Pondering Pardo's Unpardonables

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Todd Harper wrote a piece over at Polygon on Thursday, May 22, about diversity (or the lack thereof) in various video games. In the piece, he spends time discussing Blizzard’s values, as well as Nintendo’s recent troubles to do with the lack of same-sex marriage support in Tomodachi Life. Since I’m not a Tomodachi Life player, I’m going to skip over that and just say that including LGBTQ content (at least the options!) in games (and other popular culture) is an important step towards equality. I think any kind of game where you adopt a character as your avatar and there’s romance should have some kind of LGBTQ representation and choice. (The Sims, for example, has supported same-sex relationships since its first incarnation.)

Anyhow, as troubling as Nintendo’s reaction has been, what was new to me in the Polygon piece were the stated values belonging to Blizzard, espoused by Dustin Browder (Game Director for Starcraft II) and Rob Pardo (Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard).

When pressed on the sexualization of women characters in MOBA games, Browder argued “We’re not sending a message. Nobody should look to our game for that.” The message just below the surface here is: why can’t we just have fun? Why do we have to be responsible for being respectful?

… seriously?

After his talk, I asked Pardo to talk about how Blizzard’s values — “epic entertainment experiences,” emphasizing the Blizzard brand, focus on gameplay and de-emphasizing narrative — and the company’s perception of their audience might impact how they portray socially progressive content.His answer was disappointing. “I wouldn’t say that’s really a value for us. It’s not something that we’re against either, but it’s just not something that’s … something we’re trying to actively do.”

Why the eff not?

“We’re not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that,” he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.Pardo notes that “because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books,” Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that “is offensive to, I think, some women.”

Gee, ya think?

It’s a really good article that everyone should read, but, shockingly, I’m going to discuss my views here. ;)

I play games to escape. They’re fun, they take up space and time in my life, they give me a sense of satisfaction I don’t easily get outside of them. I’ve played video games since I was 5, playing on my Atari 2600. River Raid was my favourite game. I loved the King’s Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest series from Sierra. I kicked some ass at Double Dragon on my Atari 520ST computer and absolutely adored both Déjà Vu and Déjà Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas. Sneaking around as Garrett in Thief and Thief 2 was spectacular (less so in the sequels, but anyhow). Eventually, I came to World of Warcraft and found that I quite enjoyed playing a hunter and, later, a holy paladin. All of these games made me an involved player, made me think outside the box (seriously, using an athletic supporter as a slingshot in SQII?) and served to entertain me while rewarding me for my efforts by finishing chunks of the game.

That’s not to say that the Quest games from Sierra didn’t have horribly sexist moments. They did. The Latex Babes from SQIV? The fact that Sonny’s girlfriend in PQ was a hooker? A lot of it went over my head until I took the time to think about these things from the perspective of an adult and it wasn’t limited to the Sierra stuff. It’s disappointing to look back at the Déjà Vu games, for example, and realize “holy crap, I had to beat the crap out of a hooker lest she shoot me in the face”. (I can’t even think of another woman from those games, to be honest.)

So, I’m coming from the perspective of having grown up with sexism in video games. It’s pretty much normal to me, or at least it was until I started looking at games more critically. (And part of that was thanks to Anita Sarkeesian and her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.)

I remember levelling my holy paladin, Madrana. She’s a human female. As a paladin, she wore mail until level 40, at which point she could wear plate. Here. Have a look at some actual screenshots of Madrana in plate armor. (click for bigger pic)


The two on the left are of Madrana wearing the Shadesteel Greaves, which were part of the Shadow Resistance gear from Burning Crusade. Notice a difference when you compare them to the human male wearing them?


The chest piece my toon is wearing is the heroic T13 chest, the Breastplate of Radiant Glory. Nice exposed stomach. That makes OH SO MUCH SENSE for a plate-wearing class, who can also be, you know, tanking things. Oh, look. They actually took into consideration that armor should cover one’s soft, squishy bits when they decided what the male model would look like with it.


I included the Lightforge set on the far right because it’s my transmog (and has been since transmogrification was introduced). Yes, I love Lightforge, but one reason why I love it so is that it covers my character’s body in an appropriate fashion.

These discrepencies between armor on a male model vs. a female model have always pissed me off. (Just play with the 3D model viewer for the Glorious Breastplate and Glorious Legplates if you doubt that there are dozens of other examples.) However, I dealt with them because I knew that the designers were men and that the target audience also consisted of men.

In other words, I’ve known Blizzard has been sexist, at least in some ways, since I started playing. Half the reason my night elf hunter is a male is because I didn’t like how the female night elves bounce as their idle animation!

What’s really troubling about the Polygon article, for me, is that not only is this kind of junk still acceptable, but it’s coming from the top. Pardo is the Chief Creative Director. While I’m sure not everything we see in the games goes by him, he (and the others at that level) are responsible for the overall culture and sentiment in their company. That Pardo (and, presumably, the other executives at Blizzard) think that “fun” and “entertaining” are diametrically opposed to “socially responsible and progressive” is, well, not cool.

Let’s look at Hearthstone, which was just released a couple of months ago. You’ve got nine heroes, one for each class that existed in World of Warcraft in the original release. They are:

Malfurion – Male Night Elf Druid
Rexxar – Male Orc Hunter
Jaina – Female Human Mage
Uther – Male Human Paladin
Anduin – Male Human Priest
Valeera – Female Blood Elf Rogue
Thrall – Male Orc Shaman
Gul’dan – Male Orc Warlock
Garrosh – Male Orc Warrior

… really? Just two females represented among all of those classes? Is it really that there aren’t other epic female druids, female hunters, female paladins, female shaman, female warlocks or female warriors? Let’s take a look.

Apparently there are no notable female druids. But HEY, how about, oh, I don’t know, ANY OF THE WINDRUNNERS for a female hunter? Lady Liadrin or Aponi Brightmane as female paladins? Tyrande as a female priest? Okay, I kind of get Thrall as the Shaman, but did Magatha Grimtotem get any consideration? And, shocker, there don’t seem to be any notable female warlocks. Nor any notable female warriors. (Note: I’m not big on lore. I may be missing some, but still.)

So two of the heroes are women in Hearthstone, which is about 22% representation. Which sucks. They could have had a different hunter, paladin and priest. It could have been ~56% representation. But it’s not. And at some point, you just have to ask… why isn’t it?

