Where Is the Line: Brutality in Patch 5.4

Kor'kron orc has two women on chains fighting for sport.  Screenshot courtesy of @snack_road.

Kor’kron orc has two women on chains fighting for sport.
Screenshot courtesy of @snack_road.

A couple of days ago, I happened to be skimming Twitter (isn ‘t this how most of my blog posts start nowadays) and caught a tweet from Snack about something he saw in Siege of Orgrimmar LFR. It was the screenshot posted above, captioned with, “I’m probably gonna be thinking about this screenshot way too hard the next few days.” It struck me the same way, despite the fact that I had never even been to this part of SoO yet. I hate reporting on things I haven’t personally witnessed, just so I can get my own handle on context and whatnot but this is so far and away one of the worst things I could have possibly heard about in the new raid.

Until a guildmate linked me this: Theramore Citizen.

Some further investigation from Tzufit revealed not only Theramore Citizens (all women, apparently) hung up on poles, but Darkspear Defenders as well, all of them stabbed or stuck with arrows.

A Theramore woman is lashed and stabbed to a pole in Orgrimmar.

Screenshot courtesy of Tzufit.

 

A Darkspear troll woman is lashed and stabbed to a pole in Orgrimmar

Screenshot courtesy of Tzufit.

All of these screenshots, despite being in a video game about war, are still really unsettling. Not only are all of them women (though the shackled fighters can randomly be men, too) but the level of violence and naked brutality here is way too much. Not only is there a scary level of historical real-world precedent for these things (making shackled slaves fight eachother, hello?!) but it openly feels too real to be immersive in a video game. It makes me wonder where Blizzard thinks the line is in “realistic violence” in order to make the point that, yes, Garrosh is a horrible person.

The game thus far has tried very hard to make us hate Garrosh but in ways that tend to make me feel bad about myself, as a woman. He’s never really been a mustache-twirling villain but just straight up an abusive tyrant. He slaughters his own people in the dead of night and hangs them from the walls on fire (this is also present in the SoO raid). He calls women “bitches” and orders hits on other Horde dignitaries. And now somehow, manages to retcon the plight of the Theramore survivors and leaves their corpses strewn around their holding cages, lashing some of their women to posts with weapons sticking out of their corpses and making them fight for sport. The fact that a Darkspear is included for extra “flavor” is particularly egregious but makes slightly more “sense” than all the refugees from Theramore, who were supposedly safely passed to Gadgetzan. Did some goblins double-cross the Alliance and send a fleet of them to Orgrimmar to be tortured and killed? What is going on here? Seeing these poor people being used for sport, maimed and killed is stomach-turning.

WoW has always had some level of atrocity. I get this. This is a war, but this has gone several shades too far (as it has in the past, even) into senseless, unsettling territory.  The game has done this in a couple places in the past, and it’s always rung really wrongly to me. We’re already storming the gates of Ogrimmar to take down Garrosh, but why did we need to see this? Why did we need to replicate some of the violence that actual real people have suffered in real life, as part of being prisoners of war or slavery?  Why is it only women hanging from the poles? This doesn’t make me feel like a hero, it just makes me feel sick to be playing the game.

 

 

Can We Not, Razor Hill?

Misandry the undead mage glares at two gross orcs.

 (Tried really hard to make the title an homage to the infamous A Chorus Line song, “Dance: 10, Looks: 3” but it didn’t work out. Pretend I did. – ed.)

Patch 5.4 just hit and with it a wave of new content. Unfortunately I am not here to talk about the excitement of Timeless Isle or Flex raids just yet. It came to my attention this morning (hat-tip to Lhivera on Twitter) that someone from my server had posted on the general forums about two gross sexist NPCs that had been dropped into  the game due to the changes in the patch.

Turns out that as of only two days ago, there were now two refugee orcs hanging out in the Razor Hill inn that have a discussion that highlights the looks of the other refugee woman stranded at the inn while Ogrimmar and all points surrounding are in utter chaos. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s the fact that both orcs are using the “rating system” of ranking a woman’s beauty on a scale of 1 to 10 and not being precisely kind about it.

