I haven’t written about games much lately because I frankly haven’t played games much lately, but back in the day some of you knew me as quite the World of Warcraft player, in the nerdiest and least-competitive way possible.
In the intervening years I haven’t felt like I was missing much. Both the game and the story seemed to be going in directions that weren’t terribly interesting to me (more automated queues to repeat content over and over again with strangers, less incentive to socialize with players you actually knew; an entire lost continent of fuzzy ninja pandas), so I was content to let WoW do its thing while I did mine.
But when word reached me of a new expansion that went back to some of the early game lore (like “remember that illustrated booklet that came with your Warcraft II CD?” early), I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to dust off the old account. Hell, they were doing a big time travel retcon to make the expansion possible — I could even bring back my old, dead character as his younger self!
And then I started looking at the promotional content.
Notice anything missing from the big home page splash design? Don’t worry, it’s totally missing from the “Story, Heroes, and Villains” section of the website, too!
This is where we’re at in game design in 2014: of the ten “storied heroes and villains” deemed most central to the new expansion of the largest MMORPG ever, not a one has tits. (And you would know if they did, Warcraft tits being what they are.)
Blizzard Entertainment (the maker of World of Warcraft) is also releasing a series of short animated videos, one per week, as a promotional push toward the expansion’s release:
Since each video is about a “Warlord” from those heroes and villians up top, you already know the central characters are all male. But don’t worry! Two out of three videos so far have featured female orcs.
One was a chieftain’s “mate” fatally wounded by enemies so that he could finish her off and then be all ragey-broody about it, and the other was a chieftain’s mother who got weak and sick so that he had to leave the clan and guard her sleeping body from wolves. But hey — they’re in there!
And maybe some day, if we’re very good, Blizzard will make a movie featuring a female character who’s actually standing on her own two feet. But we’re not there yet. Forget the low bar of “wearing armor and carrying a weapon;” they literally haven’t made it to “women who aren’t lying down” in three weeks of expensively produced video advertising. (Or to women who aren’t the mothers/wives of the title characters, for that matter.)
There was also a fully animated “cinematic trailer” for the expansion, featuring, you guessed it, zero women (although it does feature a massive scaly demon of indeterminate biology but clearly masculine voice):
Regarding previous Warcraft lore in the new expansion, we’ve already been told that the most prominent female orc from the existing game (another wife/mother, natch) won’t be there because the story of this expansion is “more of a boys’ trip,” at least according to Blizzard’s senior story developer Chris Metzen. She gets to stay at home and raise her precious orc bebbies, like ladies do.
And the most prominent female from the human half of the game’s storyline has been semi-officially decreed a mental incompetent because she’s angry at the orcs for blowing up her city and isn’t interested in negotiating a peaceful settlement with them (after they blew up her city — women, so irrational, amirite?) Until a few days ago, when a change was made in response to pressure from the director of Warcraft’s largest unofficial resource website, a new in-game flavor item referred to her as “crazy:”
Violence and war and seeking revenge on the evil-doers who slaughtered your people: it’s 100% what this game is about, except when a chick does it, in which case she is cray-cray.
Even the loading screens between world zones each have the females outnumbered five to one, except of course in the new zone, where they’re completely absent:
All of which begs the question: why does the titular world of Warcraft look like this? This is an original, from-scratch story. Gender roles and gender balance can be literally whatever the writers want.
And right now, Blizzard wants two women in the 20 faction leaders and “big bosses” that make up the new expansion’s most prominent characters. The new lore, it seems, is made up of dead wives, dying mothers, and men.
This is not a small oversight. These are not a couple of aesthetic issues that need tweaking. This is the product of a design culture that is utterly, top-to-bottom male-centric, and that has no interest in telling stories about female characters.
It makes you wonder what sort of players are going to respond positively to this kind of advertising — and that, in turn, makes me really not want to play the new expansion with the kind of people it’s going to attract.