Look, I’m not asking for any portion of any game to change in terms of gameplay, not at all. But how does it negatively impact the game when 4 or 5 of your nine heroes are female? How does it negatively impact the game if, for example, my Tier 13 Heroic Breastplate of Radiant Glory actually covers my character’s abdomen? Neither of those things have anything to do with the game mechanics.

Blizzard, you can have your epic gamplay. You can have your fun and entertaining games. But you can also make better decisions about the representation of women in your games. (I’m not even going to touch Heroes or SC or Diablo with a ten-foot pole since I have 0 interest in Heroes, I’ve only played a little SC in my life and haven’t touched D3 since last year.)

If anyone thinks I’m overreacting, rest assured that I’m not. I’m not even angry. I’m disappointed, troubled and resigned, but I’m still playing World of Warcraft and playing around with Hearthstone for the time being. Just because I’ve learned that there is a sexist culture at Blizzard that comes from the top isn’t going to cause me to go running into the night, mostly because I’d always suspected that. (And if I hadn’t, Metzen’s “it’s a boy’s trip” comment at the last BlizzCon would have tipped me off. (See Fan #16’s Q/A section.))

You know what, though? Of all the reasons to quit, this is a really good one. I’ve already seen two people on my Twitter feed decide that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Cynwise has been a fantastic community resource. Osephala’s been a great player that I’ve personally played with off and on for years. I commend them for taking the steps they feel they need to after Pardo’s comments, but the community will be worse off without them both.

As a former guild master, it’s ingrained in me that if someone leaves, someone will be around to replace them eventually. There’s churn. But losing Cynwise? Big blow for the community. Losing Osephala? That’s one more talented player the community will need to do without. In this day of boosted 90s with clueless yahoos behind them, the community can ill-afford to lose the good ones.

Since I’ve come back to WoW, I’ve been buying one month of game time as I go, because it’s a tentative re-entry to the game. In the two and a half months since I’ve been back, I haven’t ever been so pleased I’m not on a recurring subscription and, to be honest, my future in this game is in doubt. (For this and other reasons, but anyhow.)

So… confirmation of what I’ve always thought — Blizzard is a boy’s club. Representation of women doesn’t matter to them. Social responsibility doesn’t matter to them. Hiring more women doesn’t matter to them. It’s nice to know this stuff for sure, but it’s pretty disappointing that this is where they stand. They could be so much more and that’s what’s so disheartening about all of this. The wasted potential just makes me sad.

*** ETA: Here’s a link to a video of the response the article was based on. It doesn’t really change my mind, but definitely have a look. ***

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

21 Replies to “Pondering Pardo's Unpardonables”

  1. The worst part, and I’ll be writing a blog post about this myself tomorrow, is that they don’t really get it. Someone asks them about hyper-sexualized women, and they say they don’t want to include big societal issues. No one’s freaking asking you to put in a quest about women’s suffrage, or about transitioning as a trans person, or about the Stonewall riots and the gay community in the 80s.

    They’re correct, those issues don’t make for fun story lines if you’re just going for your stereotypical fantasy tropes–though they fail to realize most fantasy and science fiction draws from current events and is often a reflection of society at the time. Fantasy novels are often depictions and explorations of racism in a safe manner that has links to the real world, but not actually taking about specific races on Earth.

    But guess what? If you want to include more females who aren’t pushovers or scantily-clad? If you include a couple of dudes or ladies who refer to the other once in dialogue as their spouse? You don’t need to change your “epic” story lines at all! Tadah! You haven’t made your statement, you still ship your vision, AND you have inclusiveness! Everybody wins! And it’s sooooo simple, especially, ESPECIALLY in a vast game like WoW that has hundreds of NPCs.

    Just…gah. I don’t even. I will sleep on this and rage-post in the morning.

  2. The disparity between gear appearances is so annoying. I think there’s nothing wrong with having some items be a little strange – the plate bikini, the plate miniskirt, chest armor that leaves the midriff exposed – because while certainly not practical or realistic, they’re what some players want, and that’s fine. But it really should be the same for the male characters. Have that plate bikini be a tank top for guys! Have that plate skirt be a pair of shorts!

    If there are players (regardless of gender, and for whatever reason) who want their female character in revealing armor, there’s just as many who want their male characters similarly shown off.

    Anyway, a minor response to a minor part of a well-written post. :)

  3. Oh, and there’s absolutely ZERO reason for Rexxar to be the Hearthstone Hunter hero instead of Sylvanas. Male/Female balance ASIDE, these are major players in the WoW universe, and Rexxar is NO ONE compared to the Banshee Queen. Her omission is a GLARING flaw in their decision making process, in my opinion.

    From a lore importance perspective, I can understand the other choices (though it’d be a tossup between Anduin/Velen/Tyrande for Priest), except Valeera is strange – you’d think the Rogue would be Garona, or possibly Matthias Shaw.

  4. Pardo looked like a jackass trying to hear some affirmation from the other jackasses.

    Some of the Warcraft fiction I’ve read lately has made it very clear that Azeroth is NOT a lady-friendly place (just like WoD has made us so painfully aware.) Unfortunately, as a player, it doesn’t feel like I’m a hero struggling with a plot, it just makes me sad. Is someone really getting so much fun out of those specific details that it’s worth it?

  5. You are just discovering this attitude now? Plz grow up and grow a pair. You argued that you grew up as a gamer knowing the designers attitudes. Its not changing anytime soon. Think about why She Hulk is hot looking and The Hulk is not Channing Tatum. Talk about YOUR fantasy world…FYI, I choose most of my toons as Draenei females for a reason.

  6. This… is a very tough subject for me. Being a white, hetero male, the game was basically tailor made to me and others like me. So, obviously, for the time I was playing, I did have a lot of fun with World of Warcraft and I still tend to have fun with Blizzard’s other franchises. Also, of course, I sympathize with Blizzard’s vision of ‘epic entertainment experiences’, because that is (most of the time) what they deliver on and what I expect from them. The bottom line is that they make fun games, and I don’t want that to stop.


    I am not so blind as to not see the flaws. Do some character designs not make sense, even within the context of their own world? Yes. Does there seem to be a disproportionate amount of important males to important females, regardless of race? Yes.

