Kirin Tor Offensive and the Uprising of Women

Archmage Modera, Jaina, Nasani, my shaman and Vereesa talk business.

Archmage Modera, Jaina, Narasi, my shaman and Vereesa talk business.

This week, like many other servers, my little RP server participated enough on the Isle of Thunder in order to unlock Stage 2. For anyone who hasn’t really poked at Patch 5.2 content, the newest daily hub features the forces of the Kirin Tor Offensive versus the Sunreaver Onslaught. These two factions are the continuation of the story from Patch 5.1 involving Jaina and the purging of Dalaran, and for the Alliance. What makes it so unique is that it’s one of the few places I’ve seen so far that is a largely woman-dominated part of the story, at least Alliance-side. What got me thinking about all this is the scenario (“Assault on Shaol’mara”) that players have to do that bridges Stage 1′s landfall on the island to securing the tiny outpost in Stage 2. The scenario, especially if you play a woman PC, is entirely driven and acted out by women NPCs – Jaina Proudmoore and Vereesa Windrunner in particular. There are also a couple other notable Kirin Tor Offensive names such as Archmage Modera and Narasi Snowdawn from the Silver Covenant.

It’s the first time that I can remember in-game that the story moving around me wasn’t really due to the actions of men or being plodded forward for their benefit. Even more astounding is that it isn’t really a diplomatic mission but it’s you fighting to push back the trolls in a skirmish. Vereesa is your guide Alliance-side and you and her fight with panache (she even says she likes your style!) and help gain ground so that the Offensive can set up a permanent base of operations on the island. It is a short scenario, to be sure, fighting a couple of bosses and trash but it felt a lot more immersive than some of the other story scenarios I ‘ve done, save for Operation: Shieldwall, but the fact that this particular group is headed up by Jaina and her lady pals is a welcome change from a world where she’s (and other women NPCs) have been shit on for taking the reins. While Garrosh and Varian are still duking it out like saggy diaper babies over Krasarang, Jaina and Vereesa are pushing with the Shado-Pan to unseat Lei Shen’s forces from the Throne of Thunder.

I always thought it was particularly weird that despite Azeroth being mixed gender, that women NPCs haven’t largely been as visible as “fighting” forces outside of Sylvanas. Even as leaders, they still assume more of a “calm” face to opposition. It wasn’t until Mists of Pandaria that it’s been more or less shaken up and not always in ways that I appreciate. Varian has always been presented as a hot-head but it isn’t until Jaina or Tyrande (in the Little Patience scenario) get their own need for anger that it’s suddenly not okay to be an aggressive person. I’m over-simplifying a bit but it seemed a little bit like women were still getting painted with a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The Kirin Tor Offensive feels like a somewhat better outcome for the Jaina vs. Varian power dynamic than what Patch 5.1 had initially implied with Varian tsk’ing her into a corner because she had dared to go against his plans that she wasn’t even allowed to be a part of.  Jaina’s anger has always felt justified to me, especially as someone who read Tides of War, and I felt sad that most players, particularly Horde-side ones, wouldn’t necessarily grasp that her disgust with the Sunreavers would come from the fact that the ultimate betrayal of Theramore came from someone inside of Dalaran. The fact that the Offensive is also staffed and maintained by high-profile women that haven’t been seen in a while and would have largely been left to rot in Dalaran is a fresh take on the “daily hub with even more reputation grinding” dilemma.

For all of the problems that Mists has had so far with some of the PVE progression, the storytelling feels pretty top notch. I’ve long been a critic of some of Dave’s Kosak’s work in story development (I really hate his NPC!) but if this was his baby, particularly the scenario, then I can’t help but thank him. Women have too long taken a backseat in Blizzard’s stories and it is nice to see them doing something proactive and unguided by the desires of a male leader thus far. I’m really interested to see where the Kirin Tor Offensive goes as we unlock more stages, and I definitely feel more optimistic about then I have about some of the other things in this expansion.

Patch 5.2 – The Problem with Twins, Part 2

Patch 5.2 finally drops next Tuesday and with it, there has been quite a few things of note, particularly regarding the Twin Consort bosses I discussed. The 5.2 trailer, which was posted yesterday, was actually exciting and got me pumped for the raid content. The poetry, the story, feels like some of the patch trailers we’ve gotten before but a lot more cinematic. And while we got a glimpse of a lot of the story behind the Thunder King and his lackeys in the raid, guess who were missing.

