Pitching Harassment [Girls & Game Ads, Part 2]

For this part of the series, I’m going to mainly be using World of Warcraft for reference, as that’s the company I’ve had my most recent (and bitter) experience with. I also think that the company’s marketing and design choices have provided me with a clear link between sexist marketing and the creation of a gaming culture hostile to women. Keep in mind, though, that this is a phenomenon that pervades gaming culture as a whole.

First off, I’d like to point out that I’m not the first one to make the jump from advertising and how the actual players treat women:

Further, many of the marketing strategies and magazines are directly exclusively toward guys. I stopped reading Electronic Gaming Monthly a few years ago after I got sick of seeing yet another article on a “girl gamer” with a few squares of cotton stretched over her fake boobs. Those interviews usually focused on whether or not she played naked rather than what was currently spinning in her system. What I find particularly sad about this is not that it tends to alienate their few female readers, but that a large chunk of their target audience is younger boys… so these melon-chested interviewees (surrounded with drawings of the same, ripped from the games themselves… see Dead or Alive) come to represent women for these kids. Sexist attitudes are reinforced. Girl gamers are shunted aside by a new generation as fluffy sex kitties who prance about playing The Sims and giggling behind a hand.

[From Girls, games, and a culture of hostility by Legendary Monkey]

One of my main beefs with Blizzard’s treatment of women was that the advertising that involved female characters always showed scantily-clad, hyper-sexualized female avatars. Ever since Warcraft III one of their main “poster girls” has been a busty Night Elf vixen; she is by far their most visible woman, prominently featured in the background of their website and the most visible female in their game loading screens. Check out, if you will, their official wallpaper section and compare the females’ representation to that of the males’.

One line of Blizzard’s official WoW wallpapers.

The focus in the above female featured wallpapers is on their perfectly round, gravity-defying, eye-catching breasts. Also notice the similarity in their body shapes: thin, small waists, similar shoulders, etc. When you rule out the obvious elements like their different races, opposing colour palettes, and hunched versus standing up tall poses, the similarities are actually quite striking, even down to their long hair and magical right hand as a secondary focus. Sure, if you look closely they have different face shapes (the undead warlock has a longer jaw), but I only realized that when I sat down to examine the row I selected. In stark contrast to the scantily-clad ladies, the dwarven rifleman is suited up with leather armour and a cloak and the focus is on his beard and face. I would definitely say that this fits my argument that women are turned into “cookie cutter” objects while men are seen as individuals through these kinds of advertisements.

I’d also like to address another noticeable issue of the gender split: character dancing. It isn’t advertising, per se, but it’s an example of Blizzard generated content that reinforces the misogynist culture the players engage in. While playing my Horde character (Troll female) I started noticing a disparity between the way women dance (sexy, hip-moving, arm-waving way) and the way men dance (active, much movement, often jumping, sometimes silly). The female Night Elves are the worst: they were described to me as “pole dancing without the pole” and when I saw my Night Elf alt dance, I couldn’t help but agree. But, they make a joke about it in their /silly command so it must be ok! (The joke command is another area that’s a bit of a sore point; I noticed that the girls make on average more sexual jokes than the guys, often focusing on their own bodies.)

So, I’ve shown how Blizzard buys into the same sexist marketing ploys as the rest of the industry, but what does this have to do with in-game harassment?

Well, I’d like to return to the quote I pulled from Legendary Monkey’s article: “a large chunk of their target audience is younger boys… so these melon-chested interviewees… come to represent women for these kids.” Granted, in this case she was talking about actual women, but the females in these games do to a certain extent represent actual women. One of the way we learn as humans is by absorbing messages in popular culture (news, advertising, books, games, movies, etc) and the message the video game industry is sending it’s target audience is clear: women are whores on display for your amusement.

Think I’m exaggerating? Hop on to any FPS (first person shooter) game that uses a mic (I recommend Halo 2, since the atmosphere seems particularly virulent there) and say something (or, if you’re a guy, have a female family member play using voice chat). Count how long it takes for the insults like “faggot”, “nigger”, and “pussy” to be replaced with vitriol thrown at the woman player like “whore” or “go back to the kitchen”. Or go onto a ventrilo/teamspeak server for an MMO guild and listen to the way they talk with their female members, chances are they’ll be a lot of talking about cybersex, how “hot” the girl is, boob-talk, etc. No “bad” name-calling there, though, because if she’s in the guild they “like” her.

