Monday, September 21, 2009

Blizzard makes an effort of gender neutrality

We never get tired of discussing gender issues in WoW, do we? More than once have I stated that I don’t see much of discrimination of women in the WoW community. I sincerely believe that we are and should be looked upon as players like anyone else. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because of this I’ve consciously avoided discussing gender perspectives too often and too lengthy, since I have a theory that we reinforce the prejudices and injustices there may be by constantly bringing them into light. Other bloggers have a different approach and they have my full respect.

The best post I’ve ever seen in this genre was the one by Sydera from the beginning of August this year, Archetypes of the female gamer revisited. She really sparked a debate with that one, and her replies to the objections some of the readers had are just as read worthy as the post in itself.

The most recent commentary in this field was at Righteous Orbs the other week, where Chasity pointed out how odd it is that the frog kissing in Grizzly Hills results in a princess appearing. Why not a prince, as the classic fairy tale says? Was this possibly because players are assumed to be male, and male players would feel uncomfortable kissing a guy, since they don’t want to appear gay?

I don’t deny that it’s pretty easy to spot stereotypical thinking in the design of the world as well as some of the quests in WoW. It’s there and it’s no more, no less than in real life. Sometimes it goes a little bit too far (anyone remember the playboy associating bunny quest at Easter?) but most of the time it doesn’t bother me. Hey, after all, I’m a complete sucker for The Lord of the Rings, and there you can really speak of and outdated view on men and women!

Quote of Gostcrawler
You could wonder if the people at Blizzard consciously think about and discuss gender issues. And as a matter of fact I think they do. Last week a sentence at MMO Champion caught my attention. It was a quote in a blue post, where Ghostcrawler answered some question about tanking:

He wrote:
“It only gets to be a problem, in our minds, if the OT is such a liability on single-tank fights that she gets swapped out for another rogue or whatever.”
Did you notice? It’s just one letter, one single little “s” that he has added, but yet it says so much. Ghostcrawler refers to the imagined offtank as a “she”, which actually shows that he has higher ambitions than I have in this field. I normally don’t bother even to write “he/she” when I’m writing about a non-determined gender in third person, I normally go for a “he”, it seems appropriate since I expect a majority of the players to be masculine after all.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ghostcrawler’s decision to label the tank as a “she” is deliberate. And actually I think it makes a difference in the long run. At a subconscious level, the way we speak about things affects the stereotypes – by reinforcing them or challenging them.

Maybe at some point in the future we will refer to tanks as “she”, as naturally as we now expect healers to be female. We’re not quite there yet. But one thing is clear: Blizzard definitely makes an effort.


Klepsacovic said...

No no no, you're doing it all wrong. You're supposed to be outraged that the only female is the offtank. This is clearly a subtle indicator that MT is a male's job.

Or more likely, GC is in a guild with a female OT so that's what comes to mind.

Elnia said...

And I woulnd't confuse what GC writes with what Blizzard thinks. Sometimes GC does represent the views of the developers at Blizzard. But the pronoun choice in a sentence is an awfully slim reed to hang your hat on.

Anonymous said...

I remember back when we were playing Vampire (the tabletop RPG), White Wolf actually had an editorial policy that writers should switch the gender of the pronouns every paragraph.

People complained that it was confusing and nonsensical. But I always got a kick from seeing them use generic examples and referring to the player or GM as she. I would never have said it was necessary or even noticed if it wasn't there, but I don't think guys realise how much it can mean to us.

Rhii said...

Interestingly, one of the very next posts at Righteous Orbs (after the one you mentioned) was about whether male-toon healers are treated differently than female-toon healers, and the discussion led into whether there's a presumption that tanks are "masculine" and healers are "feminine".

Odd that the quote you mentioned refers to a "she" tank, when we were just saying that often other players call my tanking toon a "he" by default, just because she's tanking.

scrusi said...

This is actually a pretty common method to avoid gender neutrality issues without defacing your text with ugly concoctions like "s/he" or even "him/rself."

I use it on my own blog, simply to avoid annoying anyone. To put it bluntly, guys don't care which pronoun I use and those girls that do care will be happy with a "she". I wouldn't be surprised of GC/Blizzard employed a similar policy.

Olga said...

I was surprised by that post on Righteous Orbs just because in the tale that i know, here, in Russia (and i think that it's the same for countries in eastern Europe), frog was female.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that pretty much random use of "he" or "she" is becoming more widespread. I hate the ugliness of s/he, but I think it makes a small difference if people are willing to acknowledge that "she" can be as gender-neutral as "he."

Although ... *frivolity on* ... it very much seems to me that Ghostcrawler is pointing out the off-tank sucks ... because she's a woman ... who should be,y'know, healing and washing up. ;)

Stabs said...

I think Spinks has nailed it - I'm sure Ghostcrawler is using she as a generic pronoun.

It's just a grammatical style essentially but it also makes a pro-equality point so good for the Crab.

Dw-redux said...

I remember reading the manual when i first installed the game (God that was a long time ago, and also, i guess that makes me a looooooser.. reading a manual and all), and i remember the description of the different classes often switching genders :)

Vigorless fragmentary said...

"..since I have a theory that we reinforce the prejudices and injustices there may be by constantly bringing them into light."

while i respect your opinion, i've never understood that point of view of yours. frankly it disappoints me every time you say it as i usually find your reflections of the world wide-layered and critical.
how can you as a female citizen that enjoys the rare social and economic equality of the north-european states be of the opinion that 'ignoring a problem makes it go away'? it's like saying all those women that have fought and suffered immensely for a change in women rights throughout the history of mankind should have rather just shut up than keep being needles in the flesh of their patriarchist and mysoginist contemporary societies. while today you enjoy the fruits of their labours and should continue to do so for your next generation.

the issue was/is there and is a reality. nothing changes at all if we just keep our eyes and mouths shut - it's the worst we can do. as a blogger you would know this best.
so to me it seems you are just too afraid of the topic and the reactions it might cause.