    While I honestly, truly wish that a lot of these flaws could be ignored, that everyone could simply take the game as a game and have fun with it without any kind of socio-political thinking getting in the way of that fun… I know that won’t happen. I’m not one of the not-targeted audience (i.e. a woman, someone of LGBTQ orientation, etc), but I have to imagine that you would at least feel a little uncomfortable seeing so many things that don’t identify with you, or seeing people like you be marginalized. I also realize that my stance of ‘just treat it like a game’ or ‘see past the flaws’ is one that is probably much more difficult for someone who is not a white, heterosexual male. In other words, though I hate the word lately, that is my ‘privilege’.

    I don’t think everyone should be freaking out as much as they are at Blizzard. Yes, they’re being exclusive, but it’s a naive kind of exclusivity, not a hostile kind. The answer won’t be to yell at them, throw things at them, and just all around being violent and loud. The better way to correct this is through education and appealing to Blizzard’s emotions and sense of selves. If they can understand how their style of doing things is leaving potential gamers (or even better, customers) in the dust, then I think they would look into correcting their style.

    Some may also think that unsubscribing would also clue them in to the problem (because money), but it would have to be a LOT of unsubs, and all for similar reasons, for them to notice. Are there enough non-white, non-hetero non-males playing the game that if all of that group unsubbed, Blizzard would notice? I don’t know, but if there are, that may be an effective last resort.

  7. Talarian – Honestly, I completely agree. There are really just small changes that could be made during the design process that could make things so much more inclusive, such as the things you outlined.

    I think the issue is really that this is how they see the world. That it’s okay that going back to Draenor is “a boy’s trip”. That it’s okay that two of the nine heroes in Hearthstone are women, rather than four or even five. This is their world view, reflected in their products. If they truly wanted to be inclusive, these simple changes during design would be implemented. That they’re not is troubling and is, IMHO, representative of a larger problem in terms of company philosophy.

    Looking forward to the rage-post. ;)

    Rades – ahahaha, I’d be okay with that! Revealing armor for both genders would be fine (albeit still impractical, IMHO!). It’s the disparity that kills me every single time. If I’d come across the Leggings of Concentrated Darkness and seen that they were similarly revealing on male toons, I would have laughed. (Didn’t include those in my list because they’re not plate, but that was the first time I REALLY saw the differences and BOY was I pissed.)

    Also, re: Rexxar vs. Sylvanas (or any of the Windrunners), well hey, I’m glad to hear that from someone who knows stuff about lore! I’d only known about Rexxar from the realm of the same name, but my first thought was “wait, aren’t there other, better-known hunters? Like… aren’t there those Windrunner sisters?”

    If it’s a toss-up between Anduin and Tyrande, I would have gone with Tyrande — although I quite like Anduin and maybe it shows they have more plans for him? I don’t really get why he’s the priest representative when you have Tyrande available.

    The rogue thing is interesting. Perhaps (PERHAPS) they had Garona in and were like “shit, we have like, 8 dudes, dudes. We should probably throw in another woman to balance that shit out”… But of course, that’s my speculation. ;)

    Amy – hahahaha, that could very well be true! (re: hearing affirmation)

    I agree that Azeroth is not lady-friendly and, really, never has been. One of the female characters who made the biggest impression on me was Lady Katrana Prestor (aka Onyxia, obviously) and she scared the living crap out of me in human form. And then she turns into a dragon and then we go kill her. One of the most interesting female characters is suddenly reduced to “RAID BOSS. KILL BOSS. GET SHINIES.” Disappointing.

    I’m not sure that your comment is implying that Blizzard is doing it maliciously or not, but I don’t think they are. I think it’s the sadder fact that they just don’t really know any better. That, for better or for worse, this is their world view. Alas.

    Pancho88 – First of all, I’d like to point you to my comment policy:


    Secondly, I’ve approved your post anyhow because, while it’s bordering on offensive, I have hope that we can have a civilized discussion about this. Please note that if it moves beyond civil, I will simply remove any future comments. :)

    As to your comment itself, allow me to respond to it line by line.

    You are just discovering this attitude now?

    In fact, no. I’ve been aware that women weren’t valued as much as men in the various video games I’ve played over the years. I’ve been aware of it in WoW since I started playing and realized that the female night elf was, to my eyes, overly sexualized.

    Plz grow up and grow a pair.

    Well, let’s see… Last I checked, I was in my 30s, so I do believe I’m fairly grown up, thanks. :) As to “growing a pair”, I don’t actually wish to have male sexual organs, given that I’m a woman.

    However, the use of “grow a pair”, referring to testicles, frames the rest of your comment quite well. To tell someone to “grow a pair” generally indicates that the person saying the phrase does not believe the person to whom they are speaking is acting “manly” enough or not acting strongly enough. The very fact that you use this particular idiom indicates that you link strength to manliness. Why must strength necessarily be linked to males? I would argue women can also be quite strong, in their actions, their convictions, their words…

    You argued that you grew up as a gamer knowing the designers attitudes.

    Yup. I’ve spent my entire life playing video games where, more often than not, women are poorly represented or not represented at all.

    Its not changing anytime soon.

    Why not? Why shouldn’t it? What is it that is so wrong about treating women the same as men are treated in the arena of video games? Does it change how the priest class in Hearthstone plays if you have Tyrande instead of Anduin as the hero? Does it change how my female paladin plays if my T13 Heroic Breastplate of Radiant Glory covers my character’s stomach the way it covers a male’s?

    Think about why She Hulk is hot looking and The Hulk is not Channing Tatum.

    That’s a pretty simple request. The Hulk is not some idealized male because he was created by Stan Lee in 1962. Stan Lee is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a straight, white male. As such, he was creating from his perspective, from his background and, just as importantly, for people like himself. She-Hulk, also created by Stan Lee, was introduced in 1980, again influenced by his background and perspective, again destined for consumption by other people like himself.

    These characters were created in a time when the target demographic consisted largely of straight boys/men. Nowadays, comic book readers are nearly 45% women and yet, last I saw, we still have overly sexualized female characters with impossible bodily physics. (I used to read a few comic books — Batman, Nightwing, Teen Titans — so I’m speaking as a casual reader of some titles and not someone who’s never picked up a comic in her life.)