Orgrimmar Refugee says: Oh, look at her over there. She’s be beautiful. A perfect 10!
Orgrimmar Refugee says: A 10? Ha! Maybe in Razor Hill. In Orgrimmar she’d only be a 6.

I skimmed the thread before it got deleted – it was the usual hot garbage with a couple of bright spots where people were defending the OP and calling stuff out. The real sickening part of this for me though was just how normal people believe this stuff to be. Rating women like they are consumer products is objectifying, dehumanizing and hurtful if you have to deal with it, which a lot of women do. Ranking women reinforces the idea that the only thing of value we have is how men judge us based on arbitrary notions of what they find attractive, or more bluntly, “fuckable.” It’s coarse and piggish.

I was dismayed that this was even in the game, especially as of the latest patch. Here we are not talking about content that’s been embedded in parts of the game from years past but something someone recently felt was okay to stick in a little corner of the game, with all the added contextual grossness due to the fact that it’s displaced citizens describing a woman away from her home. I thought that Blizzard had gotten at least slightly better since the Ji Firepaw fiasco, that maybe we had started to get on the right track away from some of the more dudebro aspects of design. It’s been elucidated to me that developers take pride over their NPC creations, no matter how big or small, so who takes pride in this? Who takes credit for this? Why did someone feel comfortable sticking street harassment in here? It rightly makes people feel uncomfortable playing, like this world isn’t also ours to partake in.

Thankfully, as a small silver lining, CM Zarhym tweeted in response  (right before I put the blog to press) to several concerned parties on Twitter that this gossip text was being removed. Swift action is one of the best courses of action for something small like this, but I think we still need to get at a place where people consider that these things are a) not normal b) are hurtful to quite a few of us that play the game. I still hold out some shred of optimism that World of Warcraft overall is improving, but a lot of that is due to those of us in the community who feel more bold to call this stuff out. There’s a sea change coming and I suspect it is because of the efforts of bloggers, Twitter folks and forum posters that are doing most of the work.

Misandry the mage yells at these bags of amalgamated hubris.

Misandry the mage yells at these bags of amalgamated hubris.

Still, much gratitude to the community team for passing this internally and getting it changed so quickly. It was really weird to fly into Razor Hill and have to skip over the cool lore events that are going on there to check out two nameless orcs critiquing an orc woman’s looks rudely every minute or so. We ultimately need to keep pushing for a game that builds a world where the shitty things we have to contend with in real life aren’t the same things we run across randomly in game from NPCs.

(Thank you to Misanthropology 101 and Ember Dione for their blog posts.)

Patch 5.4 Trailer – Burn in the Fires of My Hate

Garrosh stares hatefully.

 

Blizzard dropped the Patch 5.4 trailer for Siege of Orgrimmar on our heads early this morning and what a trailer it was. The overall quality and storytelling of each successive patch trailer has gone up significantly since their inception way back sometime in Vanilla but all of them have never failed to make me utterly hyped to play some more Warcraft. Blizzard’s got a real strength in their animatics/cinematics division and this was no exception – I am itching to log in and do anything in preparation for Patch 5.4.

Let’s review some of the things that were going on in this particular trailer, though, shall we?

Garrosh has gone completely corrupted/power-hungry at this point.

I can’t say for sure which one it is because it seems equally likely – he’s both influenced by the Sha but he’s also incredibly puffed up on his own ego, importance and hatred right now. He’s just as much a warmongering tyrant with something to prove who’s gotten way into his own ideology than just a pawn of the Sha-corruption. And honestly, a powerful male figurehead being lost in his own childish autonomy is far more fascinating than just him being taken over by the Old Gods. His dialogue in the video is similarly fiery, obstinate and hateful.

No one is going to get in his way and he’ll kill and hurt anyone who tries to. Which leads me to…

Taran Zhu got some snaps in before his supposed end, at least. (Edit: Dave Kosak cleared up that Taran Zhu’s is alive.)

