27.2.13

Mogu did it: possessions of the Thunder King

Throne of Thunder: Twin Consorts.

How to dig yourself deeper into a hole in three simple steps:

  1. Create a vibrant world with a wide range of characters, only to introduce new species with each expansion that come only in the default (male) gender.
  2. Create a female model for one of these races post-launch. Make it hypersexualised, and limit its appearance to one boss fight. Be sure to give it a name that describes it in terms of its relationship with a male character.
  3. Release a blog post in which all other bosses are discussed in terms of fight mechanics and design team influences with jokes ahoy. In the section about this new Female Fight, neglect to do this, and instead neatly justify step two with a design team within a design team. Be sure to put extra emphasis on women as trophies for bonus depth.

Done? Congratulations, I bet you can barely see daylight that far underground!

For those who have yet to read it, here: the Twin Consort section of Blizzard’s recent Throne of Thunder raid preview post.

The Twin Consorts of Lei Shen, Lu’Lin and Suen, are said to be greatest of the Thunder King’s treasures. Rumoured to be the only known female mogu in existence, Lei Shen keeps his trophies close, and their combined arsenal against interlopers closer.

Ion: Players may have noticed the complete absence of any female mogu in their exploration of the continent of Pandaria. Players who look closely at the models of these celestial twins will note that they seem quite literally carved out of stone. Indeed, these were specifically created by Lei Shen and empowered to serve and guard him, and they are a direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole. An earlier version of the concept for the fight had them actually being spirits of the Sun and Moon, but that didn’t feel quite right (and we all know that the only true spirit of the Moon is Elune, and clearly she was not locked away by the Thunder King).

In the lore paragraph alone, Lu’Lin and Suen are nothing more than ‘treasures’ and ‘trophies’ for a powerful masculine figure. Grammar pratfalls aside, they are given no definition beyond their status as commodity: they are defined by their rumoured rarity.

Think of all those token women injected into otherwise male-dominated books, television programmes and films. They’re infuriating because, oh man, each one is just a woman!

This sounds bloody sexist. Just a woman? In what world are women any less complex, conflicted and interesting than men? But this is the thing: the answer is the world into which a token woman is added. Within this world, gender is depicted not as something that informs a character’s disposition and life experiences. It is the sole character trait of this token character. She is a woman. Beyond that, she is undefined: her personality has neither depth nor flavour to it.

Here, Lu’Lin and Suen appear to suffer the same. They are the only mogu women in existence, full stop. No further elaboration regarding their personalities or personal feats. There is nothing else in that description about them; it’s all about the Thunder King and the way he treasures them. A paragraph supposedly intended to elaborate on two new female characters says more about their male creator and keeper. Nice!

And then things got meta

I mentioned a ‘design team within a design team’ in my initial three steps to hole-digging, and that crops up in this second paragraph. Here, Ion writes that Lu’Lin and Suen ‘were specifically created by Lei Shen’ as an explanation for their bodies. They are a ‘direct reflection of his will rather than any broader sense of mogu culture as a whole.’

What Ion seems to be saying here is that the Thunder King has a fetish that is completely uninformed by the society he exists within. This guy transcends the mogu people, reaches across the great digital divide, and plucks his sexuality right out of the real world. What a badass you are, Lei Shen.

You can see quite clearly what’s actually going on here if you break down the paragraph as a whole. Ion opens with reference to a problem the players have been talking about for a while: the lack of female models out and about in Azeroth. This is a concern that we as real-world people are discussing; it’s an on-going conversation between the consumers of World of Warcraft and the real-world design team.

But Ion engages with it on an in-character lore level instead. Hey, you lot noticed the design team had produced two more small-waisted, big-breasted, long-legged, scantily-clad female models! As it happens, the Twin Consorts look this way because Lei Shen did it!

Lu'Lin and Suen
Goddamnit Lei Shen.

Both Ion and the design team as a whole have retreated behind the shield of a fictional character’s will to weather the backlash against their tired and sexist concept, as though the players are blind to the fact that this is a fictional character they have defined, and defined poorly – unless they mean to tell me Lei Shen’s sexuality is supposed to resemble Reddit’s.

In taking this route, they’ve managed to lose out on the chance to write two interesting, multi-facetted women; they’ve failed to write a final boss character who represents his people and culture; and they’ve patronised every player who’s spoken up regarding the lack of women amongst new races.

That’s a heavy-hitting list of fails, right there.

How to avoid digging them holes

Write characters whose desires make sense within their world and culture. Write characters that are characters in their own right, not props to show the power and hedonism of someone else. Remember that you are writing characters, not excuses. Your audience does not want their concerns patronised. They know your characters are an extension of you, and that it is your responsibility to fully-form them as individuals.

And for pity’s sake: knock it off with the pant-and-bra sets!

12 comments:

  1. Awesome post. I actually wrote about a similar topic just the other day (http://jjloraine.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/lovely-ladies/). I think the Bechdel Test (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheBechdelTest?from=Main.TheBechdelTest) really highlights where media like TV, movies and video games are lacking. Defining females in relation to men is all-too-often a pitfall writers fall into, and it's shameful.

