I Wasn't Going to Say Anything…

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.)

12 Replies to “I Wasn't Going to Say Anything…”

  1. Y’know what, I was going to post a long comment here about equality and feminism being poisoned and if having “unattractive” female avatar choices would even have an impact on anything, but after re-reading the post again I’m still kinda confused as to who is angry at who and for what. It basically all sounds like a lot of people getting way too angry over a joke, and people getting angry at the people who were overly angry over a joke.

    Does that sound about right?

  2. Mylana – Sorry, I guess it makes more sense if you’ve seen what I’ve seen on Twitter.

    Some people (primarily women I’d imagine, but probably some men) are upset with Blizzard for what they perceive as a sexist joke, re: new draenei female models.

    Some people (primarily men I’d imagine, but probably some women) are upset with those people who are upset with Blizzard and are being complete douchecanoes about it to the people who are upset with Blizzard.

    I don’t think people are getting “way too angry” over a joke — whatever people are feeling is valid to them and should not, IMHO, be minimized. People are being disrespectful, creepy and downright insulting and abusive to some of the people who are particularly upset by the April Fool’s day artwork. THAT is not cool to me, at all.

    I didn’t react as strongly to the artwork as some did, but I did react more strongly than others. There’s a whole continuum of feeling and everyone’s going to be somewhere in there. The trick is to respect everyone’s positions, even if you disagree, so long as the positions and opinions are made and given in a respectful manner.

  3. Ah ok. For some reason I thought there was a lot more feminism, sexism, Social Justice Warriors, White Knighting, and any other activity involving gender/sex differences. I guess it’s my knee-jerk reaction to this kind of stuff on the Internet nowadays.

    The problem I find with a lot of these touchy subjects involving gender/sex is that you can put yourself very easily into a ‘damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t’ kind of situation. Some people will find the April Fools Female Draenai joke sexist because Blizzard blatantly crafted an “ugly” model of a female, while others would probably praise them for the same reason and because it goes against the ‘all female characters in video games are eye candy’ stereotype. Then you get heated backlash going in either direction and it just gets messy (this sounds like the part you witnessed the most).

    Personally, I don’t care much for the joke. I didn’t find it that funny, but I’m not condemning Blizzard for doing it either, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s my honest opinion that avatars of video games should look powerful, pretty, handsome, likable, etc because they represent an idealized version of you, a hero, in a FANTASY world. Maybe the joke was to subvert that ideal and not necessarily to make a Draenai Female “ugly for the lulz”.

  4. Hi Kurn, I generally appreciate your writing and keep an eye on your blog, and this was no exception. I’m not on twitter, but I gather there was quite an explosion – I did see the article on WI, and that they’d turned comments off. I didn’t take the “new models” as being any sort of comment on women. You see, I don’t personally know ANY women who play female draenei toons – ALL the female draenei toons where I know the gender of the players are played by men. All of them. So I instantly took the “art” as being a poke at those men – who apparently chose their avatars on how sexy they are. I took Bliz’s comments about how few female draenei toons there were, how people were calling out for more realism, as being sarcasm aimed at those men. I can certainly see how women would be hurt by the gag though, as it’s a very direct reminder of just how harshly women are judged based on appearance… I’m a plain looking guy, and I’ve copped the negative responses that come with that, and I know my umm, less than model-esque, female friends cop it even worse…

  5. /applause

    Thanks for that post, Kurn. It’s not a difficult thing to understand, really; and if they don’t necessarily grok the “women want to be treated equally” part, the Golden Rule applies in spades. Why some people simply don’t get it is beyond me.

    Also, I’d put in a plug for The Mary Sue (themarysue.com) for a view on geekdom from a feminist slant.

  6. Mylana – I’m sure there are some people out there who are doing just that, but what I’ve really seen is people bashing others for disagreeing/not enjoying the joke. From THERE, I’m sure a lot of it degrades into such things, but I’m keeping mostly away from that. ;)

    I think my major problem with it is that they could have had a MORE effective joke by making it a very low polygon count (of either gender draenei or other class, for that matter). Like, “Due to time constraints and concerns about system requirements we have decided to go forward with our brand-new low-polygon models!” and then show like, an 8-bit version thereof.

    I can see how people could praise Blizzard for an atypical model, but the fact is, WoW is a game produced by men, so they’re basically not going to put in things that are less than what their ideal is. To do so at this juncture, while it would be applauded by some, would only open up that whole can of worms. If I came in to work at Blizz at this point, I would adamantly stay away from such things. “We got a good thing here, don’t effing rock the boat.”