That’s right, our wonderful twin ladies, Lu’lin and Suen. Kinda curious, don’t you think? Unfortunately my cynicism that Blizzard left them out of the trailer due to overwhelming shame might have a slightly more logical explanation, courtesy of the developer interview regarding all of the Throne of Thunder bosses earlier this week. This interview, incidentally, is what spurred me to post yet another discussion about these two Mogu sex robots bodyguards.

My thoughts on why the Twin Consorts were left out of the trailer might have been a mid-stream design change to their lore, as per Lead Encounter Designer Ion Hazzikostas:

An earlier version of the concept for the fight had them actually being spirits of the Sun and Moon, but that didn’t feel quite right (and we all know that the only true spirit of the Moon is Elune, and clearly she was not locked away by the Thunder King).

Now, this exceptionally generous on my part, but I suspect it is the only reason why they’d leave these female bosses out of the trailer video, given how long the machinima take to make. But like so many other things, I wonder if it because they like to leave developing female models for things out or to the last minute because everyone at Blizzard apparently is terrified about designing female models (worgen anyone?) Either way, it’s pretty odd that they are not in the trailer. I can distinctly remember most of them getting at least a second or two of screen time. (The only other female boss is Mar’li and the Council fight she’s a part of wasn’t in the trailer either.)

From people who have tested the bosses on PTR, and in even in just looking at the boss design, it’s pretty clear they kept the Sun/Moon aesthetic in the two of them.

It’s the rest of the interview that left me sputtering yesterday on Twitter:

  • Rumored to be the only known female mogu in existence, Lei Shen keeps his trophies close, and their combined arsenal against interlopers closer.
  • Players may have noticed the complete absence of any female mogu in their exploration of the continent of Pandaria.
  • Indeed, these were specifically created by Lei Shen and empowered to serve and guard him, and they are a direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole.

Are the developers reading my blog? It seems like they are taking the heavy early criticism of why the hell there’s two female Mogu as raid bosses but not anywhere in Mogu society to heart.  However, there’s so many more questions left open here now that it’s canonically known that they are the only two in existence and only created by Lei Shen. Such as, “Why would an essentially monogender culture have a leader that creates women” or maybe “Why are they sexualized?” Consorts are very specifically a sexualized term, and maybe the developers are mixing real world stuff with Mogu again, but there’s this lingering feeling that these two women weren’t shaped out of stone just to guard Lei Shen. All of this bothers me, little piece by little piece.

Maybe it’s the objectified language in the copy and interview – “treasures” “possessions” “trophies.” Lei Shen created the only two women in existence for their race and they aren’t even granted true humanity in any discussions surrounding them. It’s the fact that they were created to be submissive and servile to him, to protect him. It’s the fact that they are the sexualized equivalent of guard dogs. Giving life out of stone is a pretty terrifying concept as well when you wonder where Lei Shen got the souls (do they have souls) for this purpose.

The only high point in the discussion about these two was the fan-ramblings about what possibly inspired Lei Shen – why not create a bulky Mogu woman, particularly if they are bodyguards? Cynwise suggested that it might be possible fashioning after Burning Crusade eredari, which would explain the model choice. However, I suspect the model choice is less a reflection of Lei Shen’s ideals and more the developers still.

All in all, these two bosses are a serious dig in my excitement for this upcoming patch. We’ve had a lot of trouble with female NPCs in Pandaria thus far and the raid dungeons have not been exempt from this – the last three did not heavily feature any canonically indicated female bosses aside from Lei Shi (the elemental) and Grand Empress Shek’seer (whether or not any of the other Heart of Fear bosses were women is up in the air.) So the fact that the new raid only features three women, two of whom are prized constructs created by Lei Shen and were left out of the official trailer, makes me upset.

Throne has an abundance of bosses and only 3 of them (the Twins, and Mar’li) are actually women. This is in fact a step up from the last raids we have done, but it still feels like a step backwards in terms of Blizzard’s creative development choices.

Patch 5.2 – The Problem with Twins

New Mogu female model in Patch 5.2.

