Warlords of Draenor: The Dark Portal is the New Glass Ceiling

Happy gnome shouting Ladies! In Warcraft!

Drawing by Paululum, aka @Doodlegnome.

Let’s go back, way back to an alternate timeline. It’s Blizzcon 2013 and we’re in a world that seems similar to our own. It’s moments before Chris Metzen announces the next expansion. Suddenly the screen changes and the now-familiar logo goes up. Relatively little is changed. It is called Wars of Draenor.  Metzen strides across the stage, the heady determination evident in his face. He unveils a piece of concept art that has him nearly squeeing with excitement – a large digital fresco in shades of brown and red. Present is our antagonist Garrosh, his right hand Zaela and the assembled orc lords. It looks as much of a motley crew as any metal band. 

But then he regales us with a second mural – the combined might of Azeroth as we know it rushing to meet on the battlefield. There’s a righteous female draenei champion leading the charge for the Alliance and for the Horde, there’s Aggra and Thrall, Draka and Durotan. We see Varian, Jaina, Moira, Tyrande, Malfurion, Vol’jin, Sylvanas, Gelbin Mekkatorque, Velen and Maraad, Lor’themar, Genn Greymane, Gallywix and Baine Bloodhoof. All of our races’ leaders are present and accounted for along with many of our valiant champions. We are going to stand tall against Garrosh and his Iron Horde.

We see ourselves reflected in this art and we get jazzed at the mysterious hints of characters we’ve met briefly before or new ones that look exciting and powerful. 

When the the lore panel takes place, a fan asks Metzen about what Aggra’s role in the expansion will be as she was seen in the opening announcement. Metzen laughs and wryly remarks, “Who do you think is going to help lead the Horde in this familiar world? Thrall? He’s never lived here!” 

As much as I would love it, we don’t live in that timeline. Let’s talk about what actually occurred and why it is so important.

If you don’t read World of Warcraft blogs or Twitter, maybe you missed the heated discussion that’s been going on about how the marketing and potential story choices were being handled regarding Warlords of Draenor from its debut at Blizzcon this year. Chris Metzen as well as another influential member of the Dad Crimes crew Dave Kosak, seemed to paint a pretty male-centric vision of Warlords that left many people with a bad taste in their mouth. If this was the opening salvo of the newest Blizzard product, why weren’t there more women involved in the offerings?

What further drove the wedge in between the developers and fans was Chris Metzen during the lore panel answering to a fan’s question about what Aggra would be doing and he alluded to the fact that she wouldn’t be there because it was a “boys trip.” While I think this was a moment of sheer Metzen-level exuberance that didn’t properly filter itself, it definitely left a profound impact on people already confused or bewildered by the expansion reveal. Here was someone at the top of the creative development for our beloved game joking around that going to Draenor was akin to a bunch of dudes packing their axes like rods and heading back into the Dark Portal for a beer-fueled fishing trip. It rang as a poor attempt at a joke but it, unbeknownst to Chris, created a rallying point for fans, women in particular, that was on a level with “Hush, Tyrande.” It’s much easier to start picking apart sexism and character representation in World of Warcraft when you are given such moments that are so overt and show such a lack of understanding and consideration for your audience’s makeup.

While I believe Metzen (or even Kosak by extension with all of his “savage” talk) to be a fairly well-meaning guy, the fact of the matter is the comment underscores a lot of what usually inserts problematic content or creates a problematic vacuum of certain key building blocks of a fantasy world you want to make. It’s a small group of people (in this case, the men on stage) being excited by things and forgetting that we’re not all jazzed up about seeing metalhead orcs go back in time to cleave things in twain with other orc dudes. It’s fun and cool to Metzen, who ultimately gets to revisit a potent and fun time in his writing career, but it doesn’t seem to take some of us along for the ride in quite the same way. This is where I feel the real disconnect is occurring: not that I truly believe Warlords of Draenor will be entirely absent of cool women characters (I’ll talk more about this later) but that main figures of creative development presenting the story to us didn’t feel it necessary to talk about most of them except only briefly.

