Year That Was: 2013

They love the way I walk
‘Cause I walk with a vengeance
And they listen to me when I talk
‘Cause I ain’t pretending

– Beyoncé, Grown Woman

It was a decent year.

I talked about Blizzard’s choices in raid bosses, analyzed the Alliance’s rise in powerful women, started a podcast, asked why Blizzcon doesn’t have a harassment policy, talked to fellow cis people about how to respect trans WoW players, met fellow community people at Blizzcon, as well as looked at Warlords of Draenor‘s women problem.

I definitely made some enemies but I made more friends, perhaps. I definitely feel like I’m in the black on my ledger on that particular front, especially with mending old fences.

My content production on this blog in particular has slowed down a bit now that I also do the podcast but I don’t feel like the blog overall is suffering. It definitely has been weird moving into a slightly different position in the community, especially now that there’s been more discussions among people about matters of sexism, gender representation, and treating people in different groups with respect. It’s a thing that needed to happen and I’m glad I don’t feel so alone in expressing those thoughts. It’s moving glacially when it comes to Blizzard but overall I think the community has grown a bit.

Definitely started feeling more like a personality this year versus just a name and a blog attached. Not sure if this is overall positive or negative. I got ensconced into a more powerful position with my ideas and words reaching higher up ears and feeling the pressure that I had to say the right things versus the things I really feel all the time.

As far as WoW itself goes, it was a cooling off of my real drive to “succeed” at end-game. I have no real desires to raid a lot anymore. Flex made it possible to do more content in less time and at a pace I don’t feel stressed out about. I might have taken a couple of wrong turns as a guild leader but the rest fell into place otherwise. I’ve been working hard on finding a new thing to enjoy every day, otherwise I would have burned out long ago. Having to produce content and look critically at the content, lore has kept my interest active beyond the quotidian grind of  Mists of Pandaria.

Overall, I can’t really complain. I don’t have a solid course planned for 2014, but I think I’ll do alright. We have an expansion on the horizon and there’s no end to things I could say. If 2012 was getting your attention, 2013 was me having something to say.

In the immortal words of Beyoncé, I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want.

 

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: Impressions

Blizzcon entrance, as seen from the glowing fountain of doom.

Blizzcon 2013 was not for the faint of heart. Between the travel woes, heat and the general fatigue that kept hitting me like a child with a wiffle bat, there was a lot of things to see and to do and it felt like I needed a time turner or perhaps de-aging myself 10 years to properly enjoy it all. Not to mention a lot more money. It was all worth it, though at times I wished I could have been curled up on my couch with the Virtual Ticket instead of braving the crowds. A lot of my best moments happened not in panels but rather behind the scenes hanging out with friends and meeting Blizzard people. However, this is going to be a rundown of the content we all got to see. I’ll save the granular discussions on particular issues for later.

Note: This is all based on my personal experiences and in the attempt to get this out today, I haven’t watched the panels I missed via the Virtual Ticket yet, so there’s gaps in my memory and knowledge. Be a little patient with possible corrections.

All That Real Life Stuff

Most of what gets discussed after the con is long over is not necessarily the panels but all the great memories you have while being at the con and getting to hang out with friends. This year’s Blizzcon theme definitely centered around the idea of friends and community and I felt like the feeling on the floor was no exception. Some of the greatest moments I had at Blizzcon was getting to just spend time with people I had only seen on Twitter or heard on podcasts. I admit that some of my real mopey-ness was feeling more like a public persona than being around people who know the “real” me like my guild-mates, most of whom weren’t in attendance this year. I did see a few though, which made me feel a lot better.

Getting to meet some of my heroes (and new faves like CM Nevalistis!) too though was also a big highlight – I got to meet Dave Kosak (head of Narrative), Helen Cheng (Quest designer and story bad-ass), and Craig Amai (head of Quest) as well as Bashiok and Nethaera, who was a personal inspiration. I had great conversations with all of them, some of whom I’ll go into more detail in other posts! I got to talk with Craig about Ji Firepaw and the need for representation in WoW, Helen and I got to finally meet and talk about the new expansion, and I got to briefly talk to Kosak about story stuff. Nethaera in particular is someone I got to speak with at length and as someone who particularly enjoys community engagement and public relations, seeing such a talented, storied woman publicly fronting Blizzard makes me really happy.