    I tend to agree with you about avatars, because, frankly, I am not a tall, lithe, agile, blue-skinned dude with huge ears. When I made Kurn, I made Kurn to be somewhat imposing, because I am not. Madrana (hah, both of them — they’re identical) is also an idealized version of me, but the only thing she and I have in common is our blue eyes, our pale skin and we tend to wear our hair in ponytails. ;) I don’t even have red hair! (but would like to pull that off — which is why Madrana’s hair is red.)

    But I do understand why people want avatars and models that are more representative of themselves, especially in a game where “human” is an option. It’s easy to say that night elves and blood elves are skinny by nature, that dwarves are more stout — these are all explained by lore and typical body structure for those “races” — but when it comes to humans, why ARE the only choices a skinny woman and a muscle-bound man? Meh.

    Therellian – Thanks so much for commenting. :)

    Hm, I’m now thinking about all the female draenei I know. One that comes to mind is Vidyala — she’s a RL woman playing a female draenei (two of them!). My shaman was originally a female draenei (now a male dwarf because I was tired of the overtly sexual female draenei, to be honest). A female draenei shaman in my guild, Osephala, is played by a RL woman. My RL Friend the Resto Druid has a female draenei, too, and she’s a woman. That said, I do know of a few guys who play female draenei characters. For me, it’s mostly female night elves that are played by men. ;)

    As to the intentions of Blizzard, we’ll likely never know, so people will be free to interpret it as they will. I feel that your scenario is quite possible, perhaps even probable, but if that’s the case, they just stopped thinking after a certain point. “Let’s make fun of all the dudes who play female draenei!” “Okay!” And no thought thereafter.

    I completely appreciate that you can see how women would be hurt/insulted/etc by the joke. Even though you feel Blizzard meant that particular scenario, you’ve taken a moment to think about how and why women are affected and why some feel uncomfortable (to say the least) by the joke. If only more people were as reasonable as you!

    FWIW, I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with negative comments based on your appearance. Regardless of gender, everyone is always scrutinized and it’s sometimes easy for women to forget that men are judged that way too, even if it’s not in quite the same way that women are.

    Redbeard – Of course, yes, it can all be boiled down to The Golden Rule. But I fear that many interpret it as “well, that wouldn’t bother me, so why would it bother them?”. Or perhaps more accurately: “well, that wouldn’t bother me, so it’s fine!”

    The problem with The Golden Rule, if one interprets it so narrowly, is that it removes the obligation to think about how others FEEL about things and it assumes that everyone will react the same to various situations and circumstances. Interpreted as “make sure you and your actions aren’t responsible for making people feel badly”, which is how I’ve always viewed it, it’s fine. But again, room for interpretation means that some jackasses will just take it the way they want to. :/

    I’ll check out The Mary Sue, thanks for the link and for the comment. :)

  7. I thought April Fool jokes were supposed to be believeable, or at least put doubt in your mind that something is plausable, and when you find out it’s a joke you feel foolish. That model was just so stupid that no-one can have really believed that was anything other than an April Fool joke; so why do it?

    My Paladin used to be a Draenei. When Blizz brought in race changes, I changed her into a Dwarf, but not because Draenei females are ‘all tits and bum’ as a friend put it, but because I just didn’t like playing such a tall character.
    Although Dwarven females are often cited as the ugliest characters in the game I love my Dwarf and wouldn’t change her for anything.

    @Therellian: I know two women who play Draenei females as their mains, so it’s not just men playing them.

  8. I left my rant on the subject on Godmother’s site (assuming it’s still there) so I’m not going to rehash my opinion on the joke itself aside from mentioning that I think it’s a non-issue and people are getting annoyed for its own sake regardless of which side they’re on.

    (and I’d disagree with the fact that someone is having a particular reaction automatically makes it valid… people have outsized reactions to things all the time… think road rage, if someone shoots someone else for cutting in front of him, did the person getting shot deserve to be because he cut in? I think it’s important that while feelings are acknowledged, they aren’t necessarily validated, especially in a situation like this where two equally sane people can have two completely different reactions based entirely on things like background and personal history… I have a buddy whose young child died a number of years ago so when I recommend TV shows / movies to him, I’ll usually avoid ones that have a topic anywhere close to that or I’ll at least disclaimer it if it’s worth watching regardless… but it doesn’t mean that I’m picketing the show/movie that they shouldn’t be talking about those things because they’re painful for folks who’ve been in that situation and if I did, I’d hope someone would give me the “dude, give your head a shake” talk… my personal belief that something may be too much for someone else does NOT mean that I’m entitled to speak for the masses on the subject)

    I wanted to specifically reply to your male vs female toon experiences… when I first started playing the game, my first toon was male (I’m male). When I created toons in RPGs they were male (usually the only option), Dwarf if available, Warrior if available. That was ME in an RPG sense, really. So, when I gave WoW a try, I created a male Dwarf Warrior and he did his best to level as Fury tree (BC-era) wielding sword ‘n’ board because a shield dropped and I didn’t know better.

