives me a new freedom to address the subject in a more complete way.

Perculia, Wowhead‘s site director, is one of the more visible women in the World of Warcraft fan community. She runs a site that is the largest database for World of Warcraft as well as an informative news site about updates to the game. She’s good at her job herding digital cattle, whether it’s keeping up on news culled from developer’s Twitters, coallating data from a new beta patch or putting the massive amount of information in the database together in a relevant, clever way. She is an extremely important person in the game’s community as well as to the game itself – even Blizzard’s own employees use Wowhead to look for stuff. Despite not playing the game anymore, I still like to keep up with what she’s doing.

On Wednesday afternoon, she brought up a seemingly unimportant gray item that had come in the latest beta update for Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor expansion. For those who aren’t familiar with the game, Jaina Proudmoore is one of the few prominent female leaders in the game’s canon, who has had many appearances in the overall world story of this popular MMORPG. However, her story took a bit of a turn between the last expansion, Mists of Pandaria as well as a tie-in novel, Tides of War. The powerful mage suffered a tragic levelling of her port outpost by an opposing faction using a mana bomb and has gone on the offensive since then, struggling with her own anger and grief. Whether or not she’s a moral person at this point is up for debate (as she also jailed and hurt neutral-aligned blood elf mages, staged military motions against the Horde) but within the game’s own lore, she’s not very different from other warring male NPCs with the same narrative prominence. However, many of the game’s players have taken Jaina’s turbulent actions since the bombing of Theramore as proof of her being “crazy” and have cracked jokes along those lines.

It’s obvious that this item is in reference to that, but despite protests from players that this is merely a joke on Blizzard’s audience, I don’t believe it. Jaina has become one of the more polarized characters in the game and there’s no mystery as to why – she’s a woman with extremely strong emotions. Prior to this latest character arc, she was powerful but she also was very loyal to a more pacificist, neutral approach to relations between the two factions in-game. Blizzard has done a pretty mediocre job respecting that change with nuance or sympathy, despite characters with far more morally bleak outlooks (see Garrosh Hellscream, leader of the Horde) garnering equal or greater spotlight and admiration. If Blizzard is cracking wise on their fanbase, which I don’t buy for a second, they would have to have a position distinguishable from who they are parodying. That’s how satire works.

One of the things that eventually drove me away from World of Warcraft is just that kind of jokey disregard for many of the under-utilized female characters that the game boasts as well, combined with an overall lack of understanding of their female audience at times. Seeing them continue to make little jabs like this at a character who’s gone from being made fun of for being a bookish nerd, to being made fun of as a “slut” because fans think multiple male characters were interested in her, to being too peaceful, to now being too crazy, is really disheartening. There’s also just the fact that underneath all of this is that she’s a woman, and that’s enough for players to dislike her. Having the company who created her undermine pride in who she is doesn’t send a very good message to Jaina fangirls as well as the rest of the community. What this really says is less about one particular fictional character but more about the real people who wrote her, the real people who thought this item was a good idea, and this has a ripple effect throughout an already pretty sexist community. Because it’s not really just about how we represent and treat fictional women, but moreso how it makes us look at real women.

Perculia bringing this item to light sparked not only enough discussion to get Warcraft to put in a fix immediately (to be updated in a future patch) but also a round of detractors, harassers and other miscreants who generally hate it when anyone criticizes the game, especially for reasons that have to do with things like sexism. That’s what this is, in case it wasn’t clear. It might have been a joke, but it wasn’t very funny to everyone and it was just another moment when women (and their mental health) were the punchline. Seeing Perculia deal with harassment for almost two days now over something that amounts for passing disappointment for a company she works closely with is more indicative of the problem than some flavor text. It might have been a throwaway item but over time little things like this just add to the constant river of shit you have to deal with as a woman trying to play this video game, if not video games in general. The item, as well as her tweet, has shown up on a noteable cesspool known as the MMO Champion forums, which stoked anti-“SJW” mockery and keeps bringing in fresh waves of people to berate her (but notably not as harshly to the devs who spoke to her about the change) or troll her about caring about it. It’s sad.

When I started poking at the larger game community outside of the insular crowd of Warcraft players, I thought that maybe some of the things I’d seen being an outspoken feminist would have gotten slightly better but then the last month happened and shattered that belief. What happens within WoW’s borders is nothing different than what happens when Anita Sarkeesian makes a new video. The only difference is that instead of finding lots of different female journalists, media critics or game developers to fixate on, WoW’s community often only has a scant few women who work for big fansites, post on the forums, or make fan works like YouTube videos. Instead of someone like Zoe Quinn being a target, I’ve seen people harassing Trade Chat on Twitter or post derogatory comments on Liz Harper’s editorials. I even caught a lot of flak when I brought up Ji Firepaw having sexist dialogue back in Mists of Pandaria. Big game companies have just as much responsibility to diversify their works as they do to make sure their fans feel safe discussing and criticising their company, especially when so many women (and other marginalized populations) put in so much time and work promoting their products and making them accessible to other players. I’d even say it’s a responsibility despite it potentially costing the loyalty of other segments of their audience.