It’s confusing for two reasons, one, because we literally just came from a world that is as close to an idyllic meritocracy as World of Warcraft will ever have (Pandaren) and two, because there doesn’t even seem to be very solid logic for why Aggra in particular wouldn’t be there. It’s this moment of non-consideration for the idea that a Draenor native mama wouldn’t be present to show her son the planet she grew up on that gives us pause because it isn’t particularly just about her but shoots an arrow straight into the larger problem of being overlooked or under-considered by some of the top dogs in creative development. World of Warcraft has, up until this point, been moving forward in both its’ lore and story with regards to representation and so it feels like whiplash to see this being the initial offering we’re given.

Though, if I think hard enough, we can look back again how even Mists of Pandaria was presented to viewers initially and extrapolate that when it comes to selling people on their expansions, Blizzard really doesn’t give a hoot about ladies. No matter how much progress you make in making a world that has tons of really enjoyable, memorable and complex women characters in it, when the wrapping paper on the whole she-bang (heh) still looks dominated by men, you find yourself more and more unwilling to open it. So in this aspect, you could say that this just a marketing problem and not a story problem. I think that’s fairly close to the truth, but despite this being an issue with how they want to sell an expansion, it does have an effect on the story after all.

This is is why, going back to the “boys trip” quote, Aggra’s seeming non-inclusion in the story is such a big deal. When women are not considered for being played up as a cool fixture of your story to your audience from the outset, you might find yourself overlooking them in other places. The idea of Thrall going ahead to lead the Horde with his parents without his wife or his kid says a lot more about how creative development wants to talk about fathers and families versus motherhood and the like. And it’s weird, as someone who is not a mom, but knows plenty of them who play. (I am going to address more of this in a later post, so just hang onto your pants.)

Does this ultimately mean that I believe that the expansion is going to feature no women at all? Absolutely not. Like I said, Mists of Pandaria, once we got into the meat of the story, featured many moments where I felt women had their role to play in both the overhanging story arc (see Isle of Thunder patch with Jaina and Vereesa) as well as the day-to-day stories that we see in the Pandaren people or even something like the Klaxxi. I felt that both narrative and quest development teams did a really good job creating a world that was seamlessly egalitarian, even if we crash-landed on their shores with war in our hearts and sometimes less nuanced character development. Pandaren gave us a world where all of the women were equal participants in everything, whether it was protecting the land, working it or being diplomatic entities. It wasn’t just strong women like Suna Silentstrike, but women that were humble, quiet or nuanced in some other way. And I felt that it rubbed off on even some of our regular Azerothian  sisters. Because of that, I have a cautious optimism that Warlords is going to have just as many orc and draenei women filling in the gaps that we didn’t get to see in the opening cinematic, not just as brave champions of the Light (like the hotly speculated Yrel) but as complex personalities all over the place.

It’s because of this faith that I feel fully ready to rebut criticisms of those criticisms by saying that it is “too early” to know what is going to be happening in the story with regards to the women. Sure, it absolutely is too early and there’s definitely going to be cool powerful women present in the story of Draenor. (Again, Yrel seems to be held up for this a lot, and I can see why.) The problem is that because of the disconnect in marketing, because we are at this very initial point in the on-going reveal of the expansion, there absolutely needs to be unpacking and discussion and critical awareness. By getting ahead of more permanent story decisions now with our feedback, we stand a greater chance of having a profound impact on seeing ourselves in the story we love so much. This is really the beating heart of the problem, of why this omission felt so glaring. People love Warcraft, a lot of us women love Warcraft. We want to love Warcraft not just as the characters we build up in our heads as complex or nuanced, but to see our stories reflected in the ones that the company creates. Representation matters and the sooner we can have this discussion and make sure that we have a stake in that representation, so much the better. Blizzard has made very large strides in both its’ creative development teams and community management teams to ask for and receive feedback from us, the players. Not just on things like balance issues, obviously, but how we feel about where the story is going, what kinds of things are expressed and are we excited about them.

Feedback is crucial. Blizzard has let us know that it listens to the community and is willing to make changes should they feel that criticism is both substantive and will improve the game. Representation is also crucial. Our media affects and informs our lives and leaving a lot of different groups out of the story (not just women, but queer people, people of different genders, races, etc.) has a subtle but penetrating effect on the people who consume this media, namely us.

