April Fool’s Jokes and Perfect Storms

Draenei priest drawing.

Taking a page from Vidyala and posting my own draenei art.

At the risk of stirring things up even further, I want to talk about why the fake Artcraft presented by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team was the worst possible joke to make at the worst possible time.  I hope people don’t think I am going to debate the relative offensiveness of it; I am not because I do think it was offensive and I know there’s better people that have been talking about it rather than myself. No, rather, we’re going to talk about what made everything so much worse.

I know the title talks about “perfect storms” in that it was a confluence of several factors coming together, but let’s abandon that particular metaphoric imagery for a second. Imagine a giant field full of grass. In this scenario, World of Warcraft’s assembled community of fans are the grass.

It’s been a drought since Blizzcon. We’ve been fairly starved on concrete updates on the expansion’s progress. We’ve seen some model update Artcrafts, some dev watercoolers, but no beta, no big news and only minor progress on everything else. Bigger sites like Wow Insider or Wowhead news are scraping for content and opting to talk about Blizzard’s other releases like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls or Heroes of the Storm. We’ve grown pretty dry and bitter about the expansion the longer we don’t hear about it. It’s a pretty unusual method given how long we’ve been marinating in Pandaria’s last content patch. It would be easier to deal with if we had the new expansion to look forward to on the horizon but it’s been pretty dust and tumbleweeds thus far.

In this field, imagine a couple piles of goblin bombs laid haphazardly on the ground, hidden among the tall weeds. These are the issues a lot of us have had with the potential content of the expansion: lack of positive female character representation, expectations of more grimdark “gritty” realism, and the inevitable “boys trip” that we heard about at Blizzcon. There’s a lot of worries among some of us regarding how enjoyable we will find the questing and story experiences of this new expansion. While Ji Firepaw was a net positive, what lurks in the water for Warlords?

On top of that, the air is dry. Fans are looking for anything to digest or keep their attention. Our community is tied between forums, social media, blogs and anyone we play with in-game. We spend a lot of time nitpicking, dissecting and debating. Given the lack of information thus far, it’s mostly speculation. People are anxious.

Then you toss out the equivalent of a lit match on all of that and you have an explosive, incendiary wildfire on your hands. The models make people feel awful about themselves or angry at Blizzard. The blog text makes fun of all sorts of women and pokes at things like incest and twerking. It comes on the heels some other April Fools jokes that while bizarrely problematic, are also funny. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It riles up people who only want “real” content. It makes everyone who was worried about problematic content feel even more unsettled about their gut feelings. The community goes into an uproar: those who found it funny, those who didn’t, and people who think the “not funny” people are giant babies. The explosions that occur over any sexist content go about as well as expected now that everyone is in on the discussion.

Pulling myself back far enough from my feelings about women being mocked at a time like this (not intended maliciously, of course) means I look at why this happened. Is this a cultural problem within Blizzard? Did everyone think this would have a positive impact and anyone who didn’t not get to speak? Were they overruled? Who looked at this before it went live? We’re not talking about a developer being caught off-guard and speaking close to his chest, but something that was written, edited and arranged for publishing on the front page. Models were created specifically for this. It makes me wonder.

Sometimes thinking about the mechanics and anatomy of a controversy keeps me from getting too upset about the thorny emotional center, but even if you know how a disaster came to be, it doesn’t help you deal with the aftermath.



Reclaiming the Shadows

A draenei shadow priest floats in front of the moon.

 “I’m as fucked up as they say
I can’t fake the daytime
Found an entrance to escape into the dark”

— Metric, “Artificial Nocturne”

It struck me that I really do not talk a lot about the alts I have or played over the years. I have a habit of starting an alt, finishing it and promptly moving onto someone else. Some alts have rose in prominence while others have fallen quite by the wayside, often to my chagrin. The first alt that I rolled and stuck with was my shadow priest in Burning Crusade. As soon as I had leveled my gnome to 70, I felt a tug to work on someone else in a serious fashion. I was swayed by watching our GM play his shadow priest (a human female) at the time, and so I decided to ape him. But I didn’t felt particularly tied to being a human, so I chose one of the “new” races, a draenei. Little did I know how complex my backstory for her would be.

