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Why is Blizzard still OK with gender inequality in World of Warcraft?

Josh Myers

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In most games I play, from World of Warcraft to Star Wars: The Old Republic, I make an effort to play mainly female characters. Unlike other males who play female characters, this isn't for cosmetic reasons; I'm not one of those dudes who can't bear to stare at his male character's butt for multiple hours a day. (How this is ever an argument that makes sense to people, I don't know.) This was a conscious decision on my part a few years ago, when I started to become aware of the discrimination faced by female characters.

See, when you make the decision to make a female character, you're intentionally and unintentionally signing up for a number of things. First, you are intentionally signing up to play a female character. This could be because you identify as female, because you prefer the look of female characters, or any number of other reasons (including the butt one). What you're unintentionally signing up for goes further.

You're unintentionally signing up for jokes made at your expense in a raid, like when my priest hit 85 and did BH in leveling gear, and my low HPS was mocked because I was a girl playing WoW. You're unintentionally signing up for harassment, for the catcalls and people begging you to talk in Vent, like you're a rare species of bird they'll only be able to hear once. You're unintentionally signing up to be victimized by other players because you dared roll something other than male at level 1, and you didn't know there'd be consequences for that choice.

Those forms of sexism aren't anything new to the World of Warcraft, but thankfully they're largely limited to the immature playerbase and not the game's creators. Unfortunately, Blizzard has its own gender issues to work out, and some of them are made clear by just rolling a female character.

Gender inequality in my World of Warcraft? Can't be!

Yesterday morning, a forum post on the Mists of Pandaria Beta Feedback forum highlighted some of the sexism players are unintentionally signing up for when they sign on to their female character. Ji Firepaw, an NPC you meet on the Wandering Isle who goes on to become leader of the pandaren Horde faction, greets female characters in a very creepy way, saying "Hello, friend! You're some kind of gorgeous, aren't you? I bet you can't keep the men off of you! Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!" To men, he instead says "Hello, friend! You've got a strong look to you! I bet you're all the rage with the ladies! Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!"

This sort of gendered gameplay is unsettling, especially due to how out of sync with the pandaren race it is. Ji Firepaw's comments about the male looking strong would have been just as appropriate for a female character. For a female pandaren monk or warrior, "gorgeous" is most likely not the compliment they're looking for, and players aren't playing those characters to be complimented on their looks.

What's worse is that these aren't the only problems foist upon a player for choosing to play a female character. The most prominent issue, as old as girls in games themselves, is the armor issue, where game developers turn a torso-covering breastplate into a chainmail bra when it's on a female character. In this case, women who didn't want their female warriors to tank in metal bras and panties weren't really considered. Likewise, for some reason, male characters were never forced to wear chainmail underwear when the same item appeared as pants on a woman.

Seriously, why does this still exist?

My question, though, is why is this a thing? Why is it that developers are fine providing women with an unequal and often worse game experience? Why are developers OK with allowing female PCs to be harassed by male NPCs or requiring them to wear totally impractical armor pieces? It seems easy enough to make a game that isn't gender insensitive -- all you have to do is treat female and male characters equally. If you want people to have chainmail bra and panties, make the same piece as objectifying on a male character as it is on a women. If you're going to have a creepy dude running the pandaren race for the Horde, make his interactions equally creepy if you're a male PC -- or better, don't make them creepy at all, and have him remark on how strong your female pandaren look.

Jaina in a pose that doesn't even make sense
Unfortunately, I'm not a Blizzard developer (and while this is aimed at Blizzard, it's a critique of most game companies as a whole), and I can't fathom why they're OK with this going on. My best guess would be that they find the number of creepy dudes who think Ji's harassment is funny and that chainmail bikinis are hot is higher than the number of women gamers who would get offended by them, and they're trying to appeal to the majority. On a business sense, this might be practical. On a moral sense, it's reprehensible.

Unfortunately, it's the best idea I have to go on, because I can't otherwise fathom why unequal gender experiences still exist and are still being supported in the World of Warcraft.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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