In her post about the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and QPOC representation on PolicyMic, Zainab Akande succinctly delivers why this is such a big deal:

“Why does this matter? Because media representation matters. Why does media representation matter? Because the media is a pretty central force and plays a vital role in society at large. Mass media in particular has the power to change or reinforce the habits of its consumers. It also aids in constructing worldviews of its consumers by reproducing reality— to an extent. Perception is the name of the game and it’s difficult to perceive what is non-existent — or in the case of POC and LGBTQ characters, severely lacking compared to the real world the diversity scale.”

If your game doesn’t gesture even a tiny bit at the important stories of 50% of the population that is both playing your game as well as participants in your story in the first offerings you serve to your public, you’re not doing a very good job. Not only in selling a product to as wide of an audience as possible, but in selling a product that has more of a dramatic influence than the work that has come before.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so cautiously hopeful that the chefs stirring the pot that is narrative and quest design in Warlords know what they are doing. Going back in time, not just figuratively for the purposes of the story, but literally, to an earlier time in Blizzard’s game development is precarious. While I understand that Warcraft is where many of the great women leaders of World of Warcraft spawned (Tyrande, Jaina, Sylvanas), going back to a place that feels less unconcerned with what we’ve learned in the past 10 years of gaming with regards to diversity feels tricky at best. So while the excitement is here because we’re getting to finally see a world that was merely hinted at in both Warcraft and World of Warcraft’s lore, a lot of us are feeling somewhat hesitant that it will do due diligence in being a past we want to visit for the first time. The story feels very male-dominated for multiple reasons, as I said, and by going back to it, we might lose ourselves in a timeline that feels unconcerned with the rest of us. However, much like Warcraft then and Warcraft now, we cannot ignore that all of these things are choices. Choices made by the writers, by the developers, and by people like Metzen and Kosak themselves. Fantasy not including women isn’t historically accurate, it’s just repeating sexist storytelling whole-cloth, most of the time due to the lack of perspective that some of their very male authors seem to have. We need to not only look forward to the work of the women who undoubtedly comprise the story development team, but let Blizzard know that everyone working on the game’s look, feel and narrative that they should make a world that all of us here in the present, would want to go back and save. Not only just as characters in WoW’s story, but as video game players in general.

Other posts on this topic:

*in case it wasn’t very evident, the title was written in jest.

Blizzcon 2013: Intermission

Hey, if you’re reading this because you got linked here by the very generous Nethaera about Warlords of Draenor, welcome! I am very sorry that this is not actually a post about my discussion with Helen Cheng (quest designer from Blizzard) but rather a sincere apology that I literally haven’t had the resources to post anything up yet.

The reason for this is because I’ve not been on consistent Internet outside of my smartphone and it’s very hard to compose blog posts there. Once I get a couple hours on steady internet with my laptop or Thursday when I finally get back home, I promise I will brain dump over the next couple of days about my more critical experiences at Blizzcon.

Things you can expect:

  • Discussion about the women of Warlords of Draenor, including my  notes from speaking to Dave Kosak (briefly) as well as Helen Cheng.
  • Meeting Craig Amai, head of quest development about Ji Firepaw as well as his thoughts on Warlords and representation.
  • Presentation of Warlords in broad strokes of masculinity and “boys trip” from Metzen.
  • Summary of all the people I met.
  • Aggra and the #RiseofAggra hashtag.
  • The use of “savage” and other racial tropes via the orcs.
  • Assorted notes from the panels I attended.

Lots of things to look forward to, and I say hello to all my potential new readers. I was up to a lot this last week. If you’re interested in hearing Helen Cheng talk about quest design from Mists of Pandaria, feel free to listen to the interview we did with her over at Justice Points.

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.

WoW Mobile App Goes Free: A Lil’ XT Pet For You!

Apple Cider cheers at Lil' XT

Since Blizzard announced yesterday that their Remote app went completely free for all extra features (including mobile armory, and guild chat), it means that those of us who had been paying up until this point (me) got a free 7 days added to their account, as well as a thank you present of a Lil’ XT code. Since I already have a Lil’ XT, this means that I get to do my first-ever giveaway!

