Debate Incoming! Trivial LFR, 90-degree Guild Wars and Sexism in Pandaria

It’s Discussion Day here on the Pot. In fact, it seems to be discussion month – there are more and more interesting, passionately-argued debates cropping up every day in the MMOSphere right now, from the silly to the very, very serious.

Here are three posts that either highlight or start what I suspect will be long-running, heartfelt discussions on the state of MMOs today:

  • Slurms looks into the heated debate currently happening in the Guild Wars 2 community over whether to enable changing the game’s Field of View“The other half of me takes sides with ArenaNet. This is their creation and they have final say in how it is to be consumed by the public. Just because you like Buffalo wings doesn’t mean that it should be an option on every restaurant’s menu.”
  • 15 Minutes of WoW asks if the latest LFR has gone too far in making the content trivial“But after doing the first 3 bosses of Mogu’shan Vaults, perhaps we should consider that content that has been made so accessible that there’s no challenge left might not be worthwhile content after all.”
  • And Apple Cider voices serious concern about several places in Mists of Pandaria where she feels the content becomes sexist“As a woman, this quest chilled me a lot. It bothered quite a few women in my guild and for good reason. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal of stuff that’s happened to women in both our fictional worlds and even real worlds. Get taken prisoner, get put in a cage, be left to get raped by your captors. This stuff isn’t the fancy of someone’s imagination, it is stuff that’s happened to real people.”

What do you think? If you’ve got an opinion – or you’re writing a blog post – let us know!

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Dear Developers: WATCH OUT!

WARNING! WARNING! Yes, today we’ve got a number of warnings – for game developers, of potentially disastrous potholes in their roadmaps.

I don’t know if game developers read MMO blogs. From a market research point of view, the big devs would be mad not to. But I certainly hope some of them are reading today, as a number of insightful bloggers appear to have gotten together to highlight just some of the things that could go very, very wrong in their plans.

From the eternal spectre of unfair F2P, to “emergent mechanics” that break your game, to accidentally supporting and encouraging prejudice and discrimination – it’s a pretty scary list:

  • Pewter writes a really interesting article looking at the unspoken assumptions often built into character and game mechanic designs, and how they can end up supporting unsavory points of view“Obviously, sometimes NPCs are there to be emotional stimuli, or to impart information to a player; but recognising the way in which taught design principles can systemize the presentation of gender, race, disability, religion and sexuality in game is a first, and positive step.”
  • Jester tells the story of how some emergent behaviour in EVE let one player “break the game”, and why he believes CCP are still fixing the symptom, not the cause“It’s a glorious demonstration of EVE emergent game play, and yet another example of the lengths that EVE players will go to to avoid EVE’s sub-par PvE. “
  • The Ancient Gaming Noob sounds a general alarm bell about the shifting future of Free To Play – an alarm bell for MMO players and developers alike, IMO“The simple days of the implied social contract that came with the subscription model appear to be fading as companies look for further ways to monetize their games.”
  • Stubborn points out one way that The Secret World has utterly trumped WoW for him, despite WoW’s budget – by giving him actually relatable NPCs“Other than humor, and the very occasional moment of sadness, WoW did little with literally thousands of questgivers, and TSW has already hooked me with the 30 or 40 I’ve met.”
  • And Syp rounds off with a look at one area I’d agree many MMO developers are failing in – body language for their characters – the comments are very worth reading, too – “Whether players realize it or not, one of the reasons we have difficulty connecting and empathizing with the NPCs and events is how limited and stilted the body language is that we witness.”

I’d really not want to be an MMO developer. Film is a horrendous medium to work in because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong – but it’s nothing compared to the landscape of FAIL that can await an MMO.

What pitfalls do you see in MMO gaming’s future?

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Are All Female NPCs in WoW Wives or Fallen Women?

Does WoW place all its female characters in weak, stereotypical roles? And will Jaina’s upcoming role in the fall of Theramore break the mould?

There’s been a lot of talk about the graphical representation of women in MMOs recently – but what about their fictional representation as characters? With WoW’s Patch 5.0 coming up, Theramore due to fall, and Jaina Proudmooore, one of WoW’s most visible female characters, smack in the middle of it, will we end up with a strong, independent female role model for our characters, or another weak woman who needs a man to complete her?

That’s the question that Erinys of Harpy’s Nest is trying to answer today, and to do so, she’s delving deep into the literary theory of Victorian fiction

“I found myself back in a lecture theatre listening to my tutor talk about the themes of Victorian Literature. At length she discussed the two polarising roles of women in the Art and Literature of the period. The Angel of the Hearth in her guises as Mother, Madonna, Wife and her antithesis, the more popular Fallen Woman. To illustrate her point, along with lines of poetry she showed paintings of domestic bliss followed by image after image of dead girls floating down rivers trailing flowers in their wake or tearfully hurling themselves into angry rivers. Idly at first I found myself applying the same concept to the women of WoW, but then something dawned on me. Just like their Victorian counterparts, all our fleshed out female leaders are defined not by their own abilities but by their relationships with the men that surround them.