    So She-Hulk is “hot looking” and The Hulk is not because both were created by the same guy in a time where the target demographic was the same as the creator’s. Perhaps if Stan Lee were actually Stana Lee, The Hulk would be more sexualized and She-Hulk would be less so.

    Talk about YOUR fantasy world…

    Hah, with all due respect, my “fantasy world” is not that The Hulk should be portrayed as Channing Tatum. (Apart from anything else, he’s not my type.) My “fantasy world” has some measure of equality and fair representation in it. I’m not asking for overly sexualized male characters — just that male characters and females are treated more evenly and represented more evenly. Again, is it really such a far-fetched “fantasy” for me to wish that Tyrande represented priests in Hearthstone instead of Anduin? I don’t think so.

    FYI, I choose most of my toons as Draenei females for a reason.

    So you enjoy the sexualization of that particular race and gender combination? That’s fair. But it only serves to prove my point that Blizzard is making the game for a target demographic that consists of others like them — straight males. You’re totally on board because, I would presume, you think female Draenei are hot.

    I just want them to wear armor that makes sense for their class. And maybe for the female night elves to stop bouncing. They can still be traditionally “pretty” or whatever, but can things like the Glorious Legplates not be a gold thong with what looks like gold legwarmers? If not, why not?

    Thanks for your comment. :)

    Mylana – While I tend to agree it’s an issue of being naive rather than knowingly hostile, it’s 2014. One would think that a company that made over a billion dollars in Q1 of this year would be able to afford a little sensitivity training to elucidate them on the various issues they keep running into.

    While I don’t think mass unsubs would do anything, at some point, one has to wonder why one keeps giving money to a company that is so clearly okay with not including someone like them. I think people unsubbing now are doing so not to protest in the hopes of changing things, but because they’ve reached their limit with Blizzard.

    For myself, I feel that an organization with as much reach as Blizzard has should take some kind of responsibility for social equality. It’s not even about plots or storylines or anything (although, honestly, the “boy’s trip” to Draenor still sticks in my craw) but just smaller changes that can help things feel more inclusive.

    Finally, I think some people are tired of trying to educate others on their lack of knowledge in this day and age. I mean, really. Why is the onus on people who feel marginalized to explain to their “oppressors” (I don’t really feel all that oppressed, but can’t think of a better word for it) WHY they feel “oppressed”? Especially when it comes to matters of equality between men and women? Like, seriously, women have been fighting for equality forever. Aren’t we done yet? Apparently not.

    As a sociologist, I think representations of minorities/oppressed segments of the population are really important in pop culture and influence the real world more than we realize.

    Take, for example, the short-lived TV show “Commander in Chief”. It starred Geena Davis as the president of the United States. Did this show come to be because of strong women in American politics like Hillary Clinton? Did the show, however short-lived it was, help open the door for Hillary Clinton to run for the Democratic nomination by showing a woman in power and things not going straight to hell?

    Maybe. Maybe not. But I like to think what we consume in terms of pop culture plays a huge role in “real life”, which is one of the reasons I’m so disappointed with Pardo’s words.

  8. The biggest problem with Pardo’s (and Blizz’s) philosophy is that they do have an impact in the real world, whether they like it or not.

    But as you said, the thing that’s most troubling is that it would be so simple to fix the biggest gender issues: extend the armor all the way through the waistline, swap a few characters’ gender, and you’re done. Hell, until Mists dropped I bet more players thought the Blood Elf faction leader was Lady Liadrin than Lor’themar, and an easy write off could have made that permanent.

    Perception fuels reality. When no less a person than Martin Luther King Jr. contacts Nichelle Nichols and encourages her to stay on the cast of Star Trek because of the inspiration she is, you’d better believe that pop culture influences the real world.

    And let’s be honest here: Blizz (through Pardo) also said in that interview that narrative isn’t as important as fun and gameplay. For all of the lore people who would be up in arms over my suggestion to tweak genders a bit, Blizz effectively said that the game lore isn’t really important. (Which also explains their desire to not bother fixing Cataclysm inconsistencies, but I digress.) If the minor changes make the game more fun for a lot more people, why not do it?

  9. While I think the majority of points have been touched on by those who have commented, I felt like I needed to throw in my (probably unnecessary) two cents on the Hearthstone debate. All of the characters chosen for Hearthstone are clear indications of their class. Thrall uses lightning and totems, Malfurion is very clearly a druid, and so on. Each of them has a very strong parallel back to their WoW player class counterparts. From a marketing standpoint (not a social issue standpoint, mind you), for a new product, these characters are easily identifiable as that class.

    Tyrande as a priest does not work. She is not the usually “Shields and heals from the Light” priestess. Those that have not read the books (which, in themselves, have not done Tyrande any justice in the past) would probably not even associate her as a priestess. And, in all fairness, she isn’t your classic priest. She is a priestess of Elune. She doesn’t shield. She doesn’t heal. She is a warrior first and foremost. Her abilities (in both WoW and WC3) are all lunar and fire abilities. She has her owl. She has searing arrow. She has starfall. These are not priest abilities. In an ability-based card game, Tyrande would be the wild card deck if you used all of her abilities.

    As for Anduin’s inclusion – I suppose they just wanted to canonically debut him as a priest. Before his announcement in Hearthstone as the priest character, it was only speculated.

    Again, great post and I fully agree, even as a male. The female characters in WoW have been extremely harmed by certain viewpoints, with their strong female characters either being hushed or relegated to either crazy or Saturday morning, hand-wringing villains. But they are slowly being brought back, depending on the “gatekeeper.” In my opinion, Christie Golden took great lengths to repair the character of Tyrande with Warcrimes. She is a strong character not because she is someone’s love interest, but simply because she is, as are the Windrunner sisters and even Jaina, despite her pining over her man the entire book.

  10. Frankly I don’t want everything in my life be required to carefully tip-toe around everyone all the time. It’s exhausting for everyone.

    I try to be supportive of equality. I support gay marriage, I find the pay gap appalling, I think it is hilarious as I watch the far right alienate potential voters. But then I see how other want to be offended by every little thing. It’s like PETA once seemed like a good idea, then they went batshit crazy.

