At first I thought that it was just another entry from the slow MMO news day department but after thinking about it perhaps there are some deeper issues to consider. This week Broken Toys mentioned a blog article by a man who was offended by bunny ears as part of a WoW achievement for the Azerothian holiday of Noblegarden. The website in question is not even a gaming website — instead it’s devoted to radical gender feminism and other assorted left wing causes — full of cheery, happy-go-lucky people who only see the good in humanity.
If you look hard enough you’ll find that WoW is rife with every kind of “ism” imaginable. No matter what Blizzard does you’re going to find one person among 12 million that is waiting to be offended by the content or tone of the thousands quests and achievements. WoW and other MMOs have been no strangers to pressure groups and political correctness in the past few years. Due to the increasing popularity of MMOs and virtual worlds, it seems they are being used as a platform to advance political issues? Is the intrusion of the real world into virtual worlds a good thing?
Some Recent History on Political Correctness in MMOs
These days MMO companies are only too willing to cave in to the demands of pressure groups. A few years ago, afraid of being insensitive to African Americans Blizzard changed the name of one of their vanity cat pets called the Maine Coon— the actual name of a real world cat breed — to something more politically correct like the Black Tabby. It was rather cowardly of Blizzard to change the name but that’s how corporations behave these days — they are afraid of generating controversy and awakening the rage of the identity politics shakedown artists who are in the business of extorting money and influence.
From a lore point of view and since Maine doesn’t exist in Azeroth, Blizzard should never have allowed that named to be used in the first place. Blizzard needs to curtail the excessive use of real world references as they needlessly violate the sense of immersion which is vital to MMOs and virtual worlds.
Another incident where political correctness triumphed was when Blizzard set a dangerous precedent by apologizing for disciplining a player for advertising for new players for their GLBT guild. Regardless of your stand on the issue, Blizzard has every right to determine what speech is allowed both on their private forums and private servers as the U.S. Constituion which guarantees freedom of speech does not apply, yet due to pressure from special interest groups they folded like a house of cards.
Regarding Bunny Ears
Let’s examine the actual issue at hand concerning the Noblegarden achievement. The author of this charge seems be making the inference that the bunny ears could be seen as a reference to Playboy Bunnies — an easy target of feminists over the years. However, Blizzard routinely and shamelessly includes many real life pop-culture references in WoW which are rather silly, sophomoric and at times crude, so that practice may be coming back to haunt them with the Shake Your Bunny Maker achievement which could be seen as a sexual double entendre.
In defense of Blizzard, Noblegarden with it’s focus on egg collecting was intended to be an innocent homage to Easter — not a celebration of Playboy Magazine. Bunny ears are in fact harmless and many kids dress up in bunny costumes during Easter and Halloween. I think that it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that this is sexism. I have to wonder if the author of this article would have been as offended if Blizzard required that bunny ears be placed on both male and female players? I’m sure that for next year Blizzard will do just that to placate the few critics.
How anyone who is legitimately concerned with sexism in WoW can still be playing their MMO while the warlock class has a scantily clad female succubus pet that objectifies women (with no male counterpart – more sexism!) complete with S&M references is beyond me. There are countless examples of overt sexism and the objectification of women and yes even men in WoW. So why would any hardcore feminist striving for *equality* be a willing participant of such a obvious hostile and poisonous virtual world? The answer is that some feminists and feminized men can’t wait to be offended but as I will show you below, they are quite selective about what offends them.
Examples of Reverse Sexism in WoW
If anything the developers at Blizzard have bent over backward to give females in Azeroth positive images and in many cases have minimized negative ones. Here are some examples:
- What about the sexism of the matriarchal society of the Night Elves? They men stay at home while the women are guarding Night Elf civilization as sentinels.
- Where are the counter-balancing patriarchal societies in Azeroth? There are none, despite being fantasy based medieval societies they are conveniently mirrored on the gender equality of present day western civilization.
- How about the fact that the Stockades in Stormwind has only male prisoners? I guess females in Azeroth never seem to commit crimes.
- How about the over-representation of male villains? Sure there is Onxyia and a few other female bosses but for the most part they are exclusively male — hello Ragnaros, Illidian, Arthas et al. Anytime you need a bad guy it’s expedient to make him male.
- What about the irradiated gnomes in Gnomeregan? Notice they are all males, somehow the females miraculously escaped the radiation.
- What about the militant Dark Iron Dwarves? Again more bad males with no female representation. (Note: yes there are some female dwarves in BRD but they are normal skinned dwarves and rarely as the role of aggressors).
- What about the ogres? Again no female ogres. I guess male ogres just hatch by themselves.
- Why are there no males looking after the orphans in Stormwind and Ogrimmar? All we see are female matrons. Sexist!!!