I’ve not liked Taran Zhu in a lot of ways; he’s more of the same patronizing nonsense from other male leaders. But given his position as the only line of defense against whatever might ravage Pandaria (mogu, Sha), it’s probably justified in a lot of ways. While I feel that his initial presumption that the Alliance and Horde conflict was entirely to blame for the havoc within Pandaria’s own land, I feel like his assertion has finally come to bear. The fight between Taran Zhu and Garrosh was full of egos, certainly though. While Taran’s line about Grom was not only timely, correct and a sick fucking burn, both of them were taunting each other and it got the better of Taran.

Taran didn’t bring this on himself though, and for that I feel bad.

Vale is irreparably damaged now.

This is one of the biggest changes that really bothers me, even when Garrosh’s mining operation set up. Pandaria is such a beautiful, serene continent and we already saw parts of it that were completely given to destruction and corruption like the Dread Wastes. The idea of the Vale, the zone that the Celestials gave to us in order to help everyone is now being used by Garrosh’s plan to re-ignite an Old God makes a dramatically sad change to both the game and the story. I felt the same way when the Goblins were allowed to terraform and essentially destroy Azshara. There’s something about purposeful destruction of the most beautiful landscapes in WoW that really make me feel awful. Vale is where I spent a lot of time just hovering in the air, watching the sun go down.

There was a relative lack of anyone else that might have any involvement in bringing the fight to Garrosh.

I feel that the cinematic had a missed opportunity to do some strategic cutaways or montages over the dialogue (instead of the badass fight scene we got) to allude to anyone else that might be mad at Garrosh now. Taran Zhu mentioned the other members of the Horde, but absolutely nowhere were the Alliance mentioned or involved. A montage of people fighting while being referenced might have helped assuage my feelings that once again the Alliance get left out of a fight that’s rightfully ours to have. As I told Tzufit on Twitter: “(We’re) late to our own revenge, absent from our own war.”

While I can grasp that Taran Zhu is the ultimate symbol of the Pandarian people at this point, and so the fight was the struggle between the Azeroth factions and Pandaren-kind, the fact that the raid will involve all of  our fates, intertwined, left a bad taste in my mouth. Alliance are probably not going to get any payback for their grief at Theramore, nor any pro-active stance other than allegiances with the trolls. It still feels like we’re on the backburner for a fight that is igniting both factions right now and throwing power relations into the air. If not showing Varian, then at least Jaina?

Also why didn’t Taran Zhu have any sort of backup going on here? Where was Yalia? Where was Taoshi?

Overall, I’m excited. 

It can’t be helped, I’m always overwhelmed with purpose and emotions when I watch any of these trailers. The swell of music, the clang of weapons – it gets me right in the heart (same for Taran, I presume. Too soon?) and I want to just run and conscript myself back in with the Alliance army even though we’ve been relatively shafted in this conflict. The Barrens battles were relatively lukewarm as far as hyping me up for the growing war and subsequent raid instance. This was yet another sustaining breath of fresh air and I know that my guild is going to be lining up that first week, pumped to take down Garrosh and make him pay for his crimes.

 

 

 

Patch 5.4 – Flexible Raiding Feature Announced

Possible implementation of FLEX raiding with Crabby.

Last night, Blizzard dropped a big unannounced Patch 5.4 feature preview onto their blog – “flex” raiding. This raiding would be a new, fourth difficulty somewhere between LFR and normal-mode that would have it’s own ilvl. It is primarily to help those raiders that wish to do a level of content with pick-up groups as well as friends and family in a more casual, social environment. It would work with both friend groups and cross-realm lists, making it very inclusive for those of us who like to pull in people for raids from every corner of the globe. The premise of this works off the idea of scaling – similar to how rares and elites have been working since Patch 5.1. The minimum a group can have is 10 but will add health (and presumably damage) depending on how many people you have, up to 25 players. What also makes this convenient is that loot works exactly the same as LFR – it is awarded individually, based on loot specialization. This means, as promised, that there is no reason to not bring anyone you so choose, so long as you have a balanced role makeup. The devs seem adamant that they want this feature to be for everyone – no minimum ilvl requirement, and that every player should be able to come, rather than a specific class.

