Monday, July 2, 2012

Dear Blizzard

You've come to see me, <race>?  Speak and be quick, young lady.  I've no time for the formalities of your race.
-Blood elf-specific quest in World of Warcraft
Dear Blizzard,

Thank you for such a great product.  I've been playing WOW for years, and I love it.

Despite my affection for the game, I have a hell of a lot of problems with it and with you as a company.  You've heard a lot from me in the past, and I plan to use this platform to make even more noise.

Your playerbase takes a lot of its cues from you, and you know that.  I wish that you'd use that power responsibly, but you often prove yourself instead to be an enormous ass.

Let's take one obvious example: belf men.  (Translation for anyone reading over my shoulder: male blood elves, one of the playable races in World of Warcraft.)

There are two running "jokes" about belf men.
1.) They're gay.
2.) They're women.

Your first glaring error here is that you're basing these comments on stereotypes.  That's a bad idea.  It reinforces the idea that women are necessarily different from men in obvious, consistent, measurable ways.  Women are this, men are that.  This falls right into traps of gender policing and misogyny.

Also tied in here is the notion that gay men are feminine.  That gay men are women.  That gay men act in certain ways, straight men act in certain ways, and never the twain shall meet.  Again: gender policing.  Misogyny.

Now, what about belf men is so feminine?

Maybe it's their long hair.  No, men of other races have long hair and other similar hairstyles.

Maybe it's their height.  No, goblin men are short, and they're perceived as appropriately masculine.

Are their muscles not defined sharply enough?

I think that an enormous part of the stereotype is because of their surroundings.  Silvermoon is a lovely city, one of the most elegant in the game.  It's sophisticated and luxurious, most especially in comparison to the other Horde cities.  You've put a lot of the races' personalities into their cities, and Silvermoon says a lot about the belfs as a result.

And there you have it.  Their city is too pretty.  It's too comfortable.  How feminine they must be, how weak, to live in such a posh environment.

It's not bad enough that players make "jokes" about them.  You insert those "jokes" right into the game.

As a company, overall, you should be more responsible.  Reinforcing and rewarding your players' misogyny, homophobia, and general douchiness should not be part of your game design.

You're more than a faceless company, and you're well aware of it.  How many players hang on the words of Chris Metzen and Ghostcrawler alone?  They care what you think and listen to what you say.  They agonize over and inspect and repeat your words years after the fact.  You know what kind of influence you have, and you use it for this?

How can I fight the misogyny and homophobia I see among players when all they have to do is point directly at you and say, "Blizzard does it?"

If you can't figure out on your own how to design a game without this nasty crap in it, find a feminist consultant.  You do still have feminist gamers in your playerbase, despite your best efforts to drive them away.

With love,
Frank Lee


  1. Does the quest-giver call male blood elves "young lady" as well? Because that's not clear from this post. And if he/she doesn't do that, I don't understand why you're blaming Blizzard for putting a slightly more androgynous race in the game rather than the players for being enormous sexists about it.

    1. As Matthew Brown's already said, yes, the quest addresses all blood elves as "young lady." That's why that particular quest was my quoted example.

  2. Yes, the quest-giver does call male blood elves "young lady", one of several points in the game where Blizzard joins in on the "joke".

  3. I've been appreciating these posts on WoW from a feminist perspective, by the way. Thanks!