    When I created my second toon, once my warrior had demonstrated that I’d get enough value out of WoW, I made a female Night Elf Hunter… no particular reason, I just thought hunters sounded cool (and independent), Night Elf seemed the best fit for the fantasy archer type and female because my first toon was a male. I figured alternating sexes made sense. Third toon was male (Human Mage), fourth was female (Blood Elf Paladin). Those were my 4 toons into early Wrath when I started doing group content (and using Vent) for the first time. My female Hunter was my first toon that ran any real group content and there was a noticeable “oh, you’re a dude” reaction, verbalized or not, whenever I first spoke in vent when playing that toon. Shortly afterward as a result I paid for a sex change to male. I left my Paladin as female, she was just a fun, slow-leveling toon on another server entirely.

    Eventually I created more toons… all male. 10 toons… 15 toons… 20 toons… all male. I actually raided my Paladin at various times but it was with groups who knew me so the sex of the toon wasn’t an issue. Also, the RL of one of my raids was a guy with a female toon so it seemed more normal based on that, but still somewhat unusual.

    Once MoP came out I realized I wanted Pandaren… multiple Pandaren… but didn’t like the male model. Too big, too bouncy. So, I was back to making females… most of the toons I’ve created since MoP are female. My main raiding toons in MoP have been female. A significant portion of my playtime has been on female toons.

    Here’s where it gets interesting… I haven’t once had any sort of a “oh, you’re a dude” vibe when I’m playing a female toon. There seem to be a lot more guys out there with female toons. Nobody’s talking about it… it’s just not a thing anymore.

    Have I ever had any sort of awkward encounter when on a female toon vs a male one? A few times over 7 years… but literally just a few. One guy who tried chatting me up that I did the usual “I’m a dude” response to that shut him up, one that just opened trade and gave me a flower or something but didn’t follow up and one that whispered “that’s a good looking toon :)” but again didn’t follow up. I’ve spent weeks in real time on female toons and there just hasn’t been any difference in reaction. I don’t feel any different playing or raiding on a female toon than a male one… if anything, I’d expect to see somewhat lower expectations on the female toons but that doesn’t seem to be the case, people are equally complimentary or assholish regardless of who I’m on and whether there’s voice chat involved or not.

    So I find your experiences interesting… I wonder if mine are based on the fact that, until recently, the large majority of my playtime has been on one particular server (RP, although I don’t) and maybe they’re just a nicer brand of people there, at least in that regard.

  9. AliPally – Only Blizzard knows what lurks in the minds of Blizzard, sadly. We’ll never know what their motivations were. My shammy was a draenei and I went dwarf, too! (Though male, because I LOVE the /cheer emotes.)

    People get very attached to their avatars. I am terrified to see what male night elves are going to look like. I’ve lucked out that the updated human female face they showed is my pally’s, so at least that looks decent. Whew. :)

    R – okay, your comment is long, so I’m going to try to respond to what I think are your main points. :)

    a) I feel strongly that someone’s emotional/personal reaction to something — their initial opinion, completely self-contained — is always valid. That person has had various experiences that lead them to reacting in that way. Note that I’m not saying their ACTIONS in response to their REACTIONS are always valid (the road rage thing, for example, is not acceptable, particularly in North American society). But someone’s initial impressions and ideas? ABSOLUTELY valid and there is no way that you or I can say that what the other feels is invalid. I don’t know what you’ve been through in your entire life experience and you don’t know what I’ve been through. To take the road rage example: you don’t know that I was involved in a car accident when I was 11, when a drunk driver plowed into our car. If I were driving now and saw an obviously impaired driver cut me off, I WILL be much angrier/upset over that than someone who HASN’T had that particular experience. Does it mean I can do what I want with that emotion? No. But it’s valid. I had it because of my previous experiences.

    There’s a difference between one’s initial reaction to something and what they do with it. The initial reaction has to be valid because no one else can say it isn’t. It’s just when they act on it that things become questionable.

    (All this assuming the people we’re discussing aren’t dissociating from society/reality/etc/etc.)

    b) Hehe, I levelled Madrana as holy, with a sword and board. Took me seven or eight minutes to kill Kurzen Medicine Men. Oh, the old days.

    c) I will grant you that, these days, it’s rarer (for me and apparently you) for people (guys) to hit on a female toon because so many men play female characters. But it wasn’t always that way and the pervasiveness of the shock that it’s a WOMAN PLAYING is still an issue. When I joined a new guild in 2009, I said nothing on Vent during my first raid until the end, when I said “thanks, everyone, have a good night!”