Lil’ XT is a valuable pet and steadfast companion. Not only does it do cute little mechanical idle animations, but it also has a very helpful mechanical wrecking feature. This means other mechanical pets as well as train sets, without needing to plunk down 200G for a Train Wrecker. And it is infinitely reusable. Talk about a bargain! Lil’ XT is also a Mechanical class pet, which means when pet battles come out, it has extra damage towards Beasts. It is a very strong choice for your first Pet Battle team since most of the first fights you encounter are against Beasts!

Just leave a comment below with what your favorite pet to battle with in 5.0.4 will be and I’ll pick a winner this weekend and announce it on Monday as part of my 5.0.4 post. Best of luck!

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”?

Mists of Pandaria Monday: Three Hours of Sleep Edition

Welcome to Mists of Pandaria Monday! I’m your intrepid Apple Cider and I got literally three hours of restless sleep today due to the fact that I was up chatting about Lilian Voss on Mumble with people intently researching all of the new MoP information for you, dear readers. Pardon me while my research intensity leads to things like belligerent opinions, dead links, spelling errors or possibly not finishing sentences. A lot of really thorough coverage went up at almost 12 AM PST and I urge you all to go read it; WoW Insider and Wowhead did an amazing job collating and organizing all the relevant bits for your perusal. As it stands, I will be bullet-pointing and discussing the things I found most exciting personally before I fall face first into my keyboard.

Female Pandaren: More Bounce By the Ounce

I discussed my feelings on the potential aesthetic of the female pandaren last week and when the screenshots of the in-game model finally were debuted, I found myself quite happy with the results. As reported, the females will have fur color options, with the red panda fur look including a tail. This doesn’t make sense to me personally, because while I can swallow that this a magical fantasy world where red pandaren and black/white pandaren are the same species, why would only female red pandaren have tails? It seems like one of those weird evolutionary quirks that seems more “pandering” than plausible. As far as my concerns towards the body and figure of the women? Settled for the most part. I would have liked to see an even more rotund, hefty lady (or eventually a slider) but this will do for now. She’s got curves that suggest a physical but comfortable life and also slightly more bottom-heavy and animalistic than more humanoid counterparts. I can see her hefting a barrel of home-brewed stout or cooking up Pandarian Death Peppers just as much as fighting with a bow staff. A lot of criticism has come down heavily on the face that is presented in a lot of the official art but I think they are cute as heck. I have a feeling there will be some leeway on facial features and expressions for those who want to look more fierce. I also have some faith that Blizzard’s continued improvements with in-game models will give them a range of emotion in their face as well. The screenshots we’ve seen so far give them concrete personalities too that range from meditative to dreamy.

Now, interestingly on WoW Insider’s live Mists of Pandaria podcast this morning a fan-done “revision” of the model was linked (warning: Picture is SFW, but DA account has some NSFW if you browse further) that simply added a touch more weight to the face and body. Personally I like how it looks, but someone in the chat inevitably remarked about “furries” and how it’s just a “fetish” picture. Sorry, but liking a woman with weight on her is pretty typical, especially since women’s bodies fall all along the shape spectrum. There are fetishes for certain kinds of body figures or figures caused by various things, but finding appeal or aesthetic value in all sorts of body shapes, including larger ones, is not fetish material or even sexual. So let’s keep the weird rhetoric to a minimum.

A Farm of One’s Own, Lorewalking and Other Casual Pleasantries

As part of the intense shift towards more “casual” non-PVE/PVP centric content for Mists, one of the reputations you can encounter in-game is the Tillers. This is part of a quest to help a farmer and his rundown farm back onto its feet, eventually netting you your own in-game farm that will include dailies that help you grow plants (whether this is herbalism nodes or cooking mats), obtain livestock and decorate your farmhouse. As someone who has always loved the idea of things like Harvest Moon, Farmville but didn’t like the intense timesink elements of the latter, this little farm outlet in Pandaria is intriguing to me. I want to have my gnome grow all her own alchemy mats, till the earth with a yaungol and prosper. A lot of the information coming out about MoP‘s questing content and reputations suggests that a lot of people who enjoy doing story content but dislike some of the rote, impersonal challenges of dailies will enjoy this stuff to no end. Molten Front was the carrot-on-the-stick for those of us who are like this when Firelands came out but was such a logistical nightmare and failure of entertainment. This feels like a breath of fresh air. Another set of dailies will also allow us to obtain a beautiful cloud serpent, much like the Ravasaur or Wintersaber mount, putting meaningful and personally exciting rewards for those who chose to do the quests.

