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.

 

 

Patch 5.4 Trailer – Burn in the Fires of My Hate

Garrosh stares hatefully.

 

Blizzard dropped the Patch 5.4 trailer for Siege of Orgrimmar on our heads early this morning and what a trailer it was. The overall quality and storytelling of each successive patch trailer has gone up significantly since their inception way back sometime in Vanilla but all of them have never failed to make me utterly hyped to play some more Warcraft. Blizzard’s got a real strength in their animatics/cinematics division and this was no exception – I am itching to log in and do anything in preparation for Patch 5.4.

Let’s review some of the things that were going on in this particular trailer, though, shall we?

Garrosh has gone completely corrupted/power-hungry at this point.

I can’t say for sure which one it is because it seems equally likely – he’s both influenced by the Sha but he’s also incredibly puffed up on his own ego, importance and hatred right now. He’s just as much a warmongering tyrant with something to prove who’s gotten way into his own ideology than just a pawn of the Sha-corruption. And honestly, a powerful male figurehead being lost in his own childish autonomy is far more fascinating than just him being taken over by the Old Gods. His dialogue in the video is similarly fiery, obstinate and hateful.

No one is going to get in his way and he’ll kill and hurt anyone who tries to. Which leads me to…

Taran Zhu got some snaps in before his supposed end, at least. (Edit: Dave Kosak cleared up that Taran Zhu’s is alive.)

I’ve not liked Taran Zhu in a lot of ways; he’s more of the same patronizing nonsense from other male leaders. But given his position as the only line of defense against whatever might ravage Pandaria (mogu, Sha), it’s probably justified in a lot of ways. While I feel that his initial presumption that the Alliance and Horde conflict was entirely to blame for the havoc within Pandaria’s own land, I feel like his assertion has finally come to bear. The fight between Taran Zhu and Garrosh was full of egos, certainly though. While Taran’s line about Grom was not only timely, correct and a sick fucking burn, both of them were taunting each other and it got the better of Taran.

Taran didn’t bring this on himself though, and for that I feel bad.

Vale is irreparably damaged now.

This is one of the biggest changes that really bothers me, even when Garrosh’s mining operation set up. Pandaria is such a beautiful, serene continent and we already saw parts of it that were completely given to destruction and corruption like the Dread Wastes. The idea of the Vale, the zone that the Celestials gave to us in order to help everyone is now being used by Garrosh’s plan to re-ignite an Old God makes a dramatically sad change to both the game and the story. I felt the same way when the Goblins were allowed to terraform and essentially destroy Azshara. There’s something about purposeful destruction of the most beautiful landscapes in WoW that really make me feel awful. Vale is where I spent a lot of time just hovering in the air, watching the sun go down.

There was a relative lack of anyone else that might have any involvement in bringing the fight to Garrosh.

I feel that the cinematic had a missed opportunity to do some strategic cutaways or montages over the dialogue (instead of the badass fight scene we got) to allude to anyone else that might be mad at Garrosh now. Taran Zhu mentioned the other members of the Horde, but absolutely nowhere were the Alliance mentioned or involved. A montage of people fighting while being referenced might have helped assuage my feelings that once again the Alliance get left out of a fight that’s rightfully ours to have. As I told Tzufit on Twitter: “(We’re) late to our own revenge, absent from our own war.”

While I can grasp that Taran Zhu is the ultimate symbol of the Pandarian people at this point, and so the fight was the struggle between the Azeroth factions and Pandaren-kind, the fact that the raid will involve all of  our fates, intertwined, left a bad taste in my mouth. Alliance are probably not going to get any payback for their grief at Theramore, nor any pro-active stance other than allegiances with the trolls. It still feels like we’re on the backburner for a fight that is igniting both factions right now and throwing power relations into the air. If not showing Varian, then at least Jaina?

Also why didn’t Taran Zhu have any sort of backup going on here? Where was Yalia? Where was Taoshi?

Overall, I’m excited. 

It can’t be helped, I’m always overwhelmed with purpose and emotions when I watch any of these trailers. The swell of music, the clang of weapons – it gets me right in the heart (same for Taran, I presume. Too soon?) and I want to just run and conscript myself back in with the Alliance army even though we’ve been relatively shafted in this conflict. The Barrens battles were relatively lukewarm as far as hyping me up for the growing war and subsequent raid instance. This was yet another sustaining breath of fresh air and I know that my guild is going to be lining up that first week, pumped to take down Garrosh and make him pay for his crimes.

 

 

 

And the New Warchief Is…!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

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.”

Good on ya, Blizzard!

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.