At the end of the day, fans of World of Warcraft are no different than someone who writes for Polygon or makes indie games if we’re all talking about women. Gaming has a sexism problem, whether it’s towards real women or fictional ones and the two are intimately connected, no matter what we think. And as much as I’ve seen progress, we still have a long way to go.

Really.

Interlude: Oh, But It Is Social Justice

I know that the dust has barely settled on my post about leaving WoW but I felt the need to say something, especially with this week being E3 and pretty much dropping jewels at my feet to talk about. There’s several large stories that I’d love to cover in more depth (and probably will on Justice Points) but given the lack of time this week, I just wanted to highlight someone who was saying these things, especially regarding Ubisoft’s admission that they did not include a woman in their upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity multi-player (or even as a main protagonist).

Ashelia is someone I don’t agree with sometimes, but I feel this article in particular hits a lot of right notes. The only thing I really disagree with though is this:

Honestly, it’s not even about women’s rights or so-called social justice at this point, either.

I hate criticizing women in games journalism but I feel this sentence really bears harping upon. I don’t want to speculate about why this was put here, but this is a common admission from quite a few women over the years. This isn’t unique to just Ashelia’s work, basically. But it is pretty untrue, in my opinion. I get not wanting to be seen as one of those “crazy” “feminists” that scream and cry about inclusion in video games, despite espousing feminist virtues for the other thousand words in the article. Not embracing that identity is someone’s choice, but to say that not including women in video games isn’t a women’s rights or is “so-called” social justice (by the way, social justice is an academic term that became more popular in the 1970s but has roots in pre-20th century discourse) is just flat out wrong in my eyes.

People seem to want to restrain caring about women to a couple of subjects like voting rights, the wage gap and possibly parental leave but do not think it includes media representation. As someone who has been hammering on these topics for almost four years now, I say that it does! How we feel about ourselves, whether we see ourselves as important absolutely demands that we see ourselves in the media we consume. It validates ideas that people internalize – if you fail to include women (or people of color, disabled people, trans people, etc) you are saying that they are not important, that their stories are less worthy of recognition. The fact that video games is one of the fastest growing forms of media (as well as experienced by an audience that’s 48% women) means that this absolutely is a crucial place for representation and diversity. This means that it is absolutely a social justice issue.

—-

This week has kinda gotten away from me, but I wanted to just say that I will be tackling some of E3’s offerings in the coming days.

Mists of Pandaria Cinematic Debut and A Retrospective on WoW Cinematics

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?

Barf!

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.

RARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

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!

*TUSSLE*

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

WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

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.)

Cataclysm (2010)

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.

 

Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions and Nitpicks

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

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

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

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

See for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandaren Female

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

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

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

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

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.

Aubrey Plaza in Blizzard’s Newest Ad Spot – Awesome or Merely Stereotypical?

Almost as if Blizzard heard my cries about wanting a female spokesperson for World of Warcraft in the wake of the Chuck Norris debacle, it debuted this “What’s Your Game” ad spot featuring Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation fame. She plays herself (or perhaps a bit of her April Ludgate character from the show) talking about her boyfriend getting her this game for her birthday and subsequently dumping him when she realizes she likes the game more than him.

The video is funny enough, however there has been some criticism amongst some of the gamers I know about how it still relies on the “bitchy girlfriend who isn’t into video games” trope in order to be funny. I would say it is a little bit of that but manages to turn it on its ear by the end. The line about wanting diamonds is the crux of that criticism; advertisements, especially around the holiday season, tout a lot of heterosexual marriage proposals and buying a diamond for your special lady. So Aubrey wanting diamonds, even as a joke, could be seen to play into that. It also seems like the boyfriend is talking about the ever-popular Minecraft at first, considering how mining for diamonds is somewhat of a thing.

In the end though, the insensitive boyfriend is tossed on his butt and Aubrey goes on to enjoy the game as her own person. As a Horde player, presumably, judging by her shirt. While I’m glad that Blizzard decided to go with a woman celebrity, and especially a funny one at that, the idea that she didn’t get the game on her own still sticks in my craw. I want to see her playing an undead mage or something!

Ah well, progress is progress, eh? Least there was no racist voiceover this time.