Take Sylvanas, the Dark Lady, the Banshee Queen, in a sense she’s the perfect embodiment of a fallen woman. Defined by Arthas, by the man who made her in his own image, who violated her and destroyed her. Her’s was literally a fate worse than death.

“The grinning face of Arthas Menethil, with his lopsided smile and dead eyes, leers at her as he pulls her back into the world. Violates her. His laughter—that hollow laugh—the memory of it makes her skin crawl!”

Those are Dave Kosak’s words, describing a flashback she experiences at the start of his short story “Edge of Night“. Now I’m pretty sure if I read those sentences to someone out of context, the conclusion they’d jump to would be one of sexual assault. Again, when in Stormrage, she falls prey to the nightmares, it’s the Lich King who stalks her mind like an incubus. Her prowess with a bow is all but forgotten, it doesn’t matter that she was the Ranger-General because the second she met Arthas, her identity became bound up in his spiderweb. Then, when finally he’s defeated and she should be able to forge ahead with her own undeath, she seeks to kill herself because without him, without the hunt for revenge, life has no purpose to her. It doesn’t matter that she has obligations to both the Horde and the Forsaken, her intent is to throw that all away.

“She hurled the armor from the peak, watching it disappear into the roiling mists”

Kosak’s choice of verb to describe the mists conjures up angry turbulent waters, the kind that the Victorian Painters and Poets were so fond of casting fallen women. Like them, Sylvanas seeks oblivion by falling to her death, a suitably Victorian end for a woman who fell from grace.”

This is really fascinating stuff – as someone who studied some Hardy, amongst others, some time ago, I was immediately struck by the parallels between the imagery and elements present in a lot of (deeply irritating, IMO – I’m not a fan) Victorian literature, and those present in the stories of women in WoW.

Erinys goes through just about every major character, showing how they can fit without too much trouble into Victorian stereotypes, and goes on to discuss and dissect the potential plots for the future Jaina in the novel “Tides of War”. She does a great job of weaving small threads of information in here, too – although her conclusion isn’t particularly optimisic, I suspect it’s not wrong.

Regardless of how upbeat her conclusions might make you feel, this is a first-rate piece of WoW scholarship, and I’d highly recommend reading it if you want to think of WoW’s NPCs in an entirely new – and century-plus old – light.

Do you think WoW’s heroines are basically Victorian?

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Fantasies and sexualised MMO Characters – the blogosphere responds

So, sexualised MMORPG characters – tolerable, appalling, sexist, equally annoying to both sides, just fantasies?

If there’s one thing veteran MMO blogger Tobold is good at, it’s starting a massive debate in the blogosphere. And he did it again yesterday with his post on fantasy and sexy characters in MMORPGs. Reactions and opinions varied widely:

  • Flosch at Random Waypoint writes about his intense dislike of the ‘roided up power fantasies that make up most male game character options“Why do I, as a male, have to subjugate others to fill my gender role? I don’t like having power over others, it makes me feel queasy. I’d rather “make love than war”. I reserve my right to be offended at those male depictions, because they pigeonhole me into something I find highly problematic.”
  • Doone at T.R. Redskies argues that it’s never OK to fantasize about women as sex objects“If I, as a man, have fantasies of women in which I objectify them, reduce them to a few convenient body parts for my own pleasure THEN I SHOULD BE RIGHTLY CRITICIZED FOR MY SEXISM AND SEXUALIZATION OF HUMAN BEINGS.”
  • Klepsacovic of Troll Racials Are Overpowered muses on just what makes a female character attractive“You know who’s sexy? That Alex Vance. She’s almost like a person. She cries when her dad dies, like a person would. She has an adorable childhood pet robot which can throw armored cars, like an awesome person would. “
  • And Spinks of Spinksville collates comments on the official forums discussing the high-heeled Demon Hunter character“I’ve tried to pick out some of the comments where people specifically mentioned the heels, sexiness, or badassness. I hadn’t realised the male demon hunter was a controversial model but clearly he brought out the ‘blood elves are gay’ faction.”

At the same time, several other bloggers have been discussing other issues relating to gender or homosexuality, too:

  • Stubborn posts a follow-up to his discussion of linguistic drift and the word “gay”, talking about whether he can understand the suffering that homophobia causes“I’ve become an expert on suffering through both my own life and my kids’, and I can tell you – it hurts just the same, no matter what the reason.”
  • And in a happy note to end this post, Apple Cider Mage notes that Blizzard not only changed Ji Firepaw’s dialogue, but also took the opportunity to poke a little fun at themselves at the same time“Blizzard’s sense of humor about this whole thing is really amazing, and it makes me feel a lot better having raised the point originally. Not only do we get a “reckless” character that may learn a touch of reflection from another, but it shows a real tongue-in-cheek jibe at themselves as writers.”

