I was slowly converted into a World of Warcraft (WoW) player by my fiance who has been playing since the game came out in 2004. When I began, I was enchanted by the numerous race and class options. My very first character was a blood elf rogue named Elliera. I’m a sucker for elves. Due to the diversity within and between races, I was never really bothered by WoW’s depiction of elves. It makes sense, after all, that elves be flawless, beautiful creatures. As I explored the different races, it was great to see the variety of female depictions. Really, how do you make a respectable female worgen? It was also phenomenal how different each starting point was for each race. I have to admit, despite my tendency towards elves, my troll hunter is now my favorite (ja, man).
On the surface, WoW was very appealing to me. It was, however, unnerving when I had to deal with my first ganking (ganging up and killing low level players) and interactions with immature players. I wondered why these players weren’t banned when their attitudes would often ruin the experience for everyone (that included anything from rape jokes to ganking to deserting during a dungeon). While MMO’s are still not my favorite type of game due to the uninviting online community and disengaging story lines, WoW has an opportunity that average games do not: to reach millions of men and women with a positive message about the inclusion of female gamers.
With the new expansion came new potential. Upon logging on, we are reminded of the theme with the loading screen:
As epic as it is, I am disappointed by the demographics. We are presented exclusively with male orcs. Warlords of Draenor (WoD) is all about the Iron Horde; obviously one would want to convey that each time players log on. This wouldn’t be so bothersome except for the fact that females are still missing largely from the main story. As I delve deeper into its history, I am disappointed by the lack of women. I will admit, compared to some of its competitors WoW does a fair job. WoW comes out with updates (i.e. 6.0.1) that have what they call “hotfixes”, and they’ve upgraded their models so that you have an actual choice between a male and female character. And when females are present in the story they are usually given powerful roles. Nonetheless, I believe there is still something they have not tried to harness.*
With the updated character models, developers said they were attempting to make them more “realistic”. I was skeptical at first. When you hear those words, you kind of roll your eyes and wait patiently to see what they really mean. Well, they meant what they really meant. The women are given more muscular features as well as that nice membrane that covers it up. The expressions have also been upgraded for many of the non-human characters to include an expansive range of emotion and more feminine features. I will celebrate the small things. Great job WoW!
While small changes like character model updates are important, WoW has some bigger fish to fry. It has this phenomenal potential to reach millions with a positive message for women. And here they create a storyline focused solely on males with WoD *cue the crickets*. I can’t say it’s as epic a fail as Ubisoft, but I will say they have not understood this opportunity. Everything from how chats are monitored, to the NPCs, to character models, to available interactions: all of these aspects and more can be adapted to provide a more comfortable environment for female and male gamers.
Draka is a female Orc warrior originally presumed to be dead. However, with WoD she becomes part of an alternate story line.
This list shows that they could have developed more for WoD, though. The well-known Sylvanas Windrunner and Jaina Proudmoore demonstrate WoW’s early inclusion of women, yet we see it diminishes with each new expansion. (See a list of major WoD characters). That may seem a minute detail, but if they changed even one of the warlords to be female, now that would have been an excellent message. It would have spoken volumes about how attentive they are to the discrimination and issues happening in the gaming community. If you think such issues do not exist for WoW, feel free to read another article written before WoD’s release in which the writer speaks to the scarcity of female characters.
If we ignore the lack of female characters and focus solely on the community, we are presented with another issue. As an MMO, WoW is dependent on its online community. I have luckily encountered a scant few crudities, but that is not everyone’s experience. For example, when I was in a random dungeon group some of the language (including unnecessary rape jokes and “pussy” jokes) was disappointing. Considering the average age of the fan base, it is remarkable there is not more maturity present. Unfortunately, this is not limited to WoW. There are many online community games where women are forced to either take it or get out.
How can we change it? Leaders and authority figures, such as game developers, can take a stronger stance in showing that they support women. Women are, after all, half the global population; and yet, we find in many places they are treated less than human, that somehow they are less than men. Not only are women half the population, but a simple statistical search shows that women are almost half the gaming community as well. Some companies have learned from these statistics and marketed their games to women. Unfortunately, there is still a huge chunk of other games such as Call of Duty, Halo and MMOs such as WoW that don’t necessarily supply a welcoming landscape for female gamers. Disclaimer: that is not to say I expect pink frills and cute and rainbows, which is often what “marketing towards women” means. Personally, I am not defined by those things and prefer them to stay far away from me. No, not the pink frills! Ahem…well back to business.
As authority figures, game developers can do a better job acknowledging that half their customers are females, as well as show them respect by representing their female customer base more honestly. For example, developers can prevent poor behavior by supplying better guidelines, limiting language, or even suspending such players for a brief period of time, which would help the gaming culture understand respect towards all players. While I don’t believe limiting language is the best option (I do after all believe in freedom of expression), I do think developers can help put an end to rape jokes. It is neither freedom of expression nor productive. Small changes and steps lead to bigger changes. If games such as WoW start incorporating more female-friendly stories, characters, and language the culture will eventually follow down a more secure road of respect. We all are geeks and we all deserve a safe place to express our geekery.
*Note: this discussion does not encompass all comics, books and story lines. It focuses solely on the new expansion of the game, WoD.
Editor’s Note (1/6/2015): The Common Room also discussed WoW and Jaina Proudmoore in their weekly podcast. Check it out!