Larísa said...

@klepsacovic: hm... is it such a big difference between a tank and an OT? I never thought about it that way tbh. A tank is a tank. As far as I can see they normally take turns. Interesting theory that GC might be playing with a female tank.

@Elnia: Haha, I admit that an "s" is indeed a VERY tiny evidence, not enough to build any huge theories about the gender thinking at Blizzard. It was just meant as a smallish observation.

@Spinksville: yeah, I can't help getting a little kick out of it. It's silly, but I guess it's a matter of being recognized for our existense...

@Rhii: yeah, I'm as prejudiced as anyone else. I wrote a rant about it a while ago too, the strangeness in why we stereotypical think of tanking as a male duty. It isn't. We just need new metaphores. Thinking of the tank as a protective bear mother or the healer as a brave field surgeon...

@Scrusi: Hm... I haven't thought about using it myself. Tbh it doesn't come natural to me. But if you're in an offical position at a company I think it's a good thing to have such policies. It's a way of positioning where you are in those matters.

@Olga: Really? Same story, different genders. Interesting.

@Tamarind: haha, you're right. I didn't notice. I only saw the "she", I didn't read what it was about. But I'm pretty sure he didn't use it just because it was about a bad tank...

@Stabs: well... I think still you need to take position, make a conscious effort to start to use "she" in stead of he. So kudos for Blizzard.

@Dw-redux: really? I have no memory of that. But then the pocket book was rather overwhelming to me - in spite of it's rather shallow content...

@Vigorless fragmentary: well, I may be wrong, but I think that it's about how we view ourselves. If women keep looking upon themselves as victims, I think the risk is bigger that we'll remain so. I've been raised to take it for granted that I would be treated just like anyone else, that there wasn't any difference between the genders in what possiblities you had in the world to make your dreams come true. I've never reflected over that my gender would be any hinderence. I've stepped right into the circles of power. And until this day no one has questioned it. I believe in the power of thoughts. Mental training can make miracles. But if you keep thinking about how you're a victim, focusing on injustices, I think that there is a risk that those will persist rather than fade away.
I may be wrong though!!! I'm not a genious, mind you.. :) I think Sydera had a great deal of good points when she pointed out that those who say "I'm not a feminist but..." really are feminists. I felt targeted. Maybe I'm much more of a feminist than I think.

River said...

How hard would it be to put in variable for the frog princess

If toon is male then frog is female, if toon is female frog is male.

I could do that in C++ for the devs if they want.

Anywho, I think GC should of used a gender neutral pronoun like IT :)

Anonymous said...

if Olga and I are thinking of the same story, then the story itself was not exactly the same :P in the story that I remember from my childhood - three brothers were supposed to find a wife forthemselves, by shooting an arrow ina farily random direction. I don't remember specifics, but older brother found a rich wife and middle brother found and even richer wife, while the youngest - often known in Russian fairytales as a fool - sent his arrow into a swamp where a frog caught it. since a promise is a promise - the young brother marries a frog, t find out eventually that she's a princess that was cursed by an evil magician. Of course once they sort everything out and get rid of the evil curse for good - they live happily ever after :)

but also, as far as I know - this spin on the fairytale is more common in eastern Europe. I don't think I've ever read a western European version where a frog was anything but a prince (but admitedly, there are gaps in my reading >_>)


Dw-redux said...

@ river
Last time I did that quest, anyone could kiss that princess when she popped up.
AND you are not thinking about the gay audience in that equation either.

This is, like Lar said, Blizzard being afraid of pushing their male audience away. I just love it when they patronize us like that. Don't you?

firespirit said...

It is very much my experience that people (and developers are subject to this too :) tend to lay out gender roles that they are most familliar with.

GC probably has a female OT in his main raiding guild (hey, I do as well - Two to be exact).

We Fly Spitfires said...

I'm pretty bad at the gender equality thing and usually stick my foot in my mouth before I think so I'll just say that I agree that it's great Blizzard being very concious about it all.

Kyosei said...

Slightly random comment about the frog kissing quest. I mostly thought they made it turn out to be female mostly to keep with the theme of the whole "Lady in the Lake" motif all the sword quests had. King Arthur baby. Not necessarily the idea of men feeling uncomfortable kissing guys. Though it's a perspective I hadn't thought of.

Larísa said...

@River: hm... so the tank is an "it"?
Perhaps if it's a DK?

@Leah: more fairy tales, yay! Thanks for sharing.

@Dw-redux: hm... it becomes rather complicated, doesn't it, if you want to please all possible references. Maybe we should make a decision once we start playing wow: tick a couple of box - "gay or hetero, female or male". And then npcs will appear as females or males accordingly... ;)

@Firespirit: are you certain Ghostcrawler is raiding in his spare time?

@We Fly Spitfires: awww Gordon. You're a bit afraid of my wrath after my telling you off for that costume pictures, aren't you?

@Kyosei: yeah, that could as well be the reason.

merus said...

I've noticed in a lot of video game design literature that players are very commonly referred to as 'she'. I assumed that Ghostcrawler was following that convention.

Michael said...

Ah, but you forget... we get swords from 3 maidens. It's not that the Princess is a frog when it should be a prince, but rather that a maiden in distress (in zul'drak, in howling fjord, in grizzly hills) gives us a sweet blade for freeing her (or flowers, cause chicks dig flowers)