    I read what he said and found it really hard to conjure up some outrage for his statements. I guess for some people it is hard to believe that the topics for meetings about creating video games is actually about the video game and not “how can we make everyone feel warm and fuzzy?”

    No wonder people are hesitant to do interviews. You get two sentences and somehow you are waging a war on women when you say “we’re focused on video games at our video game company.”

    This conjured angriness is hilarious and I find it awfully hard to take any of it seriously.

  11. Good article. I may have misunderstood your response to Rades, but Garona is a woman.

  12. You know every comic book character (male and female) is pretty much guaranteed to be wearing the equivalent of a full body speedo. WoW is a comic like representation of a fantasy world, and there is plenty of non-tittalating armor and races and content. The majority in fact is just adrenalized Gears of War like story lines (especially with the upcoming WoD). So basically Pardo and company have made a world that appeals to what I believe is at least 80% of their customer base. Do you really fault them for that? Because reading some social commentary into what WoW is seems like a waste of effort to me. It is what it is, and it isn’t all that bad on any social scale.

  13. What I have been struggling with since reading the article is mainly this: How now shall I live? Blizzard is not going to suddenly reverse course and make equality and representation significant goals that they are going to strive for, even though they will get it wrong sometimes. Blizzard, in its billions of dollars, in its very unabashed boy’s clubhouse, is NOT going to change.

    So what do *I* do?

    Do I follow the path of people like Cynwise, who I deeply respect, and agree that this is a company that no longer merits my patronage? Do I walk away from a game that I still enjoy? Mist importantly, do I walk away from a very significant community of friends and guildmates, a community that introduced me to my husband and that embraces me as I embrace it?

    Or do I stay and put up with the continuing sexism, knowing FULL WELL that not is my femaleness decidedly unwelcome in the clubhouse, the people who are in a position to change that mentality have explicitly said that it is not an priority and it will never change. I am unwelcome. I always will be. Do I keep fighting, supporting the voices that say we can enjoy a game and still be critical of it in the hopes that one day it might make a difference?

    So do I stay or do I go? Blizzard will be supremely unaffected either way. How do I decide?

  14. More of my responses to various comments coming later this evening. In the meantime, this is what Cyclonus had to say (and was mistakenly flagged as spam):

    Hi Kurn,

    Thanks for the great post. I’ll be honest, this is a really hard topic for me. I’m 29, Male, and very much grew up playing sports, being parts of ‘boy’s clubs’, and video games. I might offend learned feminists in my ignorance, and as frustrating as it is to do so, and then try to explain my point of view/apologize, and most importantly I still continue to learn from those mistakes. I read someones above post “grow a pair” and cringe because I know I’ve used the same phrase on a raider I was pretty peeved at once. I believe a majority of guys I know use phrases like that, and seriously miss the fact that they’re contributing to the exact “social norms” you mentioned you were blind to growing up. I believe there definitely needs to be a sensitivity to this stuff, at least until there is actual equality. I know that this point is a gigantic discussion I’d fail miserably at.. so I’ll move on.

    I’m firmly in the camp of believing that in any community, whether it be a Sports team, Business, Guild, whatever, you need to have women present. Not just present, but making decisions. I run a guild in tandem with my GF, and we strive to raid at a heroic level, while not sacrificing on a moral level. I guess the prime example of the opposite is the raid leader who says “make a mistake and you’re out, or No Scrubs” in their oqueue group description. We try to raid in an environment your HR manager would approve of. People being treated fairly, coached, etc etc. I think its great. However, I have to admit, it wouldn’t exist in this manner if not for my GF being capable of getting through to my thick skull. I’m certain I’d be 14/14H last December and have had muted half the people I didn’t like to get it done.

    I wanted to highlight a few thoughts on your post.

    1. The Rob Pardo talk
    Rob was asked in that MITtalk by the author of the blog post. Who i’m pretty sure was visibly shaken by his response.
    The way I understood what Rob said was just said that Blizzard’s decision makers were a bunch of dudes, that grew up reading comics, and expected overly sexualized women. He also said that they didn’t want to use their game a podium for diversity.

    I think what’s missed is he admitted that they weren’t good at this stuff. That they failed at it. He specifically mentions the over-sexualization and says that they have to ‘catch themselves’ so they don’t make the same mistake. Perhaps this is one reason why the D3 Crusader Female is covered head to toe? He also mentioned that they would like a better gender distribution, but software developers are largely male, they just don’t get female applicants. And I bet their HR team is always looking for female talent. I work for a large software company, we have the same problem. HR is almost always female themselves from what I’ve seen too. I bet Blizz is the same.

    So while this doesn’t excuse that they have overly sexualized females, you have to also consider that some women want their character to be sexy. I have a couple I raid with, both the husband and wife play BELF Females, who are in the sluttiest transmogs i’ve ever seen. We sometimes joke that he is HER wife. So I think it’s important to note that some people enjoy this type of gear, so it should be an OPTION. And to be fair, they should probably make sure that the females who are prominent in the story telling aren’t 100% sexy? Maybe 50/50? Transmog allows you to mog into less revealing options, and not all of the armor sets are like that. So I don’t think its fair to rage that they exist, when they’ve given you plenty of alternatives.

    And finally, I wanted to cover the Hearthstone Heroes. This brings me back to the original point. Blizzard was a team of almost exclusively Male’s, when Warcraft was designed. It’s story was always left on the backburner, while they all focused on gameplay. This nearly all male team them created games that they thought were awesome, and wanted to play themselves. I think they definitely succeeded on all fronts, but they continue to have the problem Pardo mentioned. There isn’t enough female representation in the decision making process or they would have maybe caught that the gender disparity was so off. I think that the story is what they drew the characters from, and when given the options, they probably all chose their favorite characters from that story, to do it. That ‘Story’ didn’t change, its still the same one designed by that small team of dudes, so the strongest ties to characters are still to a majority of male characters. I think what we need is to introduce more prominent females going forward, that people can learn to love, then this would become a non-issue.

    Or, I mean, it is very possible that they won’t address this. That Epic experience might also mean they’ve got an Epic amount of Sex Appeal for the rest of ever. I wouldn’t mind that, but I’d prefer to have the rest of the scale too. If Alexstrazsa and team were a 10 on the Epic Sex Appeal scale for this sort of thing, they should really just include more characters inbetween. But, maybe that female Crusader model is a sign. I hope so.