Draenei have a fairly extant commitment to being Lightsworn children of the Naaru, as well as being universe-wide diaspora. It was so intriguing to me to play a race that was effectively immortal; the piousness was as well. Considering I’ve lived my entire life as a secular human being, the idea of being a devout space goat kinda tickled me. But how was my priest’s inherent shadowyness (I refused to ever, ever heal on her) going to mesh with this? The Cult of Forgotten Shadow seemed like a likely avenue into this, but that was predominantly Forsaken. I admit, I was stumped. So I rolled her story around as I leveled, gathering bits and pieces here and there. It wasn’t until I did quests in Outlands (including the quest chain around Auchindoun and Nagrand where you gain the ability to see the dead) that her backstory really became concrete. She was a Deadspeaker, a death priest draenei of rare skill and innate ability to see and speak with the dead. Having this means of communicating with the dead and not being branded as “crazy” required a lot of attentive studying and reflection. The dead do not ask politely and seeing them is not something you can just shut out, but Neviim (as I called her) had mental discipline after hundreds of years. The shadows she clad herself in made her form more appealing to the spirits she frequently trafficked in and fortified her mind as well as the Light would. Sometimes it would shut out the near-constant humming of the Naaru she heard when near Shattrath, but that was an acceptable side-effect.

Neviim became my preferred alt, even when I rolled the toon that eventually became my main alt (my shaman, Sedo.) I did everything on Neviim that I did on my mage. My priest has the Hand of A’dal title that I earned when it was relevant, getting keyed for raids in case we needed alts as well as several rare mounts and pets (Captured Firefly, Zhevra). She has a Benediction/Anathema, one of my proudest accomplishments. The one thing that I got interested in on my priest but not my mage though, was PVP. From the moment I started playing her, I was pretty much hooked on doing world PVP. Shadow gave me tools that were slightly harder to use than a mage’s arsenal but I found myself loving them a whole lot more. I’d spend days, once at level cap, just watching World Defense. Back in Burning Crusade, that was a thing that people actually did. Some of the high-level zones had PVP objectives people worked on for zone buffs or fun. Otherwise, it was all part of PVP/RP storylines or just general trolling. It hearkened back to the vanilla days of sacking Tarren Mill from Southshore. I’d go around zones with guildies or people I met in Trade and kill some Horde. It felt good. Really good. World PVP is not the same as battleground PVP, honestly. It requires a lot more strategy with terrain and knowing where you can effectively bottleneck people or outsmart them with guards, roofs, and running around to hide. You could use anything really, including strange potions and nets (remember those?). But my friends cajoled me into doing battlegrounds and eventually arenas. Eye of the Storm became my favorite map, as well as Arathi Basin. I liked holding nodes and using Mind Vision to zoom around the map and call out defenders at each spot. I could hold Draenei Ruins and see across to Blood Elf Tower and freak out the offense. I could watch what was going on in mid with the flag. I could fear and mind control people off cliffs at Lumber Mill. All the skills that world PVP had taught me served me well in battlegrounds. They also helped when I moved onto doing 3v3.

My initial forays into arenas in S1 had been failures. I was going to do a pretty typical DoT/Drain 2 x Shadow Priest, 1 x Warlock comp with my GM and our mutual friend but due to personal friction of PVPing with someone I cared about and not handling bristle-y PVP arguments when I was still new to the class, I quit. S2/3 went much smoother and I had an established 3s team with a guildmate who was a fantastic ret paladin and one of our world PVP buddies who went holy. Two paladins and a shadow priest was not represented anywhere on Arena Junkies, but we liked it anyways. We weren’t perfect, but we had a lot of fun. We’d stop for the night any time anyone got upset or mad, and eventually we went onto having a Rival ranking. It might be small potatoes to some, but it was a pretty amazing title for someone who had never really grokked PVP prior to this. There were elements to PVP I didn’t really like, such as the relentless shit-talking, machismo and anti-teamwork spirit the Alliance seemed to have, but I got over it. At that time, I was mostly friendly with all guys and this was just part of the “culture.”

