I am a female who plays world of warcraft. There are lots of other females who play world of warcraft. Being a gamer and escaping into fantasy worlds is part of how I try to escape the everyday sexism of the world, or how I otherwise get away from things I can’t control in the real world. This everyday sexism includes the fact that three females had roofies slipped into their drinks at a party they were attending the weekend of Blizzcon. One of them fortunately didn’t drink the shot they were given, and the three were otherwise not harmed because they were able to stay together. However, when I talk about the importance of female representation in WOW, I want this to be something people remember. I didn’t attend Blizzcon this year, but when I went last time, it was obvious that women were the minority – even in the fact that they converted the women’s bathroom in the main panel hall into a men’s bathroom to accomodate the greater number of male gamers – even if that meant I had to leave that hall and go search in other halls for bathrooms.
The nice thing about playing a female character in WOW is that I’m just as strong and powerful as a male character in WOW. I don’t take a strength penalty for playing a female character. If Boys can do it, so can I! Your character’s gender shouldn’t really matter all that much in a world where everyone can be a hero. In World of Warcraft, I almost always felt included in previous expansions. While I faced harassment from other players, especially in Vanilla WOW (including someone who stalked me in-game for a day or two even after I put them on ignore), the game design its self still made me feel included in the storyline’s narrative as a female. In Vanilla, I could still look up to strong female character leads, including Tyrande as a night elf druid (though she has felt a lot more like a secondary character after Malfurion’s return). Other storylines have included female dragon aspects, Jaina chasing the horde out of Dalaran in MOP, Sylvanas as part of the WotLK storyline, and helping Aggra save Thrall in Cataclysm. These strong female leads are characters I look up to and feel that if they can do it, so can I. Strong female lead characters provide support and motivation for female players, and ignoring female-driven storylines in WOW is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the video game industry at large has a history of excluding women.
In the marketing of WarLORDS of Draenor, I did not feel included.
The introduction to the new expansion presented at Blizzcon and on the related marketing website makes me feel like an outsider who isn’t welcome to pass thru the portal to Draenor because I’m female, regardless of all the history of the last 9 years. While this isn’t necessarily Blizzard’s intent, this is exactly what they are saying when they joke about the Boy’s Club of Draenor not being a big deal. The problem is that if the marketing material excludes a large portion of the player base, and says that females aren’t included in their target audience, it will be hard to make up for those slights later on. Sexist marketing materials prime us to expect to feel excluded, even if the quests end up not directly being exclusionary in the game.
What do we currently know about the inclusion or exclusion of women in Draenor?
Other bloggers have pointed out that leaving Aggra at home in Azeroth to take care of Thrall’s baby is a mistake: It is a mistake because Thrall’s own mother refused to be left at home. It is also a mistake because Draenor is Aggra’s home planet that she remembers, and a place that we think she would want to return. As Aggra has proven in WOW’s storyline to be more than just a girlfriend/wife/mother, forgetting this and leaving her behind does a huge disservice to the game’s storyline – and only benefits sexist beliefs that women should stay home and be caregivers.
In tweets discussing the Draenei female who works under Valen, I have heard her referred to as the “Joan of Arc”. However, this is not particularly reassuring as what most people remember about Joan of Arc is how she died (and not how she lived), and the fact she was a martyr killed for heresy. This sets Yrel aside and presents the feeling of being a helpless martyr, rather than a strong female lead. Given the fact that she doesn’t appear in the listing of important figures above, I’m more inclined to believe that she’s going to be a secondary character that won’t provide the same type of strong female lead that we found in Aggra or Jaina. If they did include her in the promotional materials listed on the website, it’s possible I wouldn’t feel the same. However, just passively mentioning her with zero character development presented doesn’t inspire me want to run out and buy the expansion.
There are very few women at all in Blizzard’s marketing materials. Only a couple female characters appear in the whole entire trailer for the expansion, with at least a 10:1 Male:Female ratio even in the supporting characters. There are almost no female characters on the Warlords of Draenor website at all. While subtle sexism always existed, it felt more present and problematic in going back to Draenor, land of the dudes only club, where we’ll spend more time focusing on the Orc storyline that I’m actually already tired of hearing about. The dude’s only club tainted my excitement for the expansion. Blizzard says there will be females in the expansion, but they aren’t in Blizzard’s marketing materials – so, then the disconnect is that their marketing materials failed.