In this vein of adding additional things for those of us who like poking and prodding is the Lorewalkers reputation. I’m unsure whether this is what archeology is getting rolled into or if this is seperate, but players will be able to find Pandaren artifacts around the world and turn them into these culture keepers in return for an elaborate show depicting parts of Pandarian history and lore. It is a highly interactive way of learning about the world’s story that will grab our attention, in case we pass through questing too fast to absorb the story.

The most hotly talked-about feature though is pet battles. I missed the Pokemon train, unfortunately, so the sheer intensity of support for this mini-game that is being implemented is a little bit beyond my ken, but as an avid pet collector, the fringe benefits of being able to add value to my pet collection and cross the globe searching for new rare pets in the wild to add tickles me. It also introduces a style of combat game that has none of the drawbacks of PVP: no loss tallies, no contact or interaction with the other party, and the flexibility of pet dueling or pet battle queueing from anywhere. This might be a style of player-versus-player that I spend at least a little time dabbling in, even if it just putting together teams consisting of Alliance Balloon, Rustberg Seagull and Perky Pugs.

Overall, I feel that they are really putting in a ton of content for those of us who like to do a variety of things on a variety of characters.

PVE Explosion: Heroic Scholomance, Challenge Dungeons, and Minor Glyphs

For those players who like taking a big bite out of some PVE content though, I will say that WoW has gone far beyond a lot of the criticisms that plagued Cataclysm and bursting at the seams with raid, dungeon and extra perks for those who want to face some bosses and get some nice purples for their trouble.

Most exciting out of this news is the revamps of Heroic Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery. Not only is there quite a few hints that the story has been updated significantly to shape the old bosses, but there are new (???) villains lurking around every corner. Even the corners have been updated, promising a more linear and overall detailed dungeon. This is most present in Scholomance, which got a completely new facelift and floor layout in order to remove some of the weird boss backtracking and ridiculousness with trash that players encountered in vanilla.  Also included is the intense and mysterious Lilian Voss, powerful former Scarlet protege, now-turned-undead, fighting against skeletons in one of the rooms in the school of dark arts. What is she doing there? This question is playing on any lore junkie’s mind (including my own) as well as who is left in the Scarlet Monastery. Why hasn’t Whitemane gotten the same overhaul as the other models? Hopefully these will be answered in time.

A thrill that I am looking forward to as an ex-raider who still likes the adrenaline rush of executing content is challenge mode dungeons. These dungeons will require specific teams of people completing objectives within the instance for achievements, rankings and extra rewards such as vanity loot. It is reminiscent of bear runs or timed Culling of Stratholme, where perfect play nets you an extra special shiny but now with an additional challenge of being on a leaderboard. It is assumed to not only foster togetherness within guilds but inspire some level of server-based competition that is a little less time intensive than raiding. I want to put together a crack squad of people to tackle heroics and get some wicked looking gear, not going to lie. Given how much I have in dungeons right now with my guild, I am definitely sinking my teeth into this wholeheartedly.

Finally, the fact that Warcraft is going to debut with 14 bosses for the first raid tier is exceptionally intriguing, but mostly I’m just excited about minor glyphs letting me ride around on my guildies who are druid-stags. Vanity, flavor and usefulness seem to be the things most present here with the glyph revamp and I couldn’t be happier. Flat stat changes are not an exciting area of development and I’d rather see customization, personalization and choices be part of my glyphing process.