Last week a preview of patch 5.2 dropped, with all the attendant fanfare and data-mining. It seems the focus of this newest content patch (which is going up on the PTR after the holidays) is the Thunder King, along with a corresponding raid Throne of Thunder, which is supposedly reminiscent of Ulduar in both size and aesthetics. What caught my attention initially, other than benefits for Sunsong Ranch was this gossip about how a female mogu model had been dug up.

I raced over to Wowhead to get a gander at what it might look like and was presented with this. We finally get a female version of one of the NPC races in game (out of so many that do not have female counterparts) and it is that? I mean, I’m always glad for more representation but this feels like a step in the wrong direction. It is obviously skinned over a draenei female’s animations/skeleton for the most part, but it is intensely dimorphic (like draenei, troll and worgen women) and very sexualized. Granted,  while the clothing isn’t much different than what mogu dudes wear, the effect combined with the posture, ornamentation and -ahem- ample cleavage skews the aesthetics in quite a distinct direction. At the very least the faces and headdresses radiate more power than sex. That is something, right?

Wrong!

Apparently this model isn’t an added NPC model for mogu areas, this is one half of a set of raid bosses. Yup, that’s right, we’re getting the Eredar Twins v.2 in the Throne of Thunder! Two more specific, incredibly sexualized models that only ever make an appearance as a raid boss (and one quest NPC.) And get this – the name of these mogu women in the raid are Twin Consorts. That’s right, the Thunder King has two royal “partners” (or chattel) in whatever way you take that to mean. But given the name, the attire and the history with this sort of thing, I am guessing we are in for a boss encounter that is full of breathy, sensual emotes. We’ve seen it before, why not again? Why not make them curled up and flanking the Thunder King’s throne? I’m not holding my breath that there’s going to be some radical change of tack for these ladies.

But that’s not even the weirdest part.

Given the idea that these Mogu female models are only going to be present in the raid, it sort of rattles the tenuous consistency that pervaded the Mogu as a race. While most other NPC races that only feature male models sort of laugh off this idea that their women are tucked safely away in villages somewhere, Mogu could pass as a seemingly male-only race because as far I could understand, they weren’t really constrained by the issues of flesh that most other races are. The idea that they were brutish proto-beings (or maybe even Titan constructs?) twisted by the waters of the Vale gives rise to the idea that created, rather than born. This means that they aren’t tied to reproduction and so Mogu females could just be a figment. Or, if they originally were mortal, just hidden away from view like every other group of NPCs that Blizzard has neglected to realistically portray. It raises a lot of questions and creepy concerns with this sudden and very specific appearance of just two women in the entirety of Mogu society – especially if they are merely decadent sexual companions to the Thunder King.

The Mogu are adept fleshcrafters and spiritbinders and very often view death as inconsequential. They also have a habit of putting spirits into shaped stone bodies, some from Mogu who “died” and were resurrected and others from those they’ve conquered or enslaved. Are the Twin Consorts created out of stone and enslaved spirits of the Thunder king? Were they his lovers or companions prior to his death and entombed with his unmarred body? Were they brought into being as some sort of Mogu ideal of decadence, like Pygmalion creating his ideal woman out of marble? So many possible theories and all of them make me squirm. Given the fact that Blizzard has a terrible track record with populating the NPC world with women, coupled with their narratives regarding their place in the world, it seems likely that these consorts could be far more chilling than I could ever imagine.

This expansion has been slightly better than most in terms of representing stories and background characters that are also women. This just feels like a step backwards and a reminder that so many times, women are an afterthought to the creative development team. I know that making two models just to represent a non-PC race is extra development time, but default models for NPC races are still coded as men only (Vrykul/Hyldnir aside), and this bothers me. It makes the female exceptions in the Eredar and now the Mogu stick out like sore thumbs and it always seems to give rise to really sexist representations.  This creates the message that the non-PC women of Azeroth are not terribly important.

In all likelihood, Blizzard doesn’t see this as a problem and it definitely shows. Taking the time out to fully represent NPCs races in such a narrow way intimates a very specific mindset. It is probably “natural” to stick a couple of women (sexy ones, no less) to “change it up a bit” probably because so much of our world (not just Azeroth) is still depicted as men only. It is catering to a male audience and the male gaze when the token women stuck in the scenery are there as eye candy. While Blizzard has made leaps and bounds in both their main stories and player character races (to some extent), their lack of thought into fleshing out the rest of the world is pretty clear to anyone who cares to look.