For as much as I am happy about changes being made to the game by the class, UI, and other system-related things, I don’t really have a motivation to care about going back to Draenor because I wasn’t made to feel included. I know this feeling wasn’t intentional on Blizzard’s part. Covert sexism can, however, still hurt just as much as overt sexism. This feeling really needs to change before I have to decide if I want to spend my female money on what Saxsy Mage called “World of Dudecraft”. The cinematic team needs to work harder at getting more female representation in their cinematics, otherwise the girls will go find games that care about women as part of their target audience (if any non-sexist video games even exist in the first place, though I will admit that part of the problem is also the larger cultural context of sexism in which video games are made makes people forget that they should care about how female gamers feel in the first place).
Given the larger cultural problem of sexism in video games, and in American culture more generally, Blizzard should be asking themselves several important questions:
- Who is the target audience? Does this include both males and females? (edit: other potential minority groups should also be considered, too).
- Does our marketing materials for the game appeal to our whole target audience, or are we excluding some of our target audience? Do we both strong male and strong female characters in our marketing materials? (Edit: Are other minority groups represented?)
- Does our game appeal to our whole target audience, or are we excluding some of our target audience? Do we have strong male and strong female characters in our game’s story lines and progression? (Edit: Are other minority groups represented?)
If the answer to question 1 is “both men and women”, I believe that they failed at #2 for Warlords of Draenor. Time will tell if they failed at #3, but given that their marketing at Blizzcon excluded women, they have a lot to make up for missing a large chunk of what I hope they believe is their target audience. While we’ve been reassured by Blizzard that there will be female characters in their Draenor story lines, they missed a huge opportunity at Blizzcon to show that they understand what the demographics of their target audience looks like. We shouldn’t ever leave a Blizzcon event asking ourselves “where are the female characters at?” Once they’ve missed their opportunity with releasing biased marketing materials, they have already lost the chance to connect with the part of their audience that didn’t think the marketing materials appealed to them.
We can’t see the story lines if we are turned off enough to not want to invest money in the company. I make game purchasing decisions based on whether or not I think I am included in the target audience for a game. Other females do this, too, and so by not appealing to half of the world’s population, many gaming companies miss out on our money. I don’t buy a lot of console games because I don’t feel like the target audience for those games. I’d rather not spend the money on something where I’m not included.
Am I likely to still play Warlords of Draenor? Yes, but now I’ll be hunting for female characters in the beta instead of enjoying the questing storyline. Breaking the immersion effect by making people feel excluded can have really long-term negative consequences in the player base. By largely downplaying this point in their post-Blizzcon posting about the lack of female characters at Blizzcon not being a big deal, it doesn’t allow that wound to heal. Given that sexism in video games comes up time and time again, it is unacceptable to forget that women want to feel included in the game’s promotional materials, and from this point on, some people are going to count the number of males and females in any Blizzard trailer they release, instead of actually enjoying the trailer – and if they don’t find the gender balance to be acceptable, they may just not bother buying the game. Others may not be quite as forgiving as me, though it is unlikely that I’ll ever forget.
Other posts to read related to sexism in Blizzard’s Blizzcon announcements:
Yesterday, we heard from several people from Blizzard about this topic, and out of fairness, I’m going to copy some of what they wrote here:
“Don’t worry, there will be cool characters, both male and female, in Warlords.”
Netharea had a series of related tweets, and while I can’t post the whole discussion, the highlights are roughly:
But I hear Garona will be showing too…. And a Draenei paladin named Yrel that I can’t wait to meet… Just to keep perspective, there are a lot of characters that will be in play both male and female. The story will be there either way…
In addition, Zarhym agreed to pass along the comments made by the community about this topic.
However, the knowledge that there will be women in Draenor (which we always basically knew because it’s a giant planet) does nothing to change the fact that Blizzcon and the website clearly marketed the next expansion as “men doing manly things”, and displayed a lack of sensitivity to acknowledging that I want more than just “men doing manly things” to be important enough to discuss at Blizzcon and on the related marketing website. Some people think my complaints are about the story. However, I can’t comment on the complete story of WOD because we haven’t seen the whole story, and so I don’t know what part of the story would need to change anyway. My complaints are really about how the game was marketed to us through Blizzcon and the related website release – which I have presented tangible examples of places where their marketing didn’t get me excited about the game, but instead had the complete opposite effect. In particular, stringing up 10 dudes next to each other on the website with no mention of females being important to the story anywhere on the website is something problematic to me, that makes the website distracting more than helpful to their marketing campaign. A website, however, can be fixed without changing the story, by making sure that marketing materials give enough references to things other than “men doing manly things” that are likely already present in the game. Future marketing materials, cinematics, and Blizzcon presentations can be designed to feel more inclusive of their whole audience.
Edit: Also relevant, linked by @miamat : Social Justice League “how to be a fan of problematic things“.