(See WoW Insider’s “Open Letter to Jaina Proudmoore” for backstory. Be warned of 5.4 spoilers!)
If it comes as a surprise to anyone that I love ladies behaving badly in Warcraft (and other storytelling mediums), then I invite you to take a gander at my two Blizzard Story contest entries, where I think about Blood Queen Lana’thel and Leyara’s histories, respectively.
It’s hard being Alliance for all your WoW-playing career and having a fascination with villainy, because they tend to either be a part of the Horde (Sylvanas) or quest/dungeon/raid bosses (Keristrasza, Leyara, BQL, ad nauseum). The Blizzard Story contest is, at the moment, defunct, but I had been planning exploring a Sylvanas story after reading Dave Kosak’s short story, Edge of Night, because I did find it very interesting that she wasn’t present at Arthas’ death.
A lot of this is born out of my frustration that women in Warcraft tend to be pushed to their limits by the storylines, and then callously abandoned to their fate (often death, at the hands of us “heroes”) when they’re deemed irredeemable. Keristrasza was captured, abused and forced to be Malygos’ consort after she murdered his previous one, and you have to kill her in the Nexus, an act which the wiki entry for her states “a sad, but necessary end.”
Lana’thel is forced into service for the Lich King when she faced him at Northrend, armed with her former friend’s blade Quel’delar, which she was overwhelmed by Frostmourne, and forced to serve him. (Sensing a theme?) Leyara’s grief and anger at the Horde, and her father-in-law’s madness leads her to ally with the minions of Ragnaros because she doesn’t feel she has anything left to live for (and she doesn’t even make it into the dungeons, you kill her during a quest chain.)
This female madness issue didn’t start with Wrath, nor end in Cata. In Pandaria, where strong emotions are made physically manifest in the Sha, both Suna Silentstrike and Liu Flameheart become infested with Sha, and the players are forced to kill them. It would not be so very telling if not for the fact that Tarah Zhu, leader of the Shado-Pan, is similarly affected, but in the dungeon where you encounter him, all the player needs to do is drive the Sha out of his body, and defeat it.
If that’s the case, why did Suna and Liu have to die? Their grief and doubt – at the loss of a beloved husband, the fear of failing your god – are perfectly reasonable within the context of their stories, which were created by the writers and quest developers. Why do the women of Warcraft only get one chance at redemption, and then only through death?
What’s even more fascinating is that this is a narrative that’s not just played out in the game and supplemental materials, but also in the fan base. Jaina factors into this because like Suna and Leyara, she’s lost loved ones, people she was a leader to. Her story has always been one of courage and of loss. SPOILERS for 5.4 to follow the cut:
When I was able to create my pandaren monk on the beta realm, it took me a little while to get going – not because the monk isn’t fun and intuitive, because it is – but simply because the starting zone was overwhelmed with young pandaren burning scrolls and fighting trainees. Eventually though, I made it out into the wider world of the Wandering Isle to meet with Ji Firepaw.
As Apple Cider points out on her blog, your first interaction with Ji is not good. In fact, if you’re a woman who’s faced cat calls or been accosted by guys in gas stations, “I bet you can’t keep men off you,” is a familiar and threatening thing to say.
Currently the Mists beta doesn’t have the in-game feedback system that previous betas have had. But since this is beta, and beta means feedback, she makes a post on the beta forums. The response is shamefully predictable, but to save you all the effort of reading seventeen (currently) horrible pages, I’ll break down the main arguments that have sifted to the top, like so much horrible skin on tomato soup.
1. You’re Just Being So Gosh-Darn Sensitive/You’re Looking to Be Offended/PC POLICE:
The most common thread, in pretty much every discussion on sexism, racism, homophobia, you name it, this one comes up. People are so afraid of offending people, they are constantly keeping silent with their awful sexist opinions because the mean, terrible Feminists will bear down on them with the fury of a thousand gods. Oh wait, no they don’t, because there are 17 pages on the Beta forums, over 400 comments on WoW Insider, and similar threads on MMO-Champion and Scrolls of Lore forums, all full of people eager to tell players uncomfortable with Ji’s dialogue that the PC Police are ruining their free speech, and somehow they actually haven’t made posts telling people providing feedback on Ji’s creepy attitude to shut up.
Look, feminists get told we’re too sensitive all the damn time. It’s a lazy argument, it’s malicious, and it’s just plain wrong. It’s lazy because it’s the strawman everyone knows and cuddles to them to warm themselves at night. It’s malicious because it’s a dog whistle term to point out to everyone how SHRILL and HYSTERICAL this feminist is being. Even though the original posts and follow-up comments by Apple Cider were perfectly reasonable and logical, suddenly everyone is seeing how sensitive and over-reacting she is. It takes that cuddly bedtime strawman, and props it up in front of what was actually being said all along. It’s wrong because we see and hear this every day of our lives. You’d be sensitive too if your whole life experience has taught you that “I can tell we’re going to be good friends” isn’t a giant red flag to run the fuck away.
