There’s been a bit of discussion on blogs about women, wow and their representation. I saw this post by Alternative and then Eriny’s feelings. Those posts and the ideas that they raised have been mulling over in my head but then I read Navimie’s ideas and I’ve been mentally writing my thoughts so I wanted to get them out of my head and onto virtual paper so to speak. Needless to say this post is going to entwine elements from the physical world as well as the virtual world.
The fact that sexism exists in our physical world is undebatable; I’ve written essays for my Anthropology degree on the universality of thought and as an example I drew on the idea that the majority of cultures worldwide have actions and beliefs that point to the female gender as worth less than the male gender; economically, physically, spiritually. It exists. I’m trying to raise my two sons with the idea that both genders are equal and there is nothing that either gender cannot do. Despite this, I’ve heard the youngest mention ‘girls can’t do that’ or ‘it’s a boy thing’, these are ideas that are coming from our society. I’m lucky in one way, I’m writing from a western middle-class white perspective. Couple sexism with racism and it becomes a whole different level of oppression. This speech written by Sojourner Truth, 1851 (read by Alice Walker) is possibly one of the most powerful speechs I’ve heard.
However, linking this with Wow; World of Warcraft is written in one way to mimic our physical life. There are references to the physical world all over the game, read this blog to see what I mean. The fact that we get so much delight from finding these references show that the majority of us like our physical and virtual worlds being linked in some way. So it’s not surprising that attitudes from our physical world spill into our virtual. I mean the people who write and develop our game are humans who spend some of their time in the physical world, it’s going to rub off.
I’ve raised my eyebrows at models and dress of women in wow, characters and NPC’s but I’ve been guilty of showing virtual flesh on my toons and if I could dress my character like Tyrande I probably would. With games that give more control over character design I usually chose a toon that is petite in size. What gets murky is trying to unravel whether I find this representation and shape of toon body shape aesthetically pleasing because I’ve been conditioned by society to see that form as attractive. But it’s not all one-sided; I doubt that all the male players who chose a burly muscled, 6-pack toteing toon are that shape in the physical world; so if we are going to point at stereotypes being recreated in our virtual games; both sides of the argument have to be looked at, not just the female perspective.
In my opinion there is a massive representation of females in wows; there are many female quest givers, our most visible interaction with wow npc’s. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a zone and wondered where the women are. Off the top of my head – women in high places; Sylvanas, Jaina, Tyrande, Vareesa, Shandris Feathermoon, Liadrin, Elune (a female deity); women being portrayed as both good and evil, Magatha, Moira; women bosses; Whitemane, Jandice Barov, Freya, Onxiya, Shek’zeer, Vashj, Azshara. There are countless others. As to whether the representations are sexist, I think depends on your view-point and how hard you want to analyse it. I think the fact that the world of Azeroth does draw so many of its elements from our physical one that it would be hard not to use the same thinking we turn to our physical world on our virtual one. However, I think if you are going to do so, both sides need to be looked at – both male and female perspectives. There are plenty of quests and examples of male npc’s being portrayed as inadequate, incompetent and downright crazy and these are not usually highlighted as a bad representation or seen as a sexist portrayal of maleness.
Navimie made this comment “There is no right way to put women in the game, without upsetting SOMEBODY” and I think this is at the crux at it. If women were only portrayed in one light; i.e as strong ruthless leaders without families then people who want to see a more human face to the characters would be upset. The way I see it is, Wow is trying to strike a balance, there are women npcs in strong roles, there are ones in family roles. They are there in sexy attractive roles (twin consorts) as well as not meeting the traditional stereotype of a woman (Therazane) But ultimately they are there in all their virtual humanness.