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Thursday, April 17, 2014

[WoW] The Ladies of Draenor, or "Don't judge us just yet!"

Back at Blizzcon people were highly critical about how female characters would be treated in Warlads of Dudemore when its primary advertising had a solid 1:1 X-Y chromosome ratio. But wait, Blizzard assured us, there will be meaningful female characters, just wait and see! They made vague promises about a Draenei warrior named Yrel, but aside from a name we got precious little.

So we waited, and we hoped, and we speculated…

[WoD Spoilers ahead]

Joan of Karabor

Then the alpha began and sure enough information about the story started leaking like a Goblin ship. We learned that n the “real” timeline Yrel was the lover of Maraad who was “defiled” and killed by orcs. In the new timeline, players rescue her from enslavement by the Iron Horde. She helps the players fight off the Iron Horde at Karabor, and during the storyline will once more fall in love with Maraad. From what we know, at the end of the questline, due to tragic events, she is alienated from Maraad and loses her desire to remain in Draenor.*

So we find her as a damsel in distress and then her primary character development (based on the summary we have) is related to her being emotionally alienated from one man and losing another. Did no one at Blizzard think people might be bothered by that? The character we were told to keep a lookout for, the reason we were supposed to stay calm despite a a testosterone charged cast of dudebro, is going to be a female character with the same tropes we've already seen in Warcraft a dozen times. 

The worst part about her treatment is that they could have told the same interesting story without relying on those tropes. We could have run into Yrel as she was fighting to rescue other Draenei, rather than being a damsel herself. She could have had a strong, but non-romantic, relationship with Maraad that leads to a division of views between them. Her choice to leave Draenor could have been motivated by sadness at the loss of so many of her people. That's the sort of motivation we get for most male characters in Warcraft, but if we have a female character suddenly it has to be romantically motivated.

Get out of that armor and into the kitchen

We might have forgiven Blizzard for Yrel, damsel-ing and defining their female characters by the male ones is par for Blizzard’s course. It's not like they've gotten worse...turns out they did. As the alpha was explored a particular piece of dialogue pops up elsewhere. An orc actually says, "Draka ... come join me in the Iron Horde. Lose that armor and settle down with a REAL MAN," to Draka, Thrall’s mother. Now let’s remember something, Draka has always been portrayed as the pinnacle of badass. She started as a sickly child that no one thought would live and built herself into a formidable warrior that was the peer of Durotan.

Unless that statement is immediately followed by the orc’s friends looking really confused and the speaker getting an axe to the junk, then it is the complete opposite of how Blizzard has treated orc women in the past. Orc women have been among the few women Blizzard treats well. We see female orc soldiers alongside male ones; we never got any inkling that they were not considered just as tough and dangerous as the men. Then we get a sudden “back in the kitchen!” statement from an orc and the others seem to go along with it as if it's the norm.

“But wait until you see it all!”

Let me stop you right there. I am tired of the bullshit. You don’t get the beginning benefit of the doubt to silence criticism only to continuously prove that the critics were right on the money. There was a promise that things would improve, that our criticisms would be put at ease if we just waited a little longer, and what ended up happening was the exact thing people were afraid of. Your player base is growing up, they're realizing that there are better narratives out there than WoD's testosterone romp through Broville, but the response is that they'll throw a token female character (that doesn't even make the advertising material) using the same tropes they did in Warcraft 3.

We all know the Warcraft setting does have some well written, badass women, but more often than not they only show up in obscure quests, comics, books, and other side-materials. Please for the love of the Light put the spotlight on them for once. And stop pretending this is 1990 and that we can't retcon backasswards stories from the "lol girls get -4 strength" era.

* Paging Dr. Bechdel, Paging Dr. Bechdel to the writer’s room please.


  1. I've never played WoW myself, but... omg, the "lose that armor" part is awful.

  2. Eh, the Draka thing sounds like it is said by an antagonist, someone the players are meant to take in aversion. To me, that's just giving the players another reason to dislike/disapprove of the guy, since they side with Draka.

    It would be a totally different story if it was Durotan who says that line. Just like "Hush, Tyrande" is bad primarily because it is said by Malfurion, who should know better.

  3. You woman-loving fiend. Once the kitchen door is truly open, we'll never get them back in there. It's Pandora's Box all over again, but sandwiches are at stake. SANDWICHES - the lifeblood a good warrior!

    You should be ASHAMED of yourself.

  4. Love your wit. It's always on-time. Great write up and sorry I was late reading. I'm catching up on my blogs this weekend.

    On topic, the reason I'm disappointed with WoD is because this is exactly the parts of the lore I really, really enjoy. To see them ham it up shows a lack of ...growth. I can tell all the men who started Blizzard still sees themselves as young men and they still think like they did 20 years ago. That's never a sign of good. My expectations have been lowered accordingly. I don't suspect they will grow into better storytelling. I actually feel bad for Metzen. Sometimes I swear I see someone who's going along to get along, even though he has his own issues. I think if he were around the right kind of people, his storytelling would improve.