Business and privilege08/24/2010
Due to some real life things going on, I’m not playing WoW at the current moment, but I figure I’ve seen/done enough in the game to keep my blog open until I can start playing again. Also, I wasn’t going to write about this. I really wasn’t, but I had some thoughts on the matter that I wanted to share.
- Why bring it up? -
There have been some very interesting posts on representation of minorities in WoW recently (mostly focusing on women) and I’ve mostly steered away from the conversation, other than just a comment here or there. This isn’t because it’s a topic I don’t care about, far from it. It is simply one that I feel deeply about and that I know will make me bemoan how some people “just don’t get it” or cry about the “generation of selfishness.” Anyone who reads my blog at all regularly knows that I do not as a rule like getting emotions involved in discussions. Turning a topic into a matter of feelings is the surest way to make an argument into a fight. Therefore, I’m going to do my utmost best to make myself clear and as emotionally neutral as I can. Also, this might not flow as well as might be expected, so I apologize in advance for my disjointed writing process here.
- On the question of privilege -
In college, I took many different courses discussing racism in the modern world and one of the things that often happened was that non-minority students often derailed the conversation towards their own feelings. What often happens at those times is that the marginalized minority ends up having to explain themselves to the privileged group and sometimes even end up apologizing for hurting the privileged person’s feelings. As a friend of mine would say, “we are not required to educate you about your own privilege.” Some people don’t mind answering questions, but that does not mean that every marginalized person should be required to and that those that don’t are angry or unreasonable.
Does privilege exist? Interestingly enough, being able to question whether you have it is how you -know- you have it. And there are various levels of it. A white, straight woman has privilege compared to a black, straight woman and they both do compared to a black lesbian. Western society is like a Venn diagram of “-isms,” with those falling into the fewest categories being the ones that generally raise the most objections about an action being due to an “-ism.” I was reminded of this fact while reading some of the posts regarding Blizzard’s record with feminism; the ones saying they weren’t offended and thought others were overreacting seemed to be those who only fell under one or less “-isms.”
Privilege is an interesting thing because it is most regularly invisible to members inside a given society. The fact that I am more likely to be attacked walking down the street than a man is just a logical given to my mind. That is just the way it is to me. Someone coming from a different society might be shocked at that fact and point it out as a symptom of the man’s privilege. And that person would be correct.
The question then becomes whether privilege is also part of WoW. Of course it is! The people who make it have the Venn diagram of “-isms” as an ingrained part of their upbringing. So, too, do the players. As my old professor would say, “anyone who grew up in a racist society -is- racist, no matter the color of their skin.” Therefore, because people who grew up in a sexist/racist/heteronormative society have created WoW, the game must be expected to contain traces of those traits. It is then up to the people who interact with WoW (creators and players both) to go about rooting out those traces, just as they would with any other aspect of their lives.
- WoW the game, Blizzard the business -
“But it’s just a game, go work to change something important.” WoW as, according to this article here, over 11.5 million subscribers. -More- than the population of Cuba. Moreover, it has direct contact with children. How, exactly, is working to reduce the “-isms” in a media source that is so incredibly massive somehow not a worthy use of time? Even if the “-isms” are slight, if even .01% of their player base notices it and thinks there is a problem with it, then it should be addressed.
Which brings me to the business side of things. Many people have discussed the victory fountain that is created when the Lich King is killed on a server for the first time and whether it having all male figures is sexist. It is an excellent example to use here to show the balance between cost of ignoring privilege and cost of addressing it. By not addressing the real-world privilege in having all male figures in the fountain, the cost was in upsetting feminist and possibly losing subscribers. Seeing as designing the fountain with a female figure would have cost them nothing extra (the monetary cost of designing a female figure being the same as a male one), the company suffered a “net loss.” Seeing as no reputable company -ever- wants the public to see them as intentionally falling into an “-ism,” this is obviously an oversight. Management is there to keep such “net losses” from occurring and they simply failed to see this one.
A few sidebars on the fountain issue should be made. One, drawing a comparison between the being the lack of female figures and the lack of, say, Nightelves is an obvious misdirection. Sexism is a real-world issue that should be addressed by the real-world company of Blizzard. Nightelf-ism is not. Second, Azeroth is not the modern world, but the players and designers -are- part of the modern world. If Azeroth were to be more medieval as a setting as far as gender relations go, Blizzard would make that an apparent, obvious part of the lore. A designer does not go about creating gender disparity by being lazy; that is just a bad business practice. By allowing female characters the opportunity to do all of the heroic things male characters do with -no negative repercussions,- any details that fall into the “-isms” are obviously unintentional and not design choices.
- I should not be expected to fix your (real-life) stupid. -
Ophelie listed me as a “hardcore female player” on her blog, amongst a list of feminist posts and other strong women. To be perfectly honest, I feel a bit uneasy about it. Not because of the whole “hardcore vs casual” shindig, but because I do things that other feminist bloggers would probably not approve of. For example, to address one of the things she talks about in that post, I do not talk on PuG vents. Allow me to tell you a story.
Koralon had just come out, so I decided to PuG him to try for PvP gear on my priest. Seeing as I had already done it once each on my paladin and my druid, I hopped onto the PuG vent all ready to explain the fight and organize the healers. (No one ever organizes the healers in my PuGs unless I do, it seems…) I believe I got as far as “hi, this is Nikkal here.” There were a few “omg hi” people and then someone piped up with “you sound just like a cam girl.” My jaw dropped as the rest of vent seemed to agree with him and they decided to call me that for the rest of the run. Trying to keep control of myself, I asked them to please not call me that and went about doing healing assignments. They persisted in ignoring me on both counts. It didn’t take long before I simply stopped talking.
That one story is why I don’t talk on PuG vents as a rule. Just as it shouldn’t be required of me to tell you about your own privilege, it also shouldn’t be required of me to stand up and put myself out there for the sake of feminism. I should not have to “step up and take control” and subject myself to idiotic people in an effort to help them change. It is -their- place to change and treat me like a normal human being. That, to me, is real feminism.