2. It’s His Character to be a Womanizer/He is Just Really Friendly and Kind of Dumb (like men):
Okay. So? A number of solutions within that thread were actually posited to keep that aspect of Ji’s character, and have it not be totally creepy. He could comment on how strong the female pandaren are, the way he does with the men. He could say the line exactly how it is, but an option to react within the quest text box to tell him to shut up, or he’ll get a punch in the mouth would give female player characters agency to react to his come-on. He could say that line, but later in your interactions with him, where it’s not the very first thing he says to you. He could call both men and women some kind of gorgeous, which, despite claims to otherwise in the forum threads, I doubt would go down as smoothly as male posters are claiming. Remember Bioware? Remember The Straight White Male is Your Demographic? Remember Nerdism’s rampant homophobia? Remember those? They’re back.
How crucial is it to Ji’s character that he be a womanizer anyway, as if that was some character aspect and not a way the majority of men feel entitled to act towards women in general? Will changing that line, moving it or allowing players to react to it really diminish this guy’s character? Do you really have that little faith in Blizzard’s writers? More on that in #4.
3. He’s the Future Racial Leader of the Horde:
This one just makes me feel sad for all the cool-ass Horde players I know. “Of course he’s impulsive and stupid and kind of creepy to women, he’s going to be the Horde racial leader!” Really? This is the best you can come up with? Despite being Alliance forever, and really loving some of my racial leaders, like Mekkatorque and Velen, I can’t lie that the factional conflict within the Horde is appealing as a storyteller, and I miss that kind of interaction when I play Alliance. I don’t really like Garrosh or Sylvanas, the way I do say, Vol’jin, but damnit if their characters aren’t interesting or consistent. I don’t particularly like that Garrosh called Sylvanas a bitch, but I can grudgingly see why he thinks that way. That said, they are pretty established characters, with histories reaching back to TBC or right into the original RTS games. Ji is a completely new entity. Sure, start him out with some flaws, so there’s room for growth and interesting storytelling. But it makes me sad that for some reason, even some of the Horde players have internalized that the Horde is savage and brutal and dumb and gross.
4. Writing is Sacrosanct!
Are you ready for this one? BULLSHIT. Anyone who’s remotely put more than a few words down on a piece of paper in the interest of having others read it know that this is totally, utter and complete triceratops poop. For this reason, I can only assume people making this argument are the types who hit publish on Dec. 1st to Create Space for their epic Sonic the Hedgehog slash fanfiction novel.
There’s a reason why people who critique your writing are called beta readers, and there’s a reason why beta testers are within their rights to critique game writing. For all it’s gorgeous scenery and actual playable female models for once, this is still a crude, unfinished product. It’s not set in stone, and even if it was live, that doesn’t mean they can’t change it. (Resquiat in pacem, Grea Red Elekk.) In fact, better to change it now, because once it goes live, people somehow feel entitled to it. Entitlement is a hell of a drug.
And trust me on this, writers are professionals. They get told to change things all the damn time. Sometimes to the detriment of the work, like the regular reminder from editors and publishers that queer main characters aren’t welcome in young adult writing. They actually don’t need you to go to bat for their feelings, because they’ve heard much much harsher critiques from the people paying them.
5. Well, Now You’re Getting Angry and That Means You Lose:
This is an argument I’ve been well-familiar with since I was old enough to argue in a manner that didn’t just consist of “no” and “why” (and let’s be real, even today that can make up the bulk of a heated discussion with me.) Anger can be passionate and productive and creative. It’s not an automatic lose. It shouldn’t be brought to the table at all. It, like the over-sensitive claim above, becomes another dog-whistle term where suddenly, everyone can see how angry you are. Even if you are still being perfectly calm and reasonable. And even if you weren’t, who cares?
Because this isn’t a win or lose thing, to me. And that’s the hell of it, folks. I don’t do this to win something. I do this to win rights, fair treatment, the sheer base consideration that women should get, but don’t, because for all claims otherwise that we’re post-feminist, or that feminism is now cool and fun, because you can still shave and be a feminist, being a feminist is still gritty and tough and not really fun. Winning an argument isn’t fun. It just means that maybe, down the road, the people I was talking to might rethink their words or actions because of what we talked about. Sometimes, ‘winning’ still means losing friends and acquaintances. And you know what? it’s still worth it, to speak truth to power, because even the little things, even one person, can make a difference. I do this for the women who don’t see a problem with getting hit on while walking down the street, or with Ji’s dialogue because if it was gone, they would probably never notice it wasn’t there anymore. It’s just become so much background noise that the tiny little blip won’t be noticeable.
But I’ll know. and I’ll be glad for it.