Where Is the Line: Brutality in Patch 5.4

Kor'kron orc has two women on chains fighting for sport.  Screenshot courtesy of @snack_road.

Kor’kron orc has two women on chains fighting for sport.
Screenshot courtesy of @snack_road.

A couple of days ago, I happened to be skimming Twitter (isn ‘t this how most of my blog posts start nowadays) and caught a tweet from Snack about something he saw in Siege of Orgrimmar LFR. It was the screenshot posted above, captioned with, “I’m probably gonna be thinking about this screenshot way too hard the next few days.” It struck me the same way, despite the fact that I had never even been to this part of SoO yet. I hate reporting on things I haven’t personally witnessed, just so I can get my own handle on context and whatnot but this is so far and away one of the worst things I could have possibly heard about in the new raid.

Until a guildmate linked me this: Theramore Citizen.

Some further investigation from Tzufit revealed not only Theramore Citizens (all women, apparently) hung up on poles, but Darkspear Defenders as well, all of them stabbed or stuck with arrows.

A Theramore woman is lashed and stabbed to a pole in Orgrimmar.

Screenshot courtesy of Tzufit.

 

A Darkspear troll woman is lashed and stabbed to a pole in Orgrimmar

Screenshot courtesy of Tzufit.

All of these screenshots, despite being in a video game about war, are still really unsettling. Not only are all of them women (though the shackled fighters can randomly be men, too) but the level of violence and naked brutality here is way too much. Not only is there a scary level of historical real-world precedent for these things (making shackled slaves fight eachother, hello?!) but it openly feels too real to be immersive in a video game. It makes me wonder where Blizzard thinks the line is in “realistic violence” in order to make the point that, yes, Garrosh is a horrible person.

The game thus far has tried very hard to make us hate Garrosh but in ways that tend to make me feel bad about myself, as a woman. He’s never really been a mustache-twirling villain but just straight up an abusive tyrant. He slaughters his own people in the dead of night and hangs them from the walls on fire (this is also present in the SoO raid). He calls women “bitches” and orders hits on other Horde dignitaries. And now somehow, manages to retcon the plight of the Theramore survivors and leaves their corpses strewn around their holding cages, lashing some of their women to posts with weapons sticking out of their corpses and making them fight for sport. The fact that a Darkspear is included for extra “flavor” is particularly egregious but makes slightly more “sense” than all the refugees from Theramore, who were supposedly safely passed to Gadgetzan. Did some goblins double-cross the Alliance and send a fleet of them to Orgrimmar to be tortured and killed? What is going on here? Seeing these poor people being used for sport, maimed and killed is stomach-turning.

WoW has always had some level of atrocity. I get this. This is a war, but this has gone several shades too far (as it has in the past, even) into senseless, unsettling territory.  The game has done this in a couple places in the past, and it’s always rung really wrongly to me. We’re already storming the gates of Ogrimmar to take down Garrosh, but why did we need to see this? Why did we need to replicate some of the violence that actual real people have suffered in real life, as part of being prisoners of war or slavery?  Why is it only women hanging from the poles? This doesn’t make me feel like a hero, it just makes me feel sick to be playing the game.

 

 

Sexism and Rape Culture in Pandaria

Mina Mudclaw dances for a Springtail Ogler.

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 her money, 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.

source, last emphasis in red is mine

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.