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He said, she said: Does Blizzard support homosexual stereotyping?

David Bowers

He Said / She Said is a new feature at WoW Insider, which looks at the game from masculine and feminine points of view. Today, Amanda and David discuss the age-old question: are male night elves and blood elves "gay?" Does Blizzard intend to give us that impression, and if so, why? If that's not what Blizzard intends, then why is gayness such a big deal when people think of elves?

Read on to see the conversation.

Amanda: The media regularly exaggerates masculinity and feminity. I'm mostly disturbed by feminine male elves and the insinuation that they're gay. The Blood Elf males seem to make a joke of gender with emotes like, "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" Blizzard has played on some stereotypes that I believe are inappropriate and possibly damaging.

David: How does the feminine male elf thing bother you? If anything the male blood elves and night elves both look really masculine to me -- I really can't understand why other people think they look "gay," unless having long hair and is supposed to imply that.

That blood elf emote you mentioned seems to say "gay" to everyone without actually being gay. I mean... could the man actually mean to say to another straight man that he is more attractive than she is? It's preposterous -- hence the humor of it. I think it's not meant to be taken seriously so much as to say something about the vanity of blood elf culture.

Though, a part of me wonders how people might react differently if it was the female elves who said "Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot like me?" Somehow I don't think people would find it that funny, just kind of kinky.

Amanda: I have to disagree on that, it would be weird and kind of kinky, disturbing on many levels. I think it would also have somewhat different implications if the Blood Elf Males said, "Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot like me?" Perhaps the joke should have been avoided altogether.

I don't role-play in WoW, but if I did, I think I would have a hard time playing a Blood Elf male in a way that wasn't effeminate. Sure, they're muscular, but their posture and movement, in addition to their emotes, are very feminine. The biggest problem I see is that this is working as intended. Blood Elves could be both pretty and masculine, but Blizzard made it clear that that was not their intention. Of course the Night Elves have borne the burden for appearing effeminate a lot longer. <Video is NSFW>

It's the way people respond to it. It opens up the door to other things, like being able to use "gay" or "fag" as an insult. I guess people do it all the time, but it really doesn't fly and I don't think Blizzard should institutionalize it.

This video exists because stereotyping is encouraged. It leads to other negative behaviors like using "gay" as an insult. That's just not ok.

David: The way that some men (and women?) impose their idea of gayness on to the Blood Elves and night elves is coming from themselves. Just as they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," this use of "gay" and "fag" is in the eye of the insulter too. Those men who use these words as an insult are latching on to the closest tool they have at hand to demean other people. If there were no elves in the game, they would use some other race, such as humans or gnomes in the same way. Elves aren't one-tenth as effeminate as these people make them out to be -- those who insist on seeing "gayness" somewhere are exaggerating in some places and fabricating in others, imposing their own ideas onto the elves in order to put other people down and validate themselves against their own insecurities.

In this video, someone tries to insult another player by putting this player's draenei character in a dress and hat, and having him dance while a lisping singer is putting words in his mouth. You can put any man in a dress and make fun of him for being gay -- there's absolutely no creativity or originality there, but then this type of insult doesn't thrive on uniqueness in the first place. The mindset that drives people to do this sort of thing is like infectious bacteria -- it thrives in dark, damp, and dirty places, and it spreads around making people sick in the head unless they take care to clean it away.

Amanda: I think the Well Fed Buff for Savory Deviate Delight is definitely a good example of the eye of the beholder. I kind of feel bad for my friend for posting pictures of her. I think it's a really cute picture, not necessarily mainstream beauty, but fun. I was horrified by the comments, and chose not to share the link with her. Just like with the Blood Elf forum post above, the semi-anonymity of the Internet brings out the worst in people, and Blizzard is fueling the fire.

I think we have something going here, though. Maybe you're right that by design the elves aren't that girly, but Blizzard encourages players to treat them as such. The GMs rely on reports from players to for violations of their Terms of Use. Even if the person responsible for offensive behavior is sanctioned, there is plenty of time for the violation to fester. I just think that Blizzard should be more proactive and do their best to make WoW a comfortable and inclusive environment for all of their players.

David: I agree. :)

I'm not sure Blizzard encourages players to treat the elves as girly so much as they kind of admit openly that this is what players want to see in the character designs, and they try to make a little joke about it. I don't think anyone sat down and said, "Hm... let's see how many players we can get to make homophobic jokes about elves by adding this /silly emote." They just put it in because they thought it was funny, without really thinking very deeply about it. In terms of conceptual design, though, I'm sure they're not going for a "gay man" look. You remember the time way back when they buffed up the blood elf male muscles, right? Apparently that was to make them fit better with the whole manly-man look of every other male in the game. They're supposed to be what they are, which is masculine and attractive at the same time. It's that subsection of players who think that in order to be manly you have to be monstrous.

Amanda: It's a fantasy environment, and Blizzard does a good job of capturing it. Sometimes they just go too far. I really think they need to work toward creating a more civil environment. I find that sometimes the homosexual stereotype makes me uncomfortable, even though I'm not gay. My usual strategy is to ignore it. I just wish I didn't have to. Blizzard's stance seems to be that using "gay" as an insult is acceptable, but being gay is not.

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