Story and Art Development

I’m going to swoon here for a moment – it looks like so far, Blizzard has put a fuckton (pardon my French) of work into creating this brand new world inside of their very old world of Azeroth. The rising conflict with between all of the native (or not-so-native) races of Pandaria, combined with obvious and deep Asian influences in the art design makes for an incredibly detailed, exciting world that I want to explore. I want to see all 10,000 waterfalls. I want to see all the new species of animals. Cynicism about rampant Orientalism aside, I really feel incredibly bowled over by how this world is going to look, feel and act, especially when my gnome steps foot on the shores.

I haven’t felt this excited for World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade came out, and I for one, am optimistic that Blizzard really is doing something very right.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the Mists of Pandaria announcements so far in the comments or on Twitter!

 

 

 

 

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.

World of Warcraft Class Design and Balance Live Chat – Mages

This afternoon, the class developers as well as some of the community devs hopped onto Warcraft’s newly-utilized chat platform CoverItLive to do a Q&A panel regarding current as well as future class design and balance. As expected, some of the same questions and concerns were hashed out again (what the hell was up with warlocks and their goddamn pets), but interestingly enough, not as many softball questions. Mages got a healthy amount of discussion and some of my own fears about the state of our talents in Mists of Pandaria were touched on. Ghostcrawler was in full force and made some really good comments regarding our class’ design/balance. Here is a blow-by-blow of all the mage related questions that were asked:

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Apple Cider Goes to Blizzcon, Part 2

Cosplayers from Blizzcon. A blood elf is helping a hunter with her helm.

Hello, faithful readers! I hope you didn’t miss me too much when I was in California. Between Blizzcon, Hallow’s Eve (in-game), and working, I’ve been a busy little gnome. I didn’t forget you guys though. Here’s my breakdown of everything I did while I was at the convention last weekend.

Socializing

I got to meet a lot of really awesome people briefly or for long amounts of time during Blizzcon. I didn’t get to meet every single person I wanted to though, I had that little time there. The first night I got there, I went to the WoW Insider/Wowhead meetup. It was a lot of fun – they were giving out tons of prizes at the door. I got several booster packs of the newest TCG cards, Monster swag, and a couple imps of Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs perfume! (I managed to get a “Gnome” one, too!) The WI staff at the party were all very wonderful and nice. Bunch of them were live-casting at a table with some of the guys from Wowhead. I also got to meet Kinaesthesia from Vodka/Learn2Raid (a personal hero of mine, I watch all his videos), Pewter from Mental Shaman, Perculia from Wowhead, O from Stories of O, Trade Chat (I chased a couple of gross guys off of her when she was hanging out with her lady-friend), as well as hanging out with the Flavor Text Lore ladies quite a bit. I also got to see a few people from my guild too. I briefly saw Felicia Day and Robin Thorsen from The Guild. I wanted to say hi to Robin, as she’s my favorite actress from when I still watched the show, but they were being guarded by guys just to get through the party. The rest of the weekend was a blur of guildmates, Flavor Text Lore ladies, my server meetup (got to meet another mage I raided with), and some Elitist Jerks people. I met Dysmorphia from Games and Trips and shared some amazing Polish liquor called nalewka. Dysmorphia is my sister-in-feminism, and her blog is amazing. The crown jewel of my weekend was meeting some of the Blizzard staff – last year it was Ghostcrawler, but this year I got to have long conversations with both Nethaera (who is very cool) and Zarhym. I thanked Nethaera a lot for being a woman inside of the gaming industry (as she’s been in it for a very long time) and giving me hope that you can be a public face for a gaming company and still survive. As for Zarhym, he’s a real sweetie, along with the rest of the staff manning the “Ask Blizzard” booth. I didn’t get a picture with either of them, but I’ll have fond memories of getting to speak with them face-to-face.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

I was sitting with Mythrai (who writes at her own personal blog) as we got a good seat for both the opening ceremonies, as well as the World of Warcraft preview and when they finally announced the new expansion, I felt a little funny. How could it possibly, actually be true? As the preview rolled out, I accepted it a little more. Sure, the world had been fleshed out. Pandas seem feasible. I’m still more excited about the amount of casual content, but I’m still coming to grips with Pandaria as a reality. It didn’t hurt that it was explained by Cory Stockton, my favorite developer at Blizzard. My pet collecting habit seems to make me think I’ll love the “World of Pokemon” aspect with the pet battling system or at least financially when I level and sell off my rare pets. The talent revamp is something I’m a lot more edgy about, admittedly. It feels TOO simple at this point, especially for mages. I’ll go into greater. detail about my feelings on that in a later post this week.  Challenge dungeons as well as expanded non-raid PVE content and exploration is what I’m most excited about. I got to play through the starting zone on a pandaren monk and I have to say that even at this early stage, they really knocked questing and fighting out of the park. The environments look great and the feel of the monk class feels pretty intuitive at this point. I might have to roll a gnome monk!

