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On Empowerment September 9, 2011

Posted by Stormy in Personal.
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It’s become somewhat of a running joke in my guild–or at least in my head–that the only reason I ever feel compelled to roll a new character is because I see the same type of character being played by someone else and something about it grabs me. I rolled my shadow priest because an ex-guildie had one and it was the first time I’d ever seen a shadow priest, and I thought “Damn, shadowform is cool!” I rolled my paladin because another ex-guildie had a red-headed female blood elf paladin, and upon seeing her I thought she was the most amazing pixelated thing I’d ever seen in my life. My resto shaman was born after seeing Rush play his tiny goblin shaman and falling in love with the resto shaman spell effects.

With the paladin in particular, what drew me to roll a female blood elf protection paladin was the idea that in Azeroth, Earth rules don’t apply. In Azeroth you can be 4’10” and 90 pounds soaking wet, and strap on a shield and go toe-to-toe with the biggest and worst threats Azeroth has to offer, and as long as you’re reasonably good at it people will take you seriously. In Azeroth I can live a life of an anthropomorphic cow (who masquerades as a giant chicken on a whim) and spend my days picking flowers, and ultimately no one’s going to give me any guff for it. I never really thought about why until recently, but every toon I’ve rolled since my druid back in January 2010 has been female. In short, I’m really attracted to the idea that in Azeroth I can be tall, skinny, good-looking, a good-dancer, and kill raid bosses, all things I can’t do in real life.

I know that I take the world (and the animated world) entirely too seriously. I get emotionally involved in everything. It’s a character flaw, what can I say? But I find it incredibly empowering that when I get home from work at night, I can venture into Azeroth and be anything I want to be. I might have to do some research on how to play my character in order to be good at it, but on a strictly technical level there’s absolutely nothing I can’t do. The rules of Earth don’t apply.

Early this morning the lovely folks at MMO Melting Pot pointed me to this post on their site actively calling on Blizzard to address the dearth of affirmative LGBT characters and storylines in WoW. From a purely surface point of view I agree, and as I watch Tholo and Anren co-habitate in Mount Hyjal I feel the same way I did watching Mulder and Scully on The X-Files: “Will you two just shut up and kiss already?! Seriously, Blizzard, throw us a bone! Give us one outwardly LGBT relationship in the game!” And then I started reading the comments and this sentence in a comment from commenter PopeJamal stopped me cold: “If we’re going to piss and moan about groups of people being underrepresented in a ‘throw-away’ fictional setting, let’s at least get everyone included at the same time.” I never really stopped to ponder it before, but there are zero black people in Azeroth. Why? Was it a conscious decision on the part of Blizzard Entertainment to reinforce the Eurocentric White Male Patriarchy? Or is it just simply that black people don’t exist in Azeroth?

News flash: Azeroth is not Earth. Despite Arthas’ rallying cry that he will hunt Mal’ganis to the ends of the EARTH!, Azeroth is not Earth. Asking Blizzard to mirror the racial, socioeconomic, and sexual dynamics present on Earth is unrealistic. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to sit here and demand that Blizzard provide a positive representation of LGBT people while simultaneously ignoring that there are zero black people and (despite the balance between the genders population-wise) precious few positive female role models in WoW.

What I can demand, however, is that Blizzard and the WoW community at large do a better job of acknowledging, accepting and embracing LGBT players here on Earth. I can’t realistically ask Blizzard to change the dynamics of Azeroth by including new races and sexual paradigms in-world, but I can ask Blizzard and the WoW community to do a better job of…frankly, not treating LGBT players like trash. Blizzard Entertainment has a long history of catering to the closed-minded teenage boy demographic at the expense of the LGBT playerbase: the infamous–though fairly old–story about banning explicitly LGBT-friendly guild recruitment, Blizzard’s refusal to take part in GLAAD’s forum on LGBT safety in online communities, and the tacit approval of the festering cesspool that is Trade chat and pretty much every Dungeon Finder group I’ve ever been in.