Warlords of Draenor

Let’s be real, there’s a lot of stuff about this expansion that I’m cautiously nervous about but I can unpack that later. The new expansion, despite all the weird timey-wimey-ness still seems really enjoyable to me. The quality of life changes (HIT, GONE! EXPERTISE, GONE!) are what really caught my attention overall. I love the idea of a garrison as someone who is an avid Animal Crossing: New Leaf player. Buy upgrades for my own personal town? Sure! Have helpers and followers? Absolutely.

The fact that the raid sizes and flexibility changes are now across the board except for Mythic is interesting; it might give me a new lease on raiding again, at least enough to do Heroic (basically the new Normal difficulty) even with a casual social guild. Being able to raid cross-realm from the start of the expansion on new content is basically what I had been hoping for since the beginning as much of my love of raiding comes from doing it with friends but often we didn’t have enough people to field a full 10P raid on new content. Flex mitigated that somewhat but not being able to do it with my core raid team was sad a lot of days. This might give me the needed flexibility (ha!) to get back into raiding a tiny bit. We shall see.

The idea of going back in time to a revamped Draenor is pretty interesting to me, even if it is just that my fangirl dreams have always included seeing a restored Temple of Karabor. From a roleplay standpoint, I know that I will be dusting off my deadspeaker draenei priest for sure.

Also, hello? Did anyone see those new model previews? Is anyone overjoyed at that sassy gnome lady face? Yesssss.

The fact that they also hinted at sticking in new content for explorers like myself as well as a lot of stuff for those of us who are on the more casual end of things (Potential future transmog changes? What!?) means that I feel less alienated by this new expansion even moreso than when I hit Mists of Pandaria, which was pretty alt-unfriendly and killed a lot of my drive to do stuff at 90.

I unfortunately did not get to play the demos as often or as long as I would have liked. When I sat down the one time to play Warlords, it was mostly to poke around Shadowmoon Valley (which is gorgeous by the way) and to explore. I didn’t tackle any of the quest content, which I really should have. I got most of my information about that from my boyfriend Alex and Sally Pine from WoW Insider.

Heroes of the Storm

Blizzard jumping into the MOBA/DoTA-like genre is both ironic and also not surprising. What is surprising is that I’m hearing that it has more elements of a character brawler and some PVE-ish elements to make it slightly different from your other fare in this category. I’m not a MOBA player at heart and I’ve never really done well with PVP-based games, nor grasping the complexities of item building and such. If Blizzard can make something similar to League of Legends but with an ease of entry for those of us who have been too scared of the community or too confused by the mechanics, then I suspect they will have a runaway hit on their hands.

The cinematic for the game also featuring two women was also a big plus for me. We will just have to see if there’s tons of female champs and if they go to the route that Riot did and made them pretty skimpily dressed. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Unlike the case with Diablo 3, where I got to try it out at last Blizzcon, the line for this was so extensive both days that I didn’t have the heart (or the feet) to stand in line to poke at it.

Diablo III and Hearthstone

I must admit I don’t have many things to say about either game. I know there’s been sweeping changes with D3 and I’ve been in the Hearthstone beta for a while now. What might push me back into doing D3 is the the demolition of the Auction House as well as transmog changes. My biggest gripe with D3 wasn’t combat or gear but rather that I was doing the same content over and over multiple times. As someone who is not used to that type of game, it was very boring to me despite liking the story, aesthetics and gameplay. So I’ll probably pick D3 back up when the new expansion material gets added.

As for Hearthstone? I’m really glad to see a potential e-sport that mechanically requires no trash-talking. Card games have always been alien to me but the idea of one that I can play on tablets or phones while I’m doing nothing else and don’t have to worry about gross people is really cool to me. I’ll get good at this game eventually. Eventually.

Blizzcon was really great for a lot of reasons and even though the negatives were there, I felt that it all balanced out. The only real drawbacks was that it exhausted my poor body very thoroughly and I’m going to take some time to recuperate. I know this rundown wasn’t nearly as juicy or potentially inflammatory as it could have been but I’m looking to do some piecemeal analysis once I get back on my feet. Expect stuff in the next couple of hours or days!

As always, it was a lot of fun meeting fans, listeners of my podcast as well as friends. You’re all wonderful. Same goes for the Blizzard employees who had to spend long hours working and dealing with fans.

 

 

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.

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.