Thursday, July 26, 2012

WW: The Lost Article, or Time to Defend WoW Now

All right, so I defended charges of racism in Star Wars. But what about the rampant charges of racism AND sexism levied at my favorite video game, World of Warcraft?

Well, while I understand a lot more where those accusations are coming from, I ultimately think that they come to nothing as well.

I've written about this before, and thus am reposting a column I wrote for my college newspaper shortly before Cataclysm was released.

"I love 'World of Warcraft.' I think it’s a wonderful game, certainly my favorite of all time (narrowly beating out the 'Kingdom Hearts' series, just narrowly). I pay the fifteen dollars a month I don’t have to connect with more people who don’t give a crap about me and spend hours collecting twenty bear asses for incompetent NPCs. But it’s just so beautiful and just plain cool to run around these worlds, and I will defend almost any criticism (i.e. if you lose your entire life to this game, you never had one to begin with).

            One criticism that’s a little hard to shake off, however, is the claim that the game is both racist and sexist. Each of the playable (and a few non-player) races have things that connect it to racial stereotypes in the real world. For instance, the 'barbarous and superstitious' Jungle Trolls all have Jamaican accents. Dwarves are Scottish drunks, Draenei (sort of satyr-like aliens) all seem to be Eastern-European, and the Tauren (minotaurs) are obviously Native American. As a Jewish man, it sometimes bothers me how the Goblins are portrayed as short hook-nosed money-grubbers with Brooklyn accents. Then there’s the bizarre sexual dimorphism. With the possible exception of the Gnomes, all male race toons are relatively hulking musclemen while the females are willowy and large-chested.

            This has become such an issue that an entire chapter in Cuddy and Nordlinger’s 'Warcraft and Philosophy' (Open Court Press, 2009) was dedicated to it ('Utopian Fantasy and the Politics of Difference' by Debra Jackson). But, like that particular essay, I’m going to look into what really goes on with the game.

            Sure, on the surface, you have these stereotypes running around. However, the sexist/racist argument gets thrown into the toilet when you realize that any race, any sex, can accomplish all the exact same things if the exact same effort is put into it. Aside from faction-specific quests and unique racial abilities which are usually balanced anyway, a Male Human Mage can do anything and go anywhere a Female Blood Elf Mage can go and do. Same with a Male Troll Shaman and a Female Draenei Shaman, Orc and Gnome warriors, etc. Anybody can be a hero, anybody can be a villain, everyone can learn any profession they want at the same cost scale, based on the same amount of reputation earned by doing the same quests (or kinds of quests). Everyone is equal as far as the game is concerned.

            Of course, that doesn’t mean that prejudice doesn’t exist. Players seem to bash Gnomes a lot. Alliance and Horde players continually put each other down even out of game. Any avatar with boobs is bound to get mercilessly hit on at some point or other by fellow players, despite a lot of female toons having male players (and vice versa). Even I’ve gone on record as saying that anyone who would willingly play a human character in such a rich fantasy environment probably has a deficiency of imagination. And it should be noted that in the development phase, female Troll and Tauren toons looked much more like their male counterparts, and were only changed to Cute Monster Girls upon fan outcry that they weren’t 'sexy' enough. The same thing happened when Blood Elves were introduced as a playable race, only it was that the males were originally too effeminate (even after they were beefed up, anyone plying a Blood Elf Male has their sexuality called into question).

            So I’m forced to come to the same conclusion Ms. Jackson did. 'World of Warcraft' is not racist or sexist, Players are. We bring our worldviews into the game when we log on. Which only cements how prevalent these prejudices are in our society, and how far we really have to go.

            In the meantime, let’s not sweat the small stuff. I, for one, simply can’t wait to roll a Goblin when they become a playable race in the next expansion."

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