  15. In regards to the Hunter hero in Hearthstone, I suspect Rexxar was chosen because he embodies the archetype of a hunter and their pet more strongly than Slyvannus. I don’t think there’s an argument over which one is cooler tho :p

  16. Also Kurn, you are quoting a lot of those statements out of context. Here’s an actual quote from Pardo which you seemed to not want to include for some reason:”There’s no maliciousness to it, but I’ll give you an example where I think sometimes we struggle is our portrayal of women in the game. Because most of our game developers are guys that grew up reading comic books, so what do they draw? They kinda draw oftentimes comic book looking women which is offensive, I think, to some women. It’s something that we sometimes have to actively catch ourselves and go, “wait, we need to not make our women characters wear armor that look like Xena or Sonya” or something like that sometimes.
    But it’s a struggle for us because the diversity within our workplace is unbalanced. And it’s not because we don’t want more women developers, it’s just what the industry is. If you look at the industry it is kind of like that, and it’s very hard to oftentimes, just use female game designers as an example because I hire game designers, I just don’t get the applications so it becomes challenging for us, I think.”

  17. Geez. Huge responses incoming.

    Redbeard – I think you’ve nailed it on the head right there. Blizzard’s representations of EVERYTHING have an impact in the real world. I mean, obviously, night elves, blood elves, etc, don’t exist, but they have males and females in WoW (and Hearthstone and their other properties) and they continue reflecting what are (in my mind) outdated ideas and ideals. It’s a fantasy game, as others have pointed out — why should the fantasy be mired in 20th century gender roles?

    Totally forgot about the MLK Jr. and Nichelle Nichols connection, although (as a Star Trek fan), I was aware of it. Excellent point. Hell, Star Trek alone has had a ton of influence on us: going to the moon, flip phones that resembled communicators, tablets that resemble PADDs… So yes, pop culture (and WoW is part of pop culture) can have a huge influence on society as a whole.

    I kind of laughed about the lore thing, but you have a point. That said, I don’t know that any lore needs to be tweaked so much as new lore should be created. I mean, it’s being created already, right? So while the story is developing, all they really need to do is make sure women are more visible and less subservient to their menfolk. ;)


    As to making the game more fun… it wouldn’t even make the game more fun for me. In that sense, I see what they mean about gameplay. It would, however, make me feel more comfortable playing a game where there is some decent representation of my gender.

    Jeddek – I will absolutely bow to your lore knowledge, because, honestly, I know nothing. I can see that Tyrande might not have been a great choice for a priest that is representative of the class. I really had no idea beyond the fact that she was a priestess of Elune. (I levelled my hunter in Teldrassil, after all!) Further, I do like Anduin quite a bit (certainly more than his idiot father), plus he’s Alliance so I was actually pleased to see him as the priest hero. Especially with the understanding that Tyrande might not be as representative of Anduin, I’m okay with that.

    Thrall, that’s kind of a no-brainer, I totally agree. He’s sort of the shaman poster-boy.

    I don’t read the books, but I’m pleased to hear that Tyrande’s character, at least in your opinion, is doing better in that arena than one might have thought. :)

    Thanks so much for your comment!

    TemporaryAccount – Hey, thanks for the comment. Before I go further, I just wanted to remind you that there is a comment policy in place here (http://kurn.apotheosis-now.com/?page_id=990) and that though I approved your comment, it was kind of borderline for me and continuing down the path you started (of believing that this is “conjured” and “hard to take seriously”) will just result in my removing your permission to post. I’d rather not do that, though, because I really do enjoy actual discussion on various topics! :)

    Let’s go through your comment.

    Frankly I don’t want everything in my life be required to carefully tip-toe around everyone all the time. It’s exhausting for everyone.

    I totally understand that. Always double-checking if what you’re saying or writing is okay and not going to offend others is absolutely exhausting and tiring. That said, I feel as though there’s a difference between tip-toeing around and just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment before saying stuff. Examining one’s own position within various social structures as compared to others is challenging at first, but becomes easier with time. That’s what I think people should be held accountable for. We don’t all succeed, but even the attempt is something that I value when people stumble in that journey.

    I try to be supportive of equality. I support gay marriage, I find the pay gap appalling, I think it is hilarious as I watch the far right alienate potential voters. But then I see how other want to be offended by every little thing. It’s like PETA once seemed like a good idea, then they went batshit crazy.

    I’m really glad you’re supportive of equality and gay marriage while being opposed to the glass ceiling and, frankly, Republicans. ;) While I can’t personally speak to PETA, I think I get where you’re coming from — you’re okay with pushing for a cause, but only to a point and beyond that point you feel it gets kind of ridiculous, right? I’ve got the same thing happening here in my home province of Québec. At the risk of boring you with Québec politics, I’ll just say that for decades, Montreal was a very English city and the English were the ones with the money. In the 60s and 70s, changes happened as French people became more educated and less reliant on the church (wow, am I ever glossing over things, please forgive me) and those concerned with the survival of the French Canadian culture in Québec, particularly in a very English Montreal, formed a political party whose goal was to have Québec secede from Canada.

    Though that was their ultimate goal (and yes, that party still exists, and yes, they still want to secede), the rest of the platform really had a lot to do with reinforcing the use of the French language here.

    Separation aside, the conservation of the French language sounds good to me, even though I’m half-English and half-French. I have no desire to see French vanish from Montreal.

    But it’s gotten to the point where signs in Montreal must be in French and if they are bilingual, the French signs must be twice as prominent (either in size or number) as the English. It’s gotten to the point where, unless your parents were educated in English, you must go to a French-language school (unless that school receives no provincial funding). It’s kind of nuts when you think about it. What started out as a desire to preserve the French language and culture in my province has turned into this absolutely crazy movement filled with people who want to separate from the rest of Canada and who hate English and English speakers with a passion.

    So I get what you’re saying when you say that something “once seemed like a good idea, then they went batshit crazy” because I live in a province that pretty much is batshit crazy at times.