Any time I bring up the offensive language (all that I cited above and more, not just the female-directed slurs) I’m told that I’m oversensitive, or it doesn’t mean the same thing in gaming culture that it does in real life. Sorry, kids, but I call bullshit. There is nothing harmless about an environment that uses verbal intimidation to dehumanize a group of people, whether or not the person using the language intends it to be so.

But isn’t dehumanizing a group of people exactly what the ads marketed towards these teenage boys do? By reducing the women depicted into not much more than a sexual object the companies are not only attracting people who already feel this way to play their game, they’re encouraging and condoning the objectification, and by extension the harassment, that goes on in their servers.

While stopping the hyper-sexualization of the female characters won’t fix the harassment problem, I truly believe that representing the women avatars in advertising and in-game as individuals/people on the same level as the males would be a step in the right direction. If the companies send the message that all people – regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, etc – deserve respect, then not only will more people who believe this to be true be drawn to the games, but also it will help foster an environment friendly to all players. Who knows, maybe even the kids who grow up in a bigoted atmosphere might even learn something about tolerance.

Up next: Girl Power? – we all love girls who kick ass, but does showing mostly “sexy” women in these roles hurt more than it helps?

All World of Warcraft images copyright © Blizzard Entertainment.
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7 thoughts on “Pitching Harassment [Girls & Game Ads, Part 2]

  1. What Sour Duck said! It’s stunning how in spite of, or because of, all the recent so-called gains, misogynistic culture just keeps on reproducing itself.

  2. I think Sour Duck had it right when she responded to my “why aren’t women the target audience?” question: keeping power in the hands of the patriarchy is the number one goal, whether or not these marketers consciously perpetuate that goal. Gains are threatening to privilege, ergo the people in power find ways to co-opt the messages and turn them into something non-threatening. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself… I’m going to be addressing just that in my next post (when I get back from my mental vacation, which should be any day now).

  3. Hi.. i know this post might be old, but i decided to write a reply anyways.
    You said that the bodiers of the women pictured in the human and undead female posters was very similar. Well… I just wanna say that this is as it shuold be. Undeads are former humans, that have been infected by the plague, and turned into undeads. (It dosent need to be humans ofc, it can be everything)
    Therefore its only normal that the bodies are alike. Its following the lore. Also, that the women’s bodies are showed more than the dwarwen male is totally understandable. The picture of the dwarf is showing the face of the dwarf. Imo this is to show that dwarfs are stout and brave. the reason that there are shown more of the female’s bodies is that they are preforming a action. Both of them seems to be casting a spell. Imo its showing more that the class the females are can be powerfull, as in casting a deadly spell at their targets. The human is casting, while looking proud and fighting for justice, while the undead is casting a spell to kill, torture and bring destruction to something innocent. You can see that the undead look evil, and the human look good. The dwarf poster is very sililar to the human. both show a individ that is brave and honorable.

  4. They seemed to have changed their ways a little. The expansion pack Burning crusade has a male blood elf on the front… PS, women do belong in the kitchen, just kidding :p

  5. Great article, just wanted to chime in though about the dances, the male troll dance is infact capoeira, the brazillian dance/martial art and the infamous NE-poledance is taken from the french artist Alizée’s stage performance easy to look it up on youtube et.all. Haven’t really thought about the silly’s but now that you mention it many female sillys, especially the draenei sex(y)-jokes.

    The male BE though could be a discussion of its own, maybe I should make a post about it in the Irisforum (the whole debacle about their efemninate behavoir and the changes blizzard made to their modell in the TBCbeta, buffed it up due to complaines). Sorry for going abit offtopic of the article.

  6. The male BE though could be a discussion of its own, maybe I should make a post about it in the Irisforum (the whole debacle about their efemninate behavoir and the changes blizzard made to their modell in the TBCbeta, buffed it up due to complaines). Sorry for going abit offtopic of the article.

    Please do! That’s actually part of the topic for my WisCon paper and I would love to be able to include some of the opinions of Irisers.

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