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

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

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

This is about a photograph.

But not really.

 

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

But not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really.

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!