    Instantly: “OMG IT’S A GIRL!” And at least eight whispers from various people telling me I “sound hot”.

    So people are getting more understanding about men playing female characters, sure — but they’re still surprised when an actual woman is playing, regardless of the character’s gender. I’ve witnessed it many times SINCE that night in 2009 when I dare to open my mouth on voice communications when playing with not my regular raid group. It’s awkward at the least and really uncomfortable-to-creepy on the other end of the spectrum.

    d) Granted, it was back in Vanilla, but I saw a male, playing a female night elf hunter, lose a roll on Finkle’s Skinner from the Beast in UBRS because the person he lost to thought *he was actually a woman* and just passed on the knife to the hunter. “ahahahaha did you see that?!” he typed in guild chat. “he thought i was a girl! lololol”

    e) I would absolutely say that servers vary greatly in how they treat others. More “progressed” servers are usually more hateful and harsh. Less progressed servers are generally kinder. All in my experience, your mileage may vary, etc.

  10. As a fellow female gamer, I can appreciate the issues you mentioned. I’ve heard of other women being stalked by guys on WoW etc, but I’ve never experienced it first-hand.

    But I have experienced the stigma of “girls are crap players,” for the seven years I’ve played. Admitting to being female automatically makes it more difficult to get others to take me seriously and it increases the expectations people have of me when I trial with new guilds.

    Is it fair? Hell no. It 100% sucks to have to outperform all the guys in a raid because the slightest mistake I make gets remembered longer because I happen to be a woman.

    I think the only reason I don’t resort to the methods you do in order to hide the fact I’m a girl is that I grew up in an environment similar to the one I experience on WoW. All the guys around me refused to believe I was as smart/smarter than them or as good/better than them at sports.

    I learned to be aggressive early, which is probably the reason I’ve never had to deal with stalkers. I’ve had to deal with the “girls suck” mentality since I started raiding.

    And the more progressed the guild, the lower their tolerance for “feminine incompetence.” Never mind the fact that the guys in the raid are often making far more mistakes than a solitary female player.

    Unless you are an exceptional player, it is difficult to find a good raiding home as a female player. Too many of us are forced to settle in guilds below our skill-set because of the perfectionism male raiders expect us that is pretty much impossible to deliver.

  11. @Kurn – Yeah, that’s a fair response, I was more intending to focus on what WE see of their reaction than necessarily attacking the reaction itself. I just can’t help thinking, on one of my servers where 500 (or more) players camp for Huolon for half an hour or more… every hour… that inevitably some player, once Huolon spawns, yells “STOP DPS, I’M COMING, WAIT FOR ME!” or somesuch in chat and then, also inevitably, curses everyone out when Huolon is dead literally 2.5 seconds later for being “selfish pricks” for not waiting. I do believe that’s an honest reaction that person is having… but I’d have a hard time validating it in any way and while I think there’s more validity in the topic of the day, I think there’s room to gauge validity even on more legitimate topics. I may just have an ingrained dislike and distrust of labels (and by extension, special interest groups) in general and reactions that come based on that label. I see way too much “disrespectful toward women” and not enough “here’s why I find it personally disrespectful toward ME”. I won’t often have an issue with the latter, I do often have more trouble with the former. Maybe just me, but I try to be careful to only speak for myself. 5% of the population is going to be up at arms about anything that happens, whether real or perceived, shouldn’t it matter whether the concerns of those 5% have validity or are just outrage for the sake of outrage? Anyway, I really didn’t intend to get into this one again, I’ll leave the last word to you if you choose to take it. :)

    And yep, things were different back in the day, probably come combination of there being (I’d assume) actually fewer females playing in the early days (maybe?)… the average player age being 5-9 years younger back then… plus some just general social pressure for people to grow up (at least in public). Probably also helps that the raids I’ve run with, all of them, have had at least one female in them… often multiple, and I’ve never seen them treated much differently (I won’t say there isn’t ANY difference, but it’s subtle and I’ve never known any of them to have an issue with it).

    (and they almost all play healers, usually as mains, occasionally as frequently played alts… but that’s perhaps another topic for another day… ;) )

  12. Thanks for writing this anyways, Kurn!

    I’m a RL woman and I play all female characters. Except that one mage. My second mage is a male night elf I rolled once that combo became possible, after my human female had reached max level. Not only do I play 99.9% female toons, I play 2 female draenei, a shaman and a priest, and I’ve raided for 3 expansions with both. (The expansion before that was the female druid)

    So, uh. That reader should really delve into the sexism in video games topic more and realize how many women lie in game about who they really are.

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