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As part of my ongoing search for interesting ways to occupy myself while waiting for Bad Monkeys to be published, I've started playing World of Warcraft. This is not an entirely pointless time sink. I did some freelance work for one of the local software giants last year, and it's conceivable that at some point someone will ask me to be a "creative consultant" on an MMORPG, so I figure it can't hurt to have some actual play experience.

Before hiking over to Fred Meyer to pick up the game client, I read a bunch of player and game designer blogs, and found some interesting essays. One issue that gets mentioned periodically in game design circles, in a "We really should do something about this...someday" kind of way, is that the vast majority of computer game designers are white men who, lacking anyone to tell them otherwise, sometimes make decisions that needlessly alienate millions of potential customers.

For my first World of Warcraft character, I decided to play a troll of the hunter class. About an hour into the game I got sent on a quest to a seaside village called Sen'Jin, populated by my fellow trolls, and while interacting with the non-player characters I realized that we were all speaking with Haitian accents. A particular shade of Haitian accent, seemed like: repeatedly, as I finished an exchange with a quest-giver or a shopkeeper, I was warned to "Stay away from the voodoo, mon." Gee, I thought, that's odd. Why would trolls talk like black people?

Seeking answers, I turned to the racial history section of the WoW manual, and read the following: "The vicious trolls that populate the numerous jungle isles of the South Seas are renowned for their cruelty and dark mysticism. Barbarous and superstitious, they carry a seething hatred for all other races..." Ah, I thought, of course. That explains it. Trolls talk like black people because they're superstitious jungle savages.

WoW, indeed.

Naturally, this got me curious. Was this an isolated horrible worldbuilding choice, or was there more? After leveling up my troll a bit, I started another character, a Tauren druid.

Taurens, as their name suggests, are a minotaur-like species (although my female druid looks more like a bipedal dairy cow). But they really should have been modeled on bison rather than cattle, because it turns out Taurens are actually Native Americans of the Mix-n-Match tribe. Environmentally conscious citizens of the plains, they live in both tipis and longhouses, and carve totem poles. And their signature greeting is "How!", an expression I haven't heard since the days of F-Troop.

Again, WoW.

Don't get me wrong. World of Warcraft is as fun and addictive as you've heard, very well done in most respects. But in a game meant to appeal to a mass audience, this sort of stuff is just incredibly dumb.


Jun. 30th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)
Mind you, those aren't the trolls you're supposedly playing. You're playing...er...uncle trolls. Also, be ready to be entertained by the Sean Connery meets Bruce Campbell dwarves.

Part of it is a residual concept from table top fantasy RP that an accent is the core of any good role play. This has always mystified me. I mean, I understand the method theory to it, but most people have a limited number of accents they can do with any ease. They want to make it easy for people who want to get into the act. Unfortunately, they make some awkward choices.

However, the other trick is that the game is not meant to appeal to a mass audience. They know their audience is primarily mildly affluent white boys and young men who tend to turn into quasi-literates when on the internet. I mean, when I left WoW, it was because of this sort of thing, specifically the LBGT guild fiasco.

In fact, my final e-mail to Blizzard was along the lines of 'by your actions, it is clear which part of your audience you actually want. You could have chosen to continue to enforce the rules in a sensible manner. But you didn't, and proved to me I'm not the sort of player you want.' Mind you, there were some other issues too, also revolving around the inconsistency of Blizzard's actions on the RP servers, where it was, again, clear that they were more interested in a "stop the car" method of punishment than their originally stated "self-policing" one.

I would, however, if you're scanning the field in general, check into some of the other MMOs out there. Most you can scrounge up a free X day trial for. I'd highly suggest EVE. While I didn't find it terribly satisfying (more accurately it was one of those times when I realized that, sometimes, you can get exactly what you've been looking for for ages...and then discover it doesn't actually grab you), it's world's apart from WoW. A Tale in the Desert is much the same way.
Jul. 1st, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
However, the other trick is that the game is not meant to appeal to a mass audience. They know their audience is primarily mildly affluent white boys and young men who tend to turn into quasi-literates when on the internet.

I realize that that's their bread-and-butter demographic, but even if they don't want to go out of their way to court other groups, it seems like it'd be good business, and not that hard, to avoid actively repelling them. When I first read the manual and saw that they'd dropped the old RPG cliche of giving male and female characters different starting stats (more strength for him