My only real hesitation about this newest expansion is that most of my raid team seems to want to quit over it, and the subject of cultural sensitivity. Blizzard messed up the original Pandaren Monk pet by dressing it in Japanese attire. I hope this doesn’t turn into a mish-mash of Asian cultures and alienates their audience because of it; ape-ing (or is it “panda-ing”) most of someone’s cultural dress, attitudes and beliefs into a game made by mostly white developers for a predominantly white audience just doesn’t sit right with me in the end. I am white myself, but I know friends of mine that play World of Warcraft that have already been hurt by this expansion decision and that bothers me greatly.

I also hope that Blizzard does the right thing and properly develops the female Pandaren models. I’m tired of women being an afterthought when it comes to their art direction and design.

World of Warcraft’s Annual Pass

I admit, I already bought this. For those who don’t know – the annual pass is something they rolled out at Blizzcon and made available immediately to everyone. It is essentially a cell-phone contract for World of Warcraft; you agree to pay for 12 months with whatever payment plan you currently use (game time cards, 1 month-1 year subscriptions, etc.) and you receive a free Tyrael’s mount in-game, access to WoW’s next beta, as well as a free copy of Diablo III added to your account. It was explained that this is because they don’t want their WoW subscribers to feel torn between two games. I definitely smell a little bit of fresh revenue (I mean who doesn’t) but I still got it anyways. You can get me to do anything if you involve a sparkly horse. And for those curious, yes you can buy the Diablo III collector’s edition and add it to your account, even if you get it for free via the annual pass. What it will do is simply add 4 months WoW game-time to your subscription to offset the cost.

Which brings me to my next point…

Diablo III

After what seemed like an interminably long line (thankfully I was waiting with Mythrai and sucksmybrain), we finally got to sit down in front of the demo. Part of me had waved my hands at it, not wanting to stand in a long line. “Oh, it’ll just be out in a couple months.” “Oh, I’ll just grab someone’s beta account!” It was definitely worth the wait. Some background on Diablo III though – I’ve never played it before Blizzcon. I’ve just had the strange coincidence of managing to go a ton of the panels for the game, been friends with other Diablo fiends. Everywhere I look, there’s talk about Diablo. But I’ve never gotten into myself. That didn’t stop me from getting excited about it and once I had been seated in front of my own demo station, I immediately got squee-ish.   The graphics are amazing and despite never have played a game in 3/4ths view or that uses click-to-move/click-to-cast, I rolled up a sorceress and went off on my merry way, killing undead and doing quests. The only downside was only have 2 spells available to me at any one time. However, if you have the benefit of getting the beta (PASS ME A KEY, OKAY?), definitely try this. I think all of you won’t be disappointed.

Psst! Also, there’s a great article up at WoW Insider about why people new to the Diablo franchise should play it.

Murkablo belches fire onto Apple Cider.

…Everything Else

After those things, most of Blizzcon was a blur of parties, hanging out, meeting people, catching glimpses of GSL, World of Warcraft arena tournaments, standing in lines for things I wasn’t sure of, and eating tons of delicious food. After a while I got a little tired of walking everywhere and just flopped on my hotel bed to rest and have some peace and quiet. Blizzcon always tires me out and puts me into debt, but it is worth it every year. The cosplay was amazing, the people were amazing, the panels and events were amazing. Travelling home made me sad but I’ll always have the memories I make every time I go to keep me company.

The only blot on my experience was something I’ll go into in my next post. Tell me about your Blizzcon experience (whether via the DirectTV stream, online stream or in-person) in the comments!