As I have just demonstrated, it’s very easy to see sexism lurking everywhere if one looks hard enough. If the person who made this complaint was truly concerned about stamping out sexism in WoW they should have been honest and looked at everything in WoW. Thankfully Blizzard has avoided the temptation to give into political correctness and made WoW into a wonderfully interesting and unequal world. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’re in Their World Now
MMO companies have every right to create and shape the world of their choosing. You as a player have every right not to play in those worlds. Turbine for example does not have female dwarves as a playable race in Lord of the Rings Online which on the surface is oh so horribly sexist but is in complete accordance with the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Let’s say if Blizzard decided to make a historical MMO about 12th century England — the world of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham — they would have every right to enforce rules that are consistent with their desire to recreate that time period. They would not be wrong in enforcing that male and female avatars would have to assume traditional roles consistent with Anglo-Saxon/Norman medieval society.
Just as men and women who sign up to be actors in Renaissance Faires know that that they hired to recreate a romantic view of medieval life — not 21st century western modern society. So too should players who subscribe to that sort of MMO would know full well what they are getting into.
Bring Your Avatar Not Your Real Life Identity Please
Some people need to remember that WoW is not the real world. WoW is a role-playing MMO complete with a back story that includes lore, races and geography. Azeroth could be said to be a virtual world that’s cornerstone is contextual racism and bigotry exemplified by the ongoing distrust and conflict between the races of the Alliance and the Horde.
Yet no one could reasonably suggest that Blizzard supports racism in the real world because they promote racism between elves and orcs within the game. Similarity we as players should strenuously resist the temptation to transpose our gender politics into the genders of our avatars in a fantasy virtual world. Are you as a real life woman really hurt by the treatment of your female avatar in a role-playing MMO? If the answer is yes, then you are not really role-playing in a MMO — you are playing your real life self which is not how WoW is intended to be played. When all is said and done WoW *is* a role-playing MMO. If a player decides to play herself and then claims to the outside world to be a victim of perceived sexism inside the game then I do not feel sorry for them.
In the final analysis, you have only one right as an avatar: you have the right to decide whether to be a part of Azeroth or not.
What Happens in Azeroth Should Stay in Azeroth
Transferring offense and indignation from avatar to person and from person to avatar creates a fatal break in the immersion that is a defining characteristic of virtual worlds — especially fantasy virtual worlds. You can not enter Azeroth (or any other virtual world) and say that as real life minority or victim that you are offended by what you see in a fictional or period world and expect your grievances to be seriously addressed: you are playing as an avatar and not yourself. Allowing this insanity to go unchallenged would shut down most MMOs and virtual worlds.
Part of me sympathizes with the concerns of the author of the article that this made some females feel uncomfortable — although I did see many females with the bunny ears and the full Noblegarden regalia enjoying the fun of parading around in the costumes. I confess I felt a bit weird applying the ears to a few female avatars which was required of the achievement but it wasn’t because I thought I was objectifying a woman, rather it was all too cutesy for me.
It goes without saying that any kind of harassment and unwanted advances are wrong even in virtual worlds and thankfully there are customer service policies to deal with it. I’ve been the victim of it myself in WoW. Hazing and foul language in public chat channels is wrong as well. As well as rallying against it on my blog, I have spent countless hours over the past 10 years spending my limited gaming time reporting players who use racial, sexual and anti-gay slurs. I don’t just talk the talk, I walk the walk.
Another point to consider is that in a MMO like WoW anyone can come up to a male or female and use emotes like /hug, /kiss, /flirt and many more. Should they be banned due to their potential for sexual harassment? Of course not as it would be unpractical and contrary to what virtual worlds are all about: player interaction.
Should Blizzard create some an /emote ignore switch for players who may be offended by those emotes to prevent them from being broadcast publicly? Perhaps it would be a good idea. If people want to willingly isolate themselves from all communication and contact with their fellow players then by all means let them.
The Problem with Offense and Radical Feminism
The prickly problem with offense is that it subjective. One person’s scrap is another person’s gold. What is welcoming and fun to one player may be harassment to another. Given this problem we have timid companies and institutions erring on the side of caution and often capitulating at the hint of any offense related controversy with the result being we are all less free and we start self-censoring our thoughts and actions.
I really have to wonder if complaining about bunny ears is what the modern day feminist movement has been reduced to. Their concern seems rather disproportionate given the overt and institutionalized discrimination of millions of women who live in non-western countries endure on a daily basis. Given that reality, is this what modern day feminists should be concerned about, bunny ears in a MMO?
It’s hard to take this issue seriously when there real issues facing women who are striving for equality that need to be addressed. Playing the “I’m offended” game is getting tiresome as Female Gamer a reader at Broken Toys so eloquently states:
Do we really want to play in a sanitized Utopian virtual world where every kind of “ism” and social injustice has been eliminated? Heck no. Take away those kinds of imperfections and you have a bland, sterile world with no possibility of conflict, drama, and good and evil.
I’m concerned about the encroachment of our increasingly polarized society’s squabbles into the landscapes virtual worlds and MMOs. Companies like Blizzard need to hold fast to the integrity of their worlds and not bow down to the agenda of special interest groups hungry for new mediums with which to ply their “outrage” trade. MMO developers need to be able to exercise their artistic license to create the worlds they please free from the chilling effects of censorship and political correctness.
Our virtual sanctuaries should be places of refuge that are free from the intrusion of modern day politics; we go there to role-play and escape the real world, not to bring all of its issues and problems with us.