Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We Should Be Able to Talk

This piece is about the discussion---or lack thereof---in the wake of the Blizzard Watch article "Does the Warcraft movie have a problem with women?" If you're not interested, turn back now!

We've had a rough history, we humans. A perpetually out-of-balance history, when it comes to our relations. Those with power, and those without. Those with wealth, and those without. Those with rights, and those without. We are the child of that history. The love, pain, heartache, triumphs, struggles and losses of the past---those are all imprinted into our collective DNA whether we're aware of it as individuals or not.

We're drawn to see the world as we imagine it to be---and much of that is based on our own personal experiences. But one human's experience doesn't do justice to how things really are---it can't. Our time spent here is over in a beat, and much of that experience for most people takes place in a relatively tiny bubble. It's not easy to grasp our diversity, and the sheer will and sacrifice it took humanity to get where it is. We especially have it easy in this time of interconnectedness and relative prosperity---I'm assuming, since you're a gamer and reading this. And because of our technological advances, we're in a better position to both understand and talk about our history with one another than we ever have been.

The thoughts above came to mind after reading Elizabeth Harper's Blizzard Watch article titled "Does the Warcraft movie have a problem with women?" and spending time reading the comments it began to generate. The article was well-constructed and it was obvious Harper spent a good deal of time putting it together. Unsurprisingly, I cannot say the same about the majority of responses, both on-site and in my social media circle.

It doesn't pay to refute those who say that the article's main purpose was website hits; they've adopted a belief that fits their worldview. It doesn't pay to refute folks who say "I've never seen a problem," because they've decided based on their experience there isn't a problem at all---or at least, if the problem doesn't affect the perceived majority, it isn't one. It doesn't pay to refute the hyperbolic, name-callers, and slippery-slopers who seem to fear something they can't articulate on. I'm mostly done with that battle, but I'm never going to leave where I stand up in the air.

How women are represented in-game? That's on Blizzard. How women are treated in-game? That's mostly on us, the players. It's not surprising that women up until recently have often filled the roles of love interests, fodder for other characters or sex symbols. That's largely the role they've occupied in the entertainment industry in the past. But as we grow as a planet and learn more about one another and our history, stratified gender roles continue to crumble. Slowly, but surely, this will be reflected in our culture. It is changing, but that journey has not ended. It can take time to notice a problem in what has always been considered the norm.

If there's one thing we know about the past, it's that we get a lot of shit wrong. It's up to future generations to fix it, like we saw recently with same-sex marriage. Let's not forget less than 100 years ago, women didn't even have the right to vote. Up until the 60s, and arguably much later, women were expected to be homemakers---an ugly notion that still lives on today and seen all too often. Where do you think "go make me a sandwich" comes from?

Sexism is a problem in World of Warcraft both on the company side and the player side, but that's largely because they're both products of a sexist society.

The fact that the entire Warcraft universe was created by mostly men doesn't bother me; I don't see it as a good or a bad thing. It just is. However, I can also understand how the mechanisms of sexism in our society manifest themselves, unconsciously even, in the creations of a group of college-aged guys. While Blizzard are less creators and innovators, those guys were simply going off of what had been imprinted on them by their experiences in life---life within an advanced, industrialized male-dominated society. It would be astounding if sexism wasn't noticeable in WoW given its origins.

Things won't change overnight. It'd be naive to think they would. But they also won't be changed if they are ignored. If there are customers who would like to feel better represented and welcomed in even something as seemingly insignificant as a game world, they should be free to express their feelings. When it comes to players and how they treat one another in game? I can't solve that one, only do my part. But it's on all of us.

Sexism in Warcraft may not be noticeable to you, or it may not be a problem for you. But we still need to be willing to talk about this stuff with calm, open minds. Without hyperbole and baseless accusations. And that takes effort. Especially when it takes empathy and possibly requires us to look at a not-so-flattering aspect of ourselves. Our society. Our norms. But I can't convince anyone to act or see it any differently. I just think we should be able to talk.

I'm going to keep doing my own thing, with the hope that those hindering debate---consciously or not---will one day come to better understanding.


  1. I think you nailed it in the title, we should be able to talk about this. And you are right, the lack of ability to discuss this is almost as bad as the problem itself.

    Harper's example of sexism in gaming may not have been the strongest one we have, since we know so little about the movie. And that can be a semi-reasonable, small point to raise. There is a lot we don't know yet. But of what we do know, there's enough of a starting point to raise the topic and point out the issues that are there.

    It is that response that proves her point and yours.

  2. "It is the response to that, which proves her point and yours"