    Now, I think Blizzard COULD have been OK here, if they kept that relegation to something done by the Mogu. I mean, the Mogu are villains already - it makes sense that they'd be awful. It's step 3, and the meta justification, that really makes it unappealing for me. The sad part is, the post even kinda hints that they KNOW it's a sexist design, but they are trying to justify it. Just...le sigh.

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  2. Fantastic post my friend! Hope you don't mind me sharing it!

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  3. Great post! In fact, it brought me back to a book I read as a teenager - 'Brotherhood of the Rose' where John Eliot's character stated "Women are only good for sexual release" although it was more memorable in the film.

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  4. Just read your post. My brain is now merrily digesting it.

    It is step three that makes this whole incident especially disappointing for me, too, although I'm not a massive fan of the argument that villains are villains argument - not so much because I'm against villains being villainous but that I see similar sexism amongst the heroic lot, which you pointed out in your post: most female characters propped up by romantic plots, or going doolally a la Sylvanas. When a villain's sexism sets him apart as a massive dick, rather than simply putting him in line with an on-going issue, then I'll be quite okay with it, and extra happy to Blackout Kick him in the face. :D

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  5. Not at all! Thanks very much for doing so. :D

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  6. gnome power pew pew

    http://www.youtube.com/user/MrGnomica/videos?view=0

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  7. Well said. It really is Blizz's justification that makes it extra bad. Why couldn't the lore for the twins been "Mogu females don't exist, so as an experiment their stoneshapers carved a couple, and they were such total badasses that Lei-Shen made them his bodyguards." Boom. They still look like generic barbie dolls, but at least their backstory isn't stupid and objectifying.

    Instead it's like "I'm the Thunder King, why don't I have bitches? Even the stupid pandas have bitches. You! Go make me some bitches!"

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  8. Phoenix Dawn Firebird18 July 2013 at 16:48

    Oh my God, Seriously? Quit making us all look like a pack of whiny B!@*%($... Just because YOU can't deal with men objectifying women? Welcome to the real world, it happens, it will always happen unless suddenly every man turns gay tomorrow. Funny as that would be... Not going to happen... No matter how strong a female char would be I'm sure YOU would pick fault with it if it happened to have a figure. You expect everything to look like the Princess of Mauradon? Sorry but even I couldn't deal with looking at that fat ugly B!*@% if every female NPC/Boss had to look like it. I get the message


    "OMG Consorts, SO Sexist!" But tell me this... What would be the difference if they made a hot male char so the female players could ogle him hmm? There are SOME nice males true but, had there been a female leader (hot or not) who had 2 male consorts (Sculpted to perfection) I have a strong feeling you would have not one issue with it.

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  9. Phoenix Dawn Firebird18 July 2013 at 16:51

    I'm sorry but "You! Go make me some Bitches" actually made me laugh. Come to think of it, The Lich King had Bitches to..

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  10. Aah, don't put words in my mouth, they taste second-hand. I might have issue with male consorts, but it would depend entirely on the execution, as was the case with Lu'Lin and Suen.

    As this article attempts to explain, my primary issue with them is that they have no personality, they have a shape that isn't properly explained, and everything about them is there to describe another character - they're Lei Shen's footnotes.

    If the same was done with the genders reversed, all those storytelling issues would still be there, and yeah, as a writer, that would niggle at me.

    As you stated in your first paragraph, however, objectification of women is part of the real world. It's well-established and most people are aware of it. Therefore male consorts would subvert that tired trope. Personally I find straight subversions a bit boring, but it would still make a bit more of a statement than playing up the same old, same old.

    As for Princess, she has three faces and four arms. Can you imagine the texture stretching issues, getting standard armour onto her? I may not take offence at her giant belly, but I would be stuck in permanent grimace over the wildly distorted pixels of my Nightslayer bodysuit.

    I don't want everyone looking like her - in fact, I don't want everyone looking like any one thing. I find that a varied set of body sizes, shapes and presentation makes for the most memorable boss rosters, and I feel that most female bosses just don't get to enjoy the full range of looks.

    As for Lei Shen looking to the enslaved species of Pandaria and trying to duplicate something they have and he hasn't, that'd be an interesting explanation, yeah.

    Sadly it cannot hold water, however, because there are no women in Pandaria who even faintly resemble Lu'Lin and Suen. There are no female yaungol models, and the pandaren women and the mantid queen are just the wrong shape to provide inspiration.

    It's kinda like, in failing to fully form both genders of each race, Blizzard have shot themselves epically in the foot when it comes to justifying the Twins. Oops?

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  11. Phoenix Dawn Firebird18 July 2013 at 19:41

    Um, he just slapped boobs on his race, it's simple, he saw boobs, he wanted boobs... ToT has a bunch of odd experiments that have little sense and probably less usage other than to be killed. With other races that need to breed having two genders and the likes of Panda's and the 'new races' hitting the shores, the females of which have boobs and certain races having the 'figure' it's not hard to think he just made himself some chicks just so he could say he has them, funny thing is he may not know what to DO with them, they are called consorts but.... You never know, none of them could have the anatomy for that and they look like stone Barbies meaning he is their shone Ken.

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  12. No need to apologize, it was intended to be humorous.

    Far as lore expectations, the places where they really get it right cause me to expect more of them.

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