Blizzard making a move towards an inclusive social feature such as this is a big deal, especially to someone like me who only ever does raiding these days in a casual environment. My guild’s raid team is a very bare-bones 10-player raid that very frequently pulls in cross-realm players and cancels raids when we can’t scrape together 10 people for behind-the-curve content. The idea of being able to raid with anyone on current content and bringing a variable number of folks gives us way more freedom in terms of both difficulty of content (like raid meta achievements, which the blog said will be doable on Flex difficulty) and flexibility of raid filling. Giving the WoW audience even more reasons to pick and choose their raid experience as they see fit is always a move in the right direction.

Are there some drawbacks here? Absolutely. There’s the ilvl bloat we’re experiencing right now – we’re two content tiers in and we have many orders of ilvl gear that a potential casual player is looking at. Adding yet another swath of gear in between LFR and normal is only going to muddy this further. Will it give players more choices or is it going to just make attempting to figure out upgrade paths even more of a nightmare? There’s also the concern of this pulling even more skilled or socially-connected players away from the potential LFR pool. While random grouping methods have proliferated, I still feel that the subset of players that this is catering to might make them flee from the LFR queues. Lastly, the fact that all three have separate lockouts means there’s going to be some complaining of feeling like you “need” to do all three in order to obtain the best gear as fast as you can, especially if your guild is stuck behind a gear check.

Overall, though, I can’t help but seeing this as a future positive. My guild is even talking about this replacing LFR nights for us – we go in a big group of guildies and friends from other realms on a set night to help us get LFR gear for normal-mode raiding. If we get our own gear and perhaps tackle slightly harder content with only people we choose, this seems like an obvious choice. It cuts out the drawbacks from LFR and gives us more control over our raid experience, socially. We can invite cross-realm friends, do alt raids easier, and not have to cancel raid nights as much. I don’t think flex raiding is going to replace normal raid content for us, even though we only raid four hours a week. Are there guilds that could use this as a replacement for both LFR and normal modes? Absolutely. The idea that you can make that kind of choice now as a smaller, more casual or social guild is great!

I would even speculate that this tool might give rise to the pick-up raid group again on realms that might have lost out due to smaller, less experienced populations (so any place that wasn’t Mal’ganis, basically) – groups could form via Trade Chat again, and there’d be no loot disputes and would still only need a modicum of skill to participate, as well as the variable size making things a lot easier.  People that have long complained about how LFR/LFG destroyed server communities might see a breath of life to local raiding again. Basically, I’m tentatively optimistic about this as I feel that this is one of the few features that’ve announced in Mists of Pandaria that caters directly to the kinds of things I like to do in-game for precisely the people I want to do it with.

The question that remains in my mind is this – was this the big feature that Ghostcrawler had been teasing at for so long? Is it one of many things that Patch 5.4 promises? I’m excited if this is just the start of a laundry list of things that might improve our quality of (raiding) life in WoW in the future.

As for you guys, are you hyped about this possible addition? Does it affect you at all? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

And the New Warchief Is…!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

The new warchief of the Horde, Sassy Hardwrench!

One of the questions on everyone’s mind is who will be ascending to the title of Warchief after Garrosh bites the dust in 5.4. According to my sources deep inside Blizzard, apparently this will be none other than the wonderful Sassy Hardwrench. Miss Hardwrench, not content for being someone’s assistant and being passed over for leader of the Goblins, is a larger part of the raid on Orgrimmar than players may expect.

“We felt that the Horde, as well as the other leaders of Azeroth had too few women in charge and we felt that this was a pretty grievous error on our part. The idea of having the second most recognizable leadership of the Horde be Sassy seemed like a natural choice,” said a person who does not look like or sound like Dave Kosak in any way, shape or form. Other Blizzard story developers declined to comment on the record but it seemed to be like a unanimous decision.

But how will Sassy take over an entire population of orcs? Isn’t she busy running her weapons depot in Stranglethorn? Apparently her good looks, charm and even suspected romance with an unnamed (as of yet) lady orc warrior help win her the hearts of the people.

“There’s some gaps in our representation and we feel that Sassy is a perfect in-road towards showing more kinds of characters in the future.”

Good on ya, Blizzard!