As always, let us know what you think, but please discuss the argument, not the poster!

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Sexist images, homophobic language – or are they?

There’s an interesting trend going on in the blogosphere today, as several well-known bloggers take an unusual stance on apparently sexist and homophobic depictions in MMORPGs. Tobold and Zubon are almost point-counterpoint in their two posts about sexist imagery in gaming, whilst Stubborn has a nuanced look at the use of the word “gay” in conversation.

First up, Tobold is taking a look at the sexualised fantasy art of games like TERA, linking them to the art of Boris Vallejo, and arguing that fantasy images are part and parcel of a fantasy environment

“Of course hunting demons in stiletto heels isn’t realistic, and a chainmal bikini has obvious flaws as a piece of armor. But while I am hurling fireballs at a dragon, should I really be worried about how realistic anything in these games is? The notion that something shown in a virtual world in any way is a representation of the real world is a dangerous one. You end up with people complaining about the “occult” elements of these games depicting devils and demons. Or the endless discussion on whether or not a game which depicts some form of romance should allow that to happen between members of the same sex.

Fact is that there is no reproduction in virtual worlds. Avatars never have sex, and female avatars never get pregnant and have babies. As it says somewhere on the label, the whole virtual world is a fantasy. People usually enter these virtual worlds because they want a temporary break from their real-world issues. Projecting those real-world issues onto the virtual world isn’t exactly helpful there. It ends up criticizing people for the fantasies they have, and that is an extreme form of attempted mind control. You can’t punish people for their dreams and fantasies not being politically correct.”

Whilst Zubon skewers part of Tobold’s argument below, he has some interesting points. Fantasies are by their very nature unrealistic, and many people would argue that sexualisation is far from the most disturbing fantasy aspect of games.

Meanwhile, over at Kill Ten Rats, Zubon is discussing exactly the same subject – sexualised figures in MMOs – but looking at whether the male and female fantasy figures in these games really are equivalent

“There is a false equivalence in the unrealistic depictions of men and women in gaming. Men designed by men for men will tend to look a bit different from men designed by women for women, and “men designed by men for women” is not the same thing. (It is amazing how many boys call something “gay” when it is perfectly heteronormative but for the other half of the population. The notion that sexualized depictions of men are “gay” is a barometer of how male-centric one’s perspective is.)

You have a vicious circle if you are reducing your female audience through marginalizing depictions and then using that skewed audience to justify the depictions.”

One interesting side point that comes out of this discussion is how bad men are at designing male characters for other men. True, I may well feel uncomfortable playing a yaoi-styled pretty boy, but I don’t exactly get a great sense of connection playing a neckless wonder a la Gears Of War, either.

Meanwhile, to round off discussions of uncomfortable subjects, Stubborn at Sheep The Diamond has been considering the use of the term “gay” in conversation to mean something bad. Whilst many of us would argue that’s just straight out homophobic, Stubborn makes an intelligent, considered case that actually, it’s more complicated than that

Jerk, for example, initially referred to small towns, where trains had to fill up on “jerk water,” or water from a trough, because there was no water tower. The people in such small towns eventually became known as “jerks,” but it simply meant “small town people who don’t know better,” like we might call “rubes” nowadays. Over years, the “small town” part vanished and we had “people who don’t know better,” which eventually drifted to “badly behaving people.”

Pimp is another word that’s drifted through hyperbole quite a bit. In the past, calling someone a pimp would warrant a fight, but it eventually became commonplace word that people used to describe themselves much in the way “a lady’s man” would have been used in the past.

Then, of course, is the infamous “N” word. Countless attempts by older generations of African Americans were made to inform younger generations of the strong and offensive meaning of that word, but none of them actually stopped the younger generation from causing semantic drift to reclaim the word for themselves, giving them power over it.”

“Gay” has been a problematic word for a while now, and ironically one where it’s quite possible to genuinely offend someone by misunderstanding their usage as homophobic. It’s interesting to see discussion starting on what the best route to take when talking about it is.

From a writer’s point, it’s also fascinating to see linguistic change actively in effect on such an emotive topic!

Let us know what you think of these posts – but please be polite, and discuss the argument, not the speaker!

