Comments Gone Rogue, Sexism Edition
When my response to an excellently worded and intelligently thoughtful post on sexism in WoW got a little out of hand (one should never scroll THAT MUCH in a comment box) I decided to respond via blog post instead.
Please to be reading the original post first – yes, it’s very long, but it’s very good and some of what I say may not make sense unless you know what I’m responding to. (I also recommend the comments section, if you’re not the sort of person who normally reads them. Great discussion going on over there!)
I don’t see your problem: Sexism, World of Warcraft, and Geekery – from The Mental Shaman.
Stop and Think
The original post really made me sit down and think. Taken individually, each example of sexism can be seen as be innocuous or possibly even searching for things to find offensive. However, once you string them all together like that, it sure does add up to a disturbing result.
That being said, I’m not on the verge of boycotting the game or mailing in the ashes of my burnt bras (those things are EXPENSIVE, yo). I’m the kind of person that tends to hope that folks do things like this without really realizing their effect.
What is the effect? I mean, if we’re all urban and aren’t the sorts of folks to take things like this to heart or DO them ourselves, what’s the harm?
First off, let me say that if you look at this and say “I would never do those things” I believe you. I do. It’s that particular response that allows me to roll my eyes at the skimpy armor models without getting furious and nerdraging all over Blizzard’s contact email.
The effect that concerns me is one of complacency.
Ha ha, the female characters make jokes about how flighty they are. They talk about their nails or their clothes or their makup. Whatever.
Ha ha, the armor models for the female characters are skimpy and completely unrealistic. Whatever.
Ha ha? Every strong, active leader is male and all of the female lore characters play second fiddle to their relationships with men?
Ha? Most female models portray a body type that is unrealistically sexy. (How many folks who think that magazines photoshopping already thin and gorgeous women so they will be “more” is wrong, but have no problem with this, or shrug it off?)
The effect that concerns me is the saying that this is all normal and no big deal, there’s nothing to see here. What lessons are we teaching gamers? What values are we instilling? What subtle messages does this send?
As a writer, one of the things that gets hammered home in lessons and classes about writing is THEME. What is the THEME of your story? What lesson are you teaching your readers?
Few readers want to be preached to. Having characters voice the moral of a story is yawn-worthy at best and patronizing at worst.
Writers learn to fold their theme into every conflict and every choice made by their characters. They instill the message so deeply into the story that it IS the story.
Similarly, you don’t have to have a male NPC standing on every street corner tossing a /whistle and /lick to every passing female character for a game to be sending a poor message to its players.
So, if this can be said to be a problem (or at least something that ought to be paid attention to by decision makers at game companies), what sorts of solutions can we suggest?
If you take each individual instance and address it separately, you can “solve” each individual problem.
Add a female Victory statue. Design armor to look more like something you’d wear to battle than something you’d see on a Girls of Warcraft: Swimsuit Edition calendar. Allow more diverse character creation sliders so folks can control how their characters look. Add in female endgame bosses with the lore behind them to make them feel epic.
These are bandaid solutions at best. They’re certainly better than nothing at all, but it’s easy enough to argue that games where people have absolute control over the body type sliders and armor of their online avatars aren’t havens of equality. *cough*SecondLife*cough*CityofHeroes*cough*
I don’t feel like the original post was saying “fix THESE things”. I feel like the original post was saying “Look! These are symptoms of a greater ill. Please, someone pay attention.”
I am adding my voice to that cry. Please, someone pay attention!
So What Do People Want?
The studies on “what [gender] wants in gaming” that I’ve read have indicated that “boys” like things that look cool and “girls” like storylines.
My own informal testing, done on a small subset of the gaming community (and thus not to be taken as “average” opinions) reveals female gamers who want to look badass and male gamers who devour lore and storyline information as if it were manna from Heaven.
In my experience, GAMERS want a game that looks cool and has a compelling storyline. Gender neutral.
And yet, so much of the game seems to be geared towards stereotypical male gamers. (And I do mean stereotypical. I don’t personally know any male gamers who fit the image that comes to mind when sexism in video games is brought up. I know more male gamers that argue against the ridiculous armor than I do female.)
“Looks cool” becomes male models with Conan-esque rippling muscles and armor so big they’d send devilsaurs backpeddling in terror (and probably would keep them from being able to walk through doorways or navigating forests). (Surely boys aren’t susceptible to subtle messages, too.)
“Looks cool” becomes female models with proportions that would make Barbie blush wearing “armor” that wouldn’t protect them from mosquitoes, let alone axe blows. (Clearly, females are mostly ornamental.)
Males are portrayed as being body builders and females are models. Where are the rugged explorers with the muscle tone that says “I survived Outlands”. The male models are closer to this than females. Casters might be understandably waif-like, but female warriors should have rippling thighs and muscular arms.
“Compelling Storylines” show how even women in charge of things are all slaves to their hormones, bitches, or subservient to the men who are REALLY running things. (Don’t worry, women in real life are rarely accused of “that time of the month” moodswings and the glass ceiling is probably just a myth.)
What I Think is the Biggest Problem
In my opinion, the biggest problem is the THEME of the storylines that are being told and the roles that women play in them. The lessons that we are teaching both male and female gamers about how women act.
“How I am supposed to behave” comes a lot less from real life these days than it does video games, books, and movies. Assuming that parents are teaching compete with hours of Jerry Springer?
Having one or two REAL, STRONG female characters shouldn’t be all that much to ask. Especially since the studies show that “girls” like storylines – why do all the storylines show weak female characters? And for that matter, what do those storylines teach gamers about how genders should interact with each other?
Add some real, strong, protagonist female characters and storylines that show them overcoming adversity and triumphing.
Sure, add in some baddie bosses to whack at, too – ones that aren’t holding down the fort until big daddy comes to town. But don’t ONLY add bad guys. Let girls be heroes, too. Let girls be role-models.
Pay attention, please.
No, World of Warcraft isn’t intended to be an after school special, but I don’t know any gamers who would consider it to be mindless entertainment, either. This isn’t Tetris. This has a STORY, and that story is the backbone of why the game is so popular. Even people who don’t leap feverishly on every new bit of lore know who Arthas is. How could you not, unless you skipped most of the questlines in WotLK?
If the story of your game matters, then the themes within it also matter.
Bandaids don’t fix broken themes and don’t repair shattered messages.
I don’t think the people at Blizzard want to send a message of “women are weak, but fun to look at” any more than I think gamers want to hear it.
I know that with topics like this, I am sometimes less clear with my message than I otherwise would be because I feel strongly about the subject matter and emotions can overwhelm logic.
Not that I’ve had any trouble with comments on this blog before, but I know that sexism is a hot topic. Please keep discussion civil and free from personal attacks.
Disagree with me with regards to whether this shows any sexism at all, or whether the effect that I chose to address is the correct one, or the solution to it reasonable? Have your own effects or solutions to offer? Please, discuss! I’d love to hear what you think.