I go out of my way to assure my personal safety and happiness when I’m in WoW, specifically with respect to other players’ treatment of the LGBT community. I wouldn’t have started playing WoW without the social safety net of a guild that I knew would be accepting and affirming. When I took over leadership of Sane Asylum I expressly hung a “LGBT, women and various minorities welcome” sign on the asylum door. I work hard at surrounding myself with people I trust to be welcoming and affirming people (which is why–for those of you who follow me on Twitter and may have seen the fallout–I utterly blew a gasket at the Fabulor fiasco a few weeks ago, and why I broke off budding friendships with people I thought were better than that).

In short, I’m not asking for Blizzard to provide amazing LGBT role models in a world where homosexuality doesn’t exist, just as I’m not asking them to create a whole new race of dark-skinned humanoids to celebrate and affirm African-American humans from Earth. Azeroth isn’t Earth. But when I’m dealing with real human beings who play WoW, I expect them to treat women, LGBT people, and various minorities with the respect we deserve. Is that asking too much?

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Comments»

1. Rades (@_Rades) - September 10, 2011

There’s certainly not many black people in WoW, but there’s definitely some. One example I vividly remember is Father Inigo Montoy: http://www.wowhead.com/npc=16113#screenshots

Still, I think it’s not too much to ask. In a game as mainstream as WoW, visible examples of minorities – whether it be gender, ethnicity or sexuality – could go a long way in the overall gaming community.

Also, I’m not sure if you ever saw the responses by other readers on that Fabulor post but I felt they expressed my opinions/perspectives about the Fabulor issue pretty accurately and clearly. You are free to regard Fabulor however you want, but I think it’s worth reading the responses and realize that they are 100% dead-on to what my intentions and beliefs regarding Fabulor.

Rush - September 10, 2011

Isn’t the argument for “racial diversity” in WoW kind of awkward considering that there are actually TEN playable races that each come in a variety of skin/fur colors? And if I recall there is a “black” skin tone available to humans (and dwarves and gnomes). Just my 2 copper, but in essence I agree with Stormy’s “Azeroth isn’t Earth” comment.

Stormy - September 10, 2011

I think when it comes to “racial diversity” we’re talking about two different things. We’re not talking about the diversity of the races represented; we’re talking about the diversity within the races represented. With very few exceptions (I’m granting Rades the example of Inigo Montoy while noting that “dark-skinned human” does not exist with a separate cultural identity within the game) all of the humans and human-like races (dwarves, gnomes and blood elves) are lily-white.

I’ve never played a human for more than a couple hours (I play a human all day–why would I want to play a pixelated one?), but IIRC there is a slightly darker-skinned blood elf skin, and when paired with black hair you could maybe fool yourself into thinking he or she was Hispanic or Italian.

As for dwarves, if someone wants to argue that Dark Iron dwarves are a separate “black” race, then one gets stuck in the quagmire of the Dark Iron dwarves being the “evil” dwarves and the Wildhmmer (white) dwarves being the “good” ones, and well…I wouldn’t touch that argument with a ten foot pole.

Rush - September 10, 2011

But at the same time is skin color really a good indicator of cultural seperation? It is true within our own real world to a certain extent, but we’re just as defined by nationality and income level. In a similar way you can look at diversity within the races as shown by class (mage or paladin not rich or poor, but that is certainly seen too) or by which tribe they’re a part of.
Also in regards to the Dark Iron/Wildhammer dwarves discussion, I think it’s important the words we choose. We use race in our real world society incorrectly far too often. Race is a solely genetic thing, and genetically we’re all the same “race,” a better word is ethnicity.

2. Zinn - September 10, 2011

I do this too, often copying my bf actually. I saw him play boomkin and immediately respecced my druid to boomkin. I see him play hunter and just feel the need to play my hunter. I see him respec his warrior to arms and think “maybe I should try arms?”. And so on ^^ On the other hand I play a lot of classes he’s never touched, like paladin and priest. Hmmm…

3. Hugh Hancock - September 10, 2011

Thanks for the mention!

I just want to stress – That Quote (“If we’re going to piss and moan about groups of people being underrepresented in a ‘throw-away’ fictional setting, let’s at least get everyone included at the same time.”) was from one of the comments, not the article itself. We certainly don’t agree.

I’m fairly sure that Johnnie either got annoyed at that comment or is planning to soon.

Stormy - September 10, 2011

Hugh–

Fair enough. I’ll update the post making a note of it.

Hugh Hancock - September 12, 2011

Cheers! Ace post, btw – glad other people are talking about this.


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