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Additional Awesome that couldn’t be contained

Yep, it’s another in the Pot’s infrequent series of Saturday updates! Yesterday had just too much good stuff, so here’s a bonus update with the bits we couldn’t squeeze in:

  • Kat on World of Matticus writes about being harassed and undervalued in WoW because she’s a woman, and what everyone should do about it“It doesn’t matter what world you live in or play in. They are feeding their insecurities by putting you down. From the bully that made fun of you because you were overweight at school to the guild master that didn’t accept your opinion because of your sex. “
  • Klepsacovic of Troll Racials are Overpowered stands alone against the rampant exploit usage of almost every tank in WoW“It’s a pretty common one. I’m sure everyone has done it. It’s not as if it is complex, just a simple little exploit of the pathing and casting AI.”
  • And In An Age discusses just how perfect the world of Mass Effect would be for an MMORPG“Could, in fact, Bioware turn Mass Effect into an MMO without much effort at all? Most of the set pieces are already in place.”

Have a great weekend!

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DPS responsibility, Irritating Sexism, War Stories and Final Grades

Some interesting discussions on a variety of topics today – plus more info on the game de jour, Guild Wars 2!

Oh, and whilst I’m at it – Guild Wars 2 Beta Signups are now open

On to the awesome articles:

  • Tobold responds to yesterday’s criticism of SWTOR Heroic Flashpoints, discussing the crazy idea that maybe DPS could be the role with responsibility“What if tanking and healing was relatively easy, and fails were predominantly caused by the damage dealers not dealing enough damage per second? Well, what would happen would be that damage dealers would be extremely unhappy.”
  • Ravious at Kill Ten Rats gives us details of just what a Guild Wars 2 World vs World battle is like“We just didn’t have enough players. This was a well defended keep and someone had taken the time to upgrade the NPC defenders. Every minute a swarm of hefty NPCs would appear near our siege, and we had to waste precious time taking them down, healing, and finally getting back to the door.”
  • Apple Cider Mage issues a takedown notice for the tired old ‘Make me a sandwich, woman!’ joke“World of Warcraft has a fairly even split of men and women now, if current numbers are to be believed. There’s no reason to NOT accept that at any given moment, you’ll be surrounded by women, whether they choose to reveal this to you or not. “
  • And Tzufit’s “Cataclysm Final Grades” project has more-or-less come to a close, with wide selection of really interesting posts about the evolution of the various classes in this WoW expansion

Found these posts interesting? Please consider sharing them!

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Sexism And WoW Topic Gets Curiouser And Curiouser

A couple of days ago we linked to Pewter’s article on the problem of sexism and WoW. She’s had a flurry of responses on her article and a couple of new pieces have popped up around the interwebz. Pieces asking awkward questions concerning the elephant quietly installed in the corner of the MMO game culture and industry.

So here’s what’s turned up since Pewter’s original post:

Have we missed any, or are you about to post up something hot off the press? Let us know.

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The Mental Shaman: Sexism in WoW – What's The Problem?

There’s a giant elephant in the World… of Warcraft: female representation throughout the game. And Pewter over at the ‘mental shaman has written a post which not only draws our attention to it but evenly dissects it. She points out we’re not just talking occasional representations but the way women are represented throughout the game and possibly into the expansion.

Wanting to change these things, wanting to talk about them, doesn’t mean sanitising the World of Warcraft. Far from it – it means enrichment, and moving beyond the tired old privileged tropes of male-gaze orientated fantasy, and a discouragement of the sort of bigoted language that has free rein in many guilds. It is not sanitising to want two major female law characters to talk to each other about something other than a man, or to want a female boss to be the focus of an expansion, or to speak out against rape culture

You see, as Pewter points out, little irksome things like the lack of women in Dalaran fountain’s ‘Victory’ statue are just little things. Pewter accurately picks them out and shows together they amount to a bigger picture and a bigger problem. And it’s one that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet or wrong to address when they can have an impact both in game and in wider contexts.

_Quote taken directly from Pewter’s post_

_the mental shaman’s homepage is here._

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The Mental Shaman: Sexism in WoW – What’s The Problem?

There’s a giant elephant in the World… of Warcraft: female representation throughout the game. And Pewter over at the ‘mental shaman has written a post which not only draws our attention to it but evenly dissects it. She points out we’re not just talking occasional representations but the way women are represented throughout the game and possibly into the expansion.

Wanting to change these things, wanting to talk about them, doesn’t mean sanitising the World of Warcraft. Far from it – it means enrichment, and moving beyond the tired old privileged tropes of male-gaze orientated fantasy, and a discouragement of the sort of bigoted language that has free rein in many guilds. It is not sanitising to want two major female law characters to talk to each other about something other than a man, or to want a female boss to be the focus of an expansion, or to speak out against rape culture

You see, as Pewter points out, little irksome things like the lack of women in Dalaran fountain’s ‘Victory’ statue are just little things. Pewter accurately picks them out and shows together they amount to a bigger picture and a bigger problem. And it’s one that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet or wrong to address when they can have an impact both in game and in wider contexts.

_Quote taken directly from Pewter’s post_

_the mental shaman’s homepage is here._

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