By the end of Burning Crusade and the start of Wrath, my shaman had started taking a lot more of my time. When it came to leveling characters in Wrath, it went my mage, then my shaman. Then a few other alts such as a druid and a paladin. I leveled my priest out of sheer habit once I realized that I had gotten her 3 levels from just fishing and cooking dailies. What happened? Where had the light in her gone? I made up part of her story to be that she had gone into hiding because Northrend was an endless screaming pit of despair for her - that the voices of the dead overwhelmed her. She remained in the protective bubble that Dalaran afforded her and recuperated.

Little did I know that my priest’s story was largely my own. End of the Burning Crusade and beginning of Wrath is when I had started getting harassed in earnest. Deciding to date my GM had earned me a lot of scorn and a lot of my dude friends suddenly had no time for me, not to mention having a growing stalker problem on my hands. Wrath is when I was being impersonated in Trade Chat and having people whisper behind my back about what a slut I was. So was it really my priest that was going into hiding, or was it me? PVP was off the table. I couldn’t handle the insults, I couldn’t handle the stress. Suddenly all the things I had loved about it - the rush of victory, the tallies at the end - frightened me. The language backed me into a corner. It felt too harsh, too abrasive. I suddenly saw it for what it was: hate speech designed to demoralize and intimidate. As someone who was being demoralized on a regular basis, it suddenly was not easy to ignore. I gave all of that up - my PVP friends, the culture and the atmosphere, for whatever little I had been involved. One or two stuck around, but most of them faded into the background. My priest was pretty much just a disenchanting mule at this point. All of her accomplishments felt tacky and outdated now. I had put her away for good, as well as my love of PVP.

And so it went. Wrath had come and gone, and so Cataclysm. Once again, I carried my priest along to the level cap out of some sort of guilt to not leave her behind. To extend the metaphor, I suppose this is a symbolic thing. That part of me that I had locked so tightly up in myself, the dark parts, would never be that far behind. Until this week. I’ve been going through a lot of changes lately - changes I can attribute to not being victimized every day of my life. I was reminiscing with Buglamp about PVP and wondering how the fuck I’d get over the anxiety that was now a huge part of PVP for me. It wasn’t until I talked to Cynwise (isn’t that always how this stuff goes) that made me realized that like all the other things I’ve worked on in therapy, anxiety has roots in larger things I’ve dealt with in my life. It doesn’t come out of nowhere; anxiety is the brain’s way of expecting a certain outcome, how ever illogical, from a set of actions. PVP, and by extension, my priest, was tied up in a lot of gross feelings of shame, guilt, and victimization. She represented all the dark parts of me from that time period.

Neviim in Auchindoun

But didn’t shadow priests embrace the darkness?

The key features of shadow priests are how they deal in using the Light, the dark side of it, to ensnare the minds of those they fight. They don’t seduce or mesmerize, they get into the deep places of your mind and tear them apart. They play on your fears and your insecurities. They peer into your secrets. Think about it: Mind Flay. Psychic Scream. Psychic Horror. Isn’t that what I felt sometimes? That I wanted to inflict my emotional pain on someone else? That I wanted to cut people down with how badly they had hurt me? To hold someone not in thrall, but in turmoil? My priest was Light-abiding, but she was the vengeance of the dead that wandered, whispered in her ear. She was revenge for every spirit that was tormented and tied to the soil she tread on. It is a soothing thought to someone who has been hurt so badly; to have control back over your emotions and use them as a weapon instead of a weakness. To be able to shut out the screaming.

It is with that thought in mind that I logged in the other day and dropped a bit of money crafting a tailored PVP set. I need to rebind some keys, add some spells I haven’t used in 4 years, but in a lot of ways, I feel like my real-life adventures back into the sunlight world has given me the strength and the courage to delve back into the shadowy trails of my priest. I want to go back into battlegrounds, I want to kick some ass and I want to be the person I was so many years. I want to be good in the ways that only she can be. I want the power I had with her.