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