[Thanks to Misanthropology 101 for first bringing this topic to my attention.]
World of Warcraft landed itself in some minor controversy yesterday. Some of the idle NPC dialogue in their latest patch features two male orcs discussing the attractiveness of a particular female orc in a way that is…let’s say “less than sophisticated.” The exact dialogue in question is as follows:
“Oh, look at her over there. She’s be- beautiful. A perfect 10!”
“A 10? Ha! Maybe in Razor Hill. In Orgrimmar she’d only be a 6.”
Unsurprisingly, several people took issue with this, several other people took issue with them, and the whole thing resulted in a ten-page-long forum thread discussing and arguing about the issue. Blizzard’s forum mods then fanned the flames further by deleting the entire thread without explanation, which is just below “actively support SOPA” in terms of ways to antagonize the internet. Fortunately, some of the actual devs were contacted by a few prominent community members via Twitter, and quickly hotfixed the dialogue out. As internet fights go, it was a relatively fast and amicable resolution. And by that I mean, “only a few people had their mothers insulted.”
But I must admit, I’m kind of ambivalent about this situation. From a practical standpoint, removing the dialogue was probably the best thing for Blizzard to do (or at least the safest, from a PR standpoint). Street harrassment is, by most indications, a very real problem. But the whole situation raises the question; at what point does depicting a situation become condoning a situation?
To illustrate what I mean, let’s consider an extreme example; if the female orc in question had promptly marched over and given the two of them a five-minute-long lecture straight from the front page of Jezebel, no one would likely have objected on social justice grounds. But while that might be good for spreading awareness, it would be pretty bad storytelling, since a) the idea of the orcs of Orgrimmar having access to the works of Gloria Steinem is just not credible, and b) it hijacks the narrative to use as a soapbox and the message is so heavy-handed that it seriously hurts immersion. But clearly many people found the lack of a reaction objectionable, and would be even less happy if she’d responded positively.
So where does the line lie? At what point does the game stop depicting bad ideas and start condoning or normalizing them? Would it have been okay if she’d told them “buzz off”? What if she’d just looked annoyed and walked out? I highly doubt that either of these would have contributed much of value — depictions of women being nonspecifically annoyed at attention from men are remarkably common. If they were going to seriously reduce harrassment, I think we’d have seen the effect by now, and that doesn’t seem to be the case. Mainly they just seem to promote the idea that female sexuality is nonexistent, an idea which is both bad and widespread.
And despite what several people have said, I can definitely see how that set of dialogue adds to the setting and could constitute good flavor text. It shows that this society, like ours, has some rather backward ideas about gender and sexuality, and thus makes the setting more believable and credible. And the idea that Orgrimmar wouldn’t have those problems at all is not really feasible.
So my concern is that the message given to Blizzard and other companies by this PR bump is “don’t talk about gender and sexuality in your games, unless you make your position on it so extreme that no one could mistake it for anything else.” And they will not pick that second one, because a) it’s bad storytelling, and b) promoting gender equality is not their top priority — making a good videogame is. So really, the message they hear is “don’t talk about gender and sexuality in your games”. And this is not a good thing to tell them, because it just makes the problem invisible.
So, what’s the ideal solution here? Fuck if I know. But it seems like a good first step would be to acknowledge that this probably isn’t it. Maybe that will inspire someone smarter than me to come up with something.