I’ve made the case more than once that Blizzard has made a choice (conscious, I’d say, by the rate that they ignore the opposition voices) to create a sexist environment that’s hostile to women in Word of Warcraft. In doing this, they have lost a portion of women (and continue to lose, as players pass their tolerance levels and decide that quitting is the only answer) for an imaginary gain of men and boys who wouldn’t play their games if not for the ability to masturbate to Night Elves who pole-dance in skimpy outfits. I am not the first woman who has left WoW in disgust, being fed up with having to deal with misogynistic asshats who objectify and degrade women vocally, and I will not be the last.
My mother and her partner still play, although they might be moving on to another game soon (for unrelated reasons). Knowing my stance on Blizzard and their choice, they pointed me to a 30 page thread on the matter entitled Female Armor Art Design (it seems to be part of a larger debate, but I’d rather not seek it out at this point given the size of this one). Ever since I saw a thread where a player wishing to find a GLBT friendly guild on his server was lambasted by 75% of the commenters, I’ve viewed the WoW forums as kin to Barrens chat: a dumping ground for bile, idiocy, and word vomit. A quick skimming of this thread yields much the same, but it’s always a good time to pull together threads that I’ve ranted on in the past.
I. The Debate
I would like to add my voice to those who feel that the art used for female character design contributes to sexist attitudes in Warcraft.
Clearly the general forums are a terrible place to have a discussion about this, but after an extensive search of Blizzard’s customer feedback options, this is all I’m left with.
I think it’s fair to say that the female armor art is generally designed to be ‘sexy’, while the male armor art is not. I assume this means that Blizzard is more interested in the demographic that likes their fantasy in a ‘Heavy Metal’ style, than the demographic that is offended by that representation of women.
I also don’t see any sign that Blizzard acknowledges that these design decisions alienate some of their potential player base. They are either oblivious, or don’t care. In either case, I can’t really continue to support them with my money.
Again, the general forums aren’t where I’d like to be saying this – I’m sure nobody here really cares what I do with my account – but I haven’t been able to find any other avenue to express this to Blizzard.
Thank you.[From Female Armor Art Design by Eggbread]
I’m not going to bother to address the issues that came up in the responses, as it would require me sitting down and actually engaging with the infuriating ignorance and misogyny present on the boards. If any of y’all are brave enough to go wading through that sludge, please feel free to quote and critique the comments if you like. I’d certainly be interested in what you have to say.
II. Sexism Isn’t Fun
Eggbread could have been me a few months ago, although I decided that my blog was a better place than the forums to voice my dissent. Not that Blizzard reads my blog, mind, but I’m pretty sure if they read the forums they wouldn’t care anyway.
In my post, Goodbye WoW, hello disappointment, I described how after a while putting up with the sexist comments ruined the game for me. It wasn’t fun to log in and deal with harassment, both of myself and of the women (or female avatars) around me. I game to get away from stress, including the oppression of a misogynistic culture, and when my already too high blood pressure rises every time I log in, what’s the reason to stay? Why put myself through torture in an attempt to wring out that last bit of fun from a game? If I’m going to be angry, I’d rather do something constructive about it like blog. If I’m gaming, I want to be having fun.
And what’s fun about feeling alienated by the company that you pay 15 bucks a month to? Eggbread makes the excellent point of bringing up the Heavy Metal brand of fantasy, which seems to be touted as The One True Fantasy by many video game companies. The attitude that Blizzard seems to take — that of an imaginary force of horny teenage boys being so important that they feel the need to exclude women, and women-friendly men — is a disease that has infected the industry itself.
III. Objectifying Real People
In my introductory post for my Girls & Game Ads series, I took this attitude to task, arguing that men (being the ones who’ve been marketed towards since the dawn of video games) don’t need sex, as a gameplay is what will make or break a game for most of them. Furthermore, by utilizing a Heavy Metal model for how they present women in the games, companies lose potential female customers, thus robbing themselves of a chance to make even more money than they already are.
I furthered the argument in the second instalment of the series, Pitching Harassment, by asserting that Blizzard’s attitude toward this issue didn’t just drive women away, it condoned and encouraged harassment of those who remained. The game may be a ‘fantasy’ game, with ‘fantasy’ women, but behind the fantasy sit real people. The fantasizers begin to associate the hypersexualized avatars with reality, and furthermore find it appropriate to force their fantasy onto any woman who chooses to play a female avatar.
Playing its part, Blizzard has given women two choices: play as a man, or play as a sex object. What’s a woman to do? Quit, fight, or give in. The second often leads to the first; after fighting until we’re exhausted with the futility, we throw up our hands and say, “Okay, I’m done!” The third, unfortunately, often leads to women playing a complicit role in their oppression. The whole, “I’m a woman and I’m not offended, so why don’t you stfu?” or “My girlfriend isn’t offended, so why don’t you stfu?” excuses.
Given this, it’s unsurprising that many companies remain deaf to the outcry of their female player base. Way back when I first posted about quitting WoW, Astarte took issue with my methods. Her argument was that I wasn’t doing anyone any favours by leaving. In some ways, she’s right. My 15 bucks a month isn’t even a drop in the bucket of WoW’s sales. The 15 bucks a month of a thousand, or even a hundred thousand, women like me is hardly noticeable against the millions of customers that keep the game alive. But, her solution — to stand up and fight — doesn’t seem to be working, either.
Blizzard has done one thing, though; it has created a game that stays in the minds of many players, even months after they quit. It has become an obvious example of the sexism that riddles the gaming industry from their consumer base all the way up to the designers in leading companies. In all likelihood, nothing will ever be done to change WoW for the better. Those who speak up will continue to be ignored by Blizzard and harassed by the WoW goons, but maybe, just maybe, some of the budding designers out there will take note and decline to repeat the same mistakes with their own games. Or maybe speaking up is a useless task, doing nothing to stop, or even mitigate, the rampant misogyny. I’d like to think it’s the former, personally, but, then, I was always a hopeless idealist.