As a rule, I try to pay very little attention to April Fool’s Day. I don’t usually participate in gags or pranks or what-have-you, myself. This year was the most involved in April Fool’s Day I’ve been in ages, and I wasn’t even very active. All I did was tell Rho that yes, he could tell people listening to Realm Maintenance that Blessing of Frost was coming out of retirement. (Which it’s not, by the way, but I do appreciate the comments from various people wishing that were the case — as does Maj!)
Yesterday’s April Fool’s jokes by Blizzard had two reactions from me:
1) Hah, these “patch notes” are hilarious! Love the Calvin & Hobbes references, among others.
2) … oh, right, it’s April 1st. I will ignore this “artcraft” post pretty much entirely.
I wasn’t going to talk about how the female draenei post was somewhat insulting towards women. I wasn’t going to talk about how intolerant people can be when the representation of a woman is less than a straight man’s “ideal”. I wasn’t going to talk about how the fact that Blizzard decided to make fun of the female draenei can be considered a statement that they find it funny to screw with the players’ heads in introducing a model that is not the straight man’s “ideal”.
And then Twitter exploded with reactions. Particularly on my timeline today, April 2nd, there’s all kinds of hate and anger — not just restricted to the joke. Backlash for the joke is fair, assuming it doesn’t cross over into abusive insults or threats. Saying “I didn’t find it funny” is fine. Saying “I didn’t find it funny because of points a, b and c, that I will explain below” is also fine. Saying “YOU #)*%_@#% PIECES OF #(&)!% I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU @)*$)!@* THAT #)*@% UP” is not fine. Hopefully, you get the point.
However, what’s happening on my timeline today is hate and anger directed at people who didn’t find the joke funny and decided to say something about it.
Dudes. (And I don’t mean just guys, I include girls there, too.) That is uncool.
Now, believe me, I have zero interest in defending WoW Insider in general. I’ve had my issues with them as a website and, in fact, make it a point to basically never read it. That said, they posted an interesting article called The Joke is On Women and, subsequently, had to turn off the comments. Why? Because of all the awfulness that was cropping up. (Another great read, from The Godmother: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.)
Look, I’m a woman, but do you know why my character, Kurn, is a male night elf? Apart from the fact that I instantly hated the female night elf idle bounce animation (for various reasons such as I don’t actually do that myself and, frankly, never would), it was to blend in with the masses. I never wanted to stand out as a woman among players, because I’ve been treated terribly in the past by a variety of people who thought that, because I’m a woman, it’s okay to objectify me and to treat me like I’m there for their pleasure. I worked as a writer on a high-profile website for four years in the late 90s and into the 2000s and part of my daily routine was weeding out the creepy messages from guys who were offering me a life of luxury to come be their fourth wife or concubine (I’m not kidding) or guys who demanded I spend some one-on-one time with them on the phone (which was not at all part of my job, but they insisted it was).
Due, in part, to those experiences, I decided “nope, I’m going to make Kurn a guy”. And it was lovely. I was left alone when I wanted to be. It was only when I rolled Madrana, a human female, that I started getting lewd whispers and inappropriate comments from people. I have actually said to people “I’m a dude” to get them to back off. (I once had an opposite-esque experience, actually, which broke my brain for a few different reasons, but anyhow.)
So, within WoW, I took steps to make sure I wasn’t particularly bothered as best as I could (male night elf, telling people I’m a dude if they persisted, etc). Even on this blog, I have a comment policy that I stick to and ask others to adhere to, as well. Further, I’ve gone out of my way to be a good player, to help dispell all the “girls can’t play” crap that goes flying around out there. Basically, I’ve done what I can do to make sure that being a woman who plays a video game doesn’t adversely affect my gaming experiences.
Think about that for a minute. Being a woman can adversely affect my gaming experiences.
Being a guy does not inherently do that in the same way that being a woman can.
Guys automatically “fit in” with gaming culture because so much of the content is created by guys and, like it or not, for guys (even though female gamers are about half of the gaming population). In order for me to fit in and be comfortable, I have to do X, Y and Z first. I shouldn’t have to, but I accept it because to not do those things, to not protect myself, will result in uncomfortable, awkward and downright creepy experiences. If I want to play and have a good time, with other people in the mix, I must first take those precautions.
I’m not even complaining that I feel that I have to take these kinds of precautions, although it would be nice to easily fit into a culture I am definitely part of without doing so. The truth is, I’ve experienced this stuff my entire life. I was the girl who spent her teenage years calling local Bulletin Board Services and playing Trade Wars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon while moderating a forum about Star Trek. So, whether I like it or not (and I don’t), I generally don’t make a big deal about it because I’m used to it.
So, ultimately, if Blizzard (or any other company) wants to make a joke about a previously “attractive” character (how attractive is a female draenei, really? Horns, hooves and a tail??) being made “less attractive”, by changing the face, adding fur and the like, that’s their decision. My decision is to not like it and, as long as I do so respectfully, there’s no problem with my opinion.
The problem comes when either I am disrespectful or when others are disrespectful towards me.
You don’t like that some people are offended? Fine, feel free to disagree. Just do it politely and with respect. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, particularly if you are the straight male for whom the joke was obviously intended.
If you don’t know about Anita Sarkeesian, by the way, you ought to take a look at her stuff. She has had the most vile and horrific abuse levelled at her simply because she wants to deconstruct anti-feminist tropes in video games.
Oh, and one more thing, while I’m thinking of it: “feminism” is not a dirty word. Being a feminist doesn’t mean that you want women to be the dominant gender. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a crew-cutted, man-hating lesbian. Being a feminist simply means that you believe men and women are equal and should be treated as such. I once shocked the hell out of a friend of mine by saying “no, I’m not really a feminist” and she was like “… do you think men and women are equal and should be treated as equals?” I replied that I did. “Then you’re a feminist.” So go read some of these quotes about feminism to perhaps better understand what feminism is, but this is probably my favourite.
Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.
– Marie Shear, reviewing Kramarae and Treichler’s A Feminist Dictionary in the news journal New Directions for Women (1986)
So when people — women, in this case — talk about being offended, look at why they’re being offended. You can disagree with them, but do it respectfully and with the understanding that this isn’t the first time they’ve had to deal with being the butt of a joke like this. As for myself, I simply didn’t find that portion of Blizzard’s April Fool’s Day funny and, really, I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but now I have. And I hope the Internet is better for it.
(As always, the aforementioned comment policy is to be adhered to, thank you kindly.)