    However, in this situation with WoW and Blizzard’s ideas and ideals, I don’t think we’re at the batshit crazy point. I think we’re at the point where we keep saying “seriously, Blizz? WTF?” and each time Blizz (or a representative of Blizzard) does something not-quite-okay, it keeps adding to the pile. There’s a pile of stuff that Blizzard has done or voiced that I am not okay with and it would be REALLY nice to see them recognize that failure. Pardo says that they have trouble with the representation of women because they don’t have a ton of women designers and developers. There are other ways of helping to fix those representations apart from just having female devs — get designs and such audited by external people, with an eye towards inclusion, just for example. Like “here, look at these, tell us what might not fly”. Or even sensitivity training (disclaimer: no idea if they do any of this already). Whatever it is they do now, though, if they do anything, isn’t really working, or Hearthstone wouldn’t have launched with 2 of 9 heroes being women instead of 3-4.

    I guess for some people it is hard to believe that the topics for meetings about creating video games is actually about the video game and not “how can we make everyone feel warm and fuzzy?”

    For me, it’s not about feeling warm and fuzzy, not at all. I care more about mechanics and gameplay than anything else, or I wouldn’t have stuck with WoW and Blizzard for as long as I have. Their games are genuinely fun to play! However, one can be socially responsible without compromising the gameplay and the mechanics. Period. Game models could look like stick figures as long as they still worked the same way. So why overly sexualize the women? Why design armor for them that is so impractical and, worse, looks different on a male model? There’s no reason for that. My personal default setting is to attempt to treat people equally and, as a multi-billion dollar earning company, I think Blizzard has an obligation to try to do the same thing.

    No wonder people are hesitant to do interviews. You get two sentences and somehow you are waging a war on women when you say “we’re focused on video games at our video game company.”

    Truthfully, though, that’s not all he said. He said that their values don’t really focus on inclusion and socially progressive ideas and content. They’re not trying to actively do that. “We’re kids at heart […] not trying to bring in serious stuff or social relevent stuff or actively try to preach for diversity”. He says it’s not malicious, but then says that they have problems with representations of women because it’s essentially an echo chamber among the designers since there’s not much diversity there. (And he says it’s because he doesn’t get applications from women but like I said, there are other ways around not having in-house designers to go “uh, yeah, NO.”)

    The question I’m left with is “why, during the design and development of your games and, specifically, the narratives of your games, do you not stop to think about what the underlying message is here with regards to (for example) women? Gay players? Players who aren’t white?” He clearly didn’t JUST say “we’re focused on video games at our video game company”.

    This conjured angriness is hilarious and I find it awfully hard to take any of it seriously.

    And that’s the … well, I don’t want to say that’s the problem, because it’s not. But it’s symptomatic of a greater problem in society. When people of, in this case, any gender looks at Blizzard’s repertoire of work and doesn’t see the very male-dominated, male-heavy, overly-sexualized women as a problem, that’s problematic in and of itself. IMHO. I don’t think it’s malicious on anyone’s part at this point, but I do think it’s somewhat naive to say that the disappointment and anger some people feel about this is “conjured” and, therefore, baseless. I see the base and others don’t and, well, that’s part of why I’m writing about it. :)

    Shayed – I know so little about lore. I honestly thought Garona was a dude. My bad! (Rades – my bad to you as well!)

    Oldschool2112 – You had three separate comments, so I’ll address them all here.

    So basically Pardo and company have made a world that appeals to what I believe is at least 80% of their customer base. Do you really fault them for that?

    Well, first, I’d argue those numbers. Based on some quick googling and stats, you’re looking at roughly 45% women and 55% men who play WoW (honestly, I would think it’s closer to 50/50 by now — the gender gap has been closing over the years). So do I fault them for consistently making decisions that can potentially alienate 40-50% of their players? Sure can. :)

    Because reading some social commentary into what WoW is seems like a waste of effort to me. It is what it is, and it isn’t all that bad on any social scale.

    It’s not awful. There are much worse examples in popular culture as a whole, this is true. However, everything has relevence when it comes to its effects on society. Everything. Mass media is, to quote from Wikipedia, “the means for delivering impersonal communications directed to a vast audience. […] Since mass media has enormous effects on our attitudes and behavior, notably in regards to aggression, it is an important contributor to the socialization process.” It goes on to quote Denis McQuail: “[…] the media can teach norms and values by way of symbolic reward and punishment for different kinds of behavior as represented in the media. An alternative view is that it is a learning process whereby we all learn how to behave in certain situations and the expectations which go with a given role or status in society.”

    And that is why it is disappointing to hear that representational diversity and social progression and inclusion aren’t part of Blizzard’s values. Their games reach millions and millions of people and they’re reinforcing the status quo by making Warlords “a boy’s trip”, by including a couple of female heroes essentially as tokens in Hearthstone. Society as a whole IS affected by media, whether it’s TV or radio or video games, and they have the ability to help make a difference in the world with just tiny, small, little adjustments. And yet they don’t. That’s what’s so disappointing.

    As to the quotes, I was taking the quotes from the article, but I’ve since seen the video and, honestly, I have pretty much the same reaction as I did beforehand. It doesn’t change all that much. Here’s the video. Take a look:


    And, with regards to Cynwise, I have no idea what image you’re talking about because, hate to break it to you, Cynwise is a man.

    Finally, I’ll remind you of my comment policy. You’re free to disagree as long as you do so politely. You’re teetering on the edge there, so please ensure the discussion remains civil. Thanks! :)

    Kialesse – At first, I thought you were being sarcastic with “how now shall I live?”! I’m glad to see that’s not the case and that you’re now honestly wondering what to do. Honestly, I can’t tell you what to do. I’m not quitting over this, but I’m having trouble finding the passion in the game that I once used to have and that’s completely unrelated to this kerfuffle. I think we all have to do what we feel is right. If you’re still enjoying the game, keep playing. If you feel that being outspoken about these views and so-called values is right for you, more power to you. If you feel that the overall community isn’t reflective of Blizz, that’s cool. I think we all just need to do what feels right to us. I’m okay with taking advantage of the “epic gameplay” for now, but, along with a lot of other missteps they’ve made, I won’t forget this. It’s piling up and, one day, Blizzard won’t see another penny from me. And I know it doesn’t matter if one person quits or even if 1000 people quit over this, that it’s just a drop in the bucket to them, but if I DO get to that point, I’ll walk away feeling as though I’ve done the right thing by not personally supporting a company that doesn’t deserve my patronage.

    Good luck in whatever you choose. :)

    Cyclonus – First of all, thank you so much for persisting in getting your comment to me by posting it on pastebin when my site thought you were a spammer and thank you for tweeting me about it!

    Regarding “grow a pair” and such, hey, we’ve ALL used terms and phrases like that. I’ve said things like “be a man” or “man up” and any number of other things implying that to act like a male is better than acting like a female. I completely agree that more sensitivity is needed for everyone about these things (and other things, like the casual use of the word “rape”, like using “gay” in the pejorative sense). You’re a 29 year old guy who does think about this — that’s awesome. Wish more people gave it more thought.

    LOVE the way you and your GF run your guild. It’s very much how I used to run Apotheosis and I totally agree about how different it is when a woman is helping to make decisions. I don’t think I could ever be in a guild run by all guys again, unless they were determined to run it in the way I ran my guild or you run yours. But, as you say, the chances of that happening without a woman helping to point the way are kind of slim. Props to your GF for pushing you in that direction and props to you for recognizing its value.

    I hear you regarding Pardo admitting they weren’t good at this stuff, but Tikari (currently the raid leader in Apotheosis) said this on Twitter about that: If they know they’re ignorant, what they need to do is proactively address it. Hire someone to drive that change.

    And, as I said above, it doesn’t even need to be a dev or a designer. Get a consultant! Get ten of them! Focus groups! There are lots of ways to get feedback. It doesn’t have to stay in the echo chamber.

    As to “sexy” and many women enjoying that facet… It’s true, lots of women out there like the skimpy outfits. I gotta say that I don’t really understand it beyond them wanting to indulge in fantasy. I mean, I want my character to be strong, I want her to be bad-ass. So I try to avoid overly “sexy” transmog outfits and such. There should not be any reason that sexy doesn’t mean strong (look at Xena!) but there are so few examples of sexy meaning strong that I interpret “sexy” as… well, sort of opting out of being strong. That’s my read, that’s my take and that’s why my characters cover up. ;) The bigger problem is that the armor is a double standard as it behaves completely differently on a male character. Equality would have them being “sexy” on both genders and I’d be down for that — although I still would pick Lightforge any day of the week. ;)

    I think what we need is to introduce more prominent females going forward, that people can learn to love, then this would become a non-issue.

    Totally agree about it being the same story written by the same small group of like-minded dudes. Absolutely. And this bit I quoted… I don’t think it would be a non-issue, but I think it would help quell concerns IMMENSELY.

    I hadn’t seen the female Crusader model, because I don’t play D3, but after some googling, that’s great. Hopefully someone realized that a shield-bearing character is likely to get hit with damage and figured that ACTUAL ARMOR should, you know, LOOK LIKE ARMOR. ;)

    Thanks so much for your comment, Cyclonus!

    All – I’ve edited the post above to add a link to the video of the response that led to the article. It’s worth watching, even if it didn’t change my mind.

  18. Pardo’s ” we are a load of middle-aged white guys and don’t really understand what women think” nonsense, don’t they have wives? Just such a poor excuse…

    As far as gear that ‘on males they are fully clothed and on females they are half naked’ is concerned, I totally agree that it’s wrong; if there are variations then we should at least be able to choose which version we wear.

    Aside from that, it’s MY choice what I want my transmog to appear as. On my warlock I added a shirt to cover up her chest, as I felt it was far too exposed (the armory picture doesn’t really show it so I won’t bother to link it) and similarly on my Blood Elf, I also chose a shirt to cover up her bare midriff, but I also chose some leggings for her that show the tops of her thighs, as I think they suit the rest of her transmog. It’s not practical battle armour, no. I chose this outfit to look nice rather than as something to wear in battle. That is up to me.


    That doesn’t make my Paladin a slut and my Warlock pure and chaste. I really think we have to get away from this mode of thinking, both in-game and in real life. The skimpiness of my clothes or otherwise does not give anyone the right to judge me as being a ‘good’ girl or a ‘bad’ girl whatsoever.

  19. Well thank you for putting up with my borderline trollish responses, and also for the thoughtful replies. It just goes to show that everyone’s perception is different. I found the entire dialogue from Pardo and company a very humble acknowledgement that yeah, they are more influenced by comic books, because frankly, they’re a bunch of guys. But once again, looking at the entirety of WoW content – besides a couple armor pieces, they have nothing on Asian MMO culture.

    My issue really is with a troll blog article (the quoted one, not yours!) with lots of out of context quotes designed to skew reader reaction to a particular conclusion. It’s the cnn/fox affect that is influencing every facet of American society and it’s evil IMO.

    Anyways, don’t stop podcasting! I listen to them and love hearing people talk about WoW even though I don’t play anymore : )

  20. I found that article through Rades, and completely agree with your assessment too, Kurn. Personally, it’s the final nail in the coffin – I’ve been less than impressed by Blizzard’s writing, marketing and design philosophy over the last year or two, and this confirmation that they are not willing to change has meant I’m now looking for a new MMO home. I thought they might have caught on after the whole Ji Firepaw incident in MoP beta, but between the Warlords announcement, the April Fool’s Draenai “joke”, and now this, it seems they really don’t care. It looks like they will react very quickly to very specific instances of problematic design or writing, but larger picture issues – no matter how easy to fix or note for the future – are just ignored.

    As to Oldschool and people with similar arguments: The “troll blog article” includes a link to the talk Why Women Don’t Want To Work In Games (And Other Myths), which explains exactly WHY Pardo’s hand-wringing about “we can’t fiiiiiind any women designers!” is such a bullshit cop-out.

    For the record, The Secret World is the absolute best example of equality in MMOs so far. The contemporary setting might have something to do with it, but it goes to show that it doesn’t take much effort to be inclusive. They have done a stellar job of including both male and female NPCs, with all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. A huge range of female character types are present as well, from the tough old shotgun-toting grandma protecting her land, to the young, incredibly intelligent and overly enthusiastic “Men in Black”-style agent, to the seductively manipulative gold-digger, to the frightened young teen barely in control of her powers. And that’s just in the first region. It makes the immersion so much richer and more enjoyable.

    Sorry for the ramble. It really bugs me when people have opinions and arguments that are addressed in the article itself but choose to ignore it.

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