Friday, November 23, 2012

Dear Blizzard

This post contains discussion of rape jokes, rape threats, and sexual assault in a fictional universe.

Dear Blizzard,

Rape jokes.

You peppered Pandaland with rape jokes.

First it's Mina Mudclaw, "the farmer's daughter," who is kidnapped and raped:
Those virmen... they make me do horrible, horrible, silly things. All involving carrots. I couldn't tell you how many carrots they threw at me.
Let's not waste any more time. Get me out of here!
Dad... I never want to see another carrot again.
Then there's Zhao-Jin.
Throw these prisoners in the cages. Let the men have their way with them.
Oh, wait.  Those aren't rape jokes at all.  One is a rape threat.  The other is a description of rape.

You don't exist in a bubble.  Someone who works at Blizzard is aware, on some level, of the gaming community's hostility to women gamers.  And aware of the WOW community's hostility to women players.  And aware of the ongoing social discourse over rape jokes.  And aware of how common rape and molestation and sexual assault are in real life, including the lives of gamers.

World of Warcraft does not exist on its own.  These are not real characters in real situations.  You make them up.  They can say and do whatever you want them to say and do.  Mina Mudclaw literally could say anything, anything at all.  She can thank the hero, she can insult her kidnappers, she can insult the hero, she can talk about how awful being kidnapped is or why the sky is blue or what cheese tastes like.  Of all of the possible topics in the world, you chose rape.

WOW has always had a mixture of dark and light, humor and drama, dangerous evil and pop culture references.  Zhao-Jin, I take it, is supposed to be a bad guy.  He does bad stuff.  He says bad things.  Clearly, you're trying to communicate that he's wicked.  But there are a lot of ways to do that.  Again, Zhao-Jin is not an autonomous being with a will of his own.  You choose which words are in-game and on-screen. His dialogue could include any number of nasty messages, but you went with rape.

There are several things still in-game that I've asked you to reconsider: the "male blood elves are gay/women" jokes, the gnome-punting jokes, Garrosh calling Sylvanas a bitch, the lynching imagery, and more.  I keep contacting you because I believe that you can improve the gaming experience.  I believe that if I keep reaching out, someday you'll hear me.  I'm not alone; there are feminists in every corner of the WOW community, from the raiders to the PVPers to the casuals.  (And definitely among the RPers!  High-five!)

Blizzard reps have said repeatedly that the best kind of feedback is calm, brief, and detailed.  I understand the people who go on angry rants because they're fed up.  I understand the people who don't bother with details because they insist that Blizzard has heard it all before and knows exactly what's wrong but just won't fix it.  I shouldn't have to go into a short but detailed explanation of rape culture, and how rape and violence in our media differ, and the effect rape jokes have on the gaming community, etc.  Do you honestly not know all of this by now?  Am I supposed to believe that the feminization of Tyrande and the inclusion of rape jokes and the way your community treats female gamers and the fact that one of your early lead developers goes by the name Tigole Bitties is all a wild coincidence?

WOW is a game.  People play it for fun.  We get to hang out in a fantasy world and escape into Azeroth for a few hours.  I don't want my real-world problems to follow me in.  If I go in-game, I don't want the in-game mail to remind me to call my mother.  I don't want the in-game auction house to remind me about my overdue bills.  I don't want my in-game mount to remind me to check the oil on my real-life car.  That would be a drag, a downer, when I'm trying to relax and have a good time in this fantasy world you've built.

Surely you understand that.  Then can you also understand that I also don't want to be reminded of misogyny and rape culture?  That I don't want to be reminded of how easily and often people treat rape and sexual assault as jokes?  That I don't want to be reminded of being raped, or of my best friend being assaulted, or of that terrible, terrible story about that girl I saw on the news last night?

I like to believe that you're operating in good faith. I like to believe that you wouldn't do these things if you understood their impact.  Yet you've heard specific feedback from your players.  If that weren't enough (and why wasn't it?), the gaming community overall discusses general gaming issues and WOW-specific issues all of the time.  Your reps seem like fairly Net-savvy people, and I've noticed them claim to visit WOW fan sites and discussion forums.  You hear gamers talk about these problems.  What do you do with that feedback?  Do you discuss it and give it real consideration?  Do you laugh it off as misguided?  Do you become defensive and resentful that it's all in good fun and no one understands you?

I've said it before and I'll request it again: if you can't figure out what you're doing wrong, please hire feminist consultants.  There are plenty of smart, feminist gamers out there who would be very happy to participate.

There are some problems in WOW that would take a major overhaul of certain aspects of the game to fix.  The joyful co-opting of native themes, for example.  But the two examples I began with are simple matters of quest text and NPC dialogue, which should be easier to adjust.

You made a change in the Pandaland beta when an NPC had sexist dialogue.  You made the right move, then.  I hope that you'll do the right thing, now.

With love,
Frank Lee

1 comment:

  1. "I don't want my real-world problems to follow me in."

    And you're fine with murder, torture, terrorism, death, theft, animal cruelty and the like?

    WoW has a lot of references to things that make us uncomfortable, it's called World of WARCRAFT after all. Every other quest has horrible things happening to people, things that are actually shown and that you are directly involved with/responsible for.

    Where do you draw the line? At what you personally find distasteful?

    I don't see how sexism is worse than the racism that saturates the world. Why should this be changed, and not how the Scarlet Crusade treats the Forsaken?

    Or the way Blood Elves occasionally refer to other races as savages? Or how during Hallow's End NPCs wear masks of races from the opposite faction and make stereotypical comments about them?

    Is racism worse than sexism? They're both born from ignorance and/or hatred, and have a long history of marginalizing people. Both are still very real factors in all our lives. It's depiction could hit home with a lot of people as well.

    Why one and not the other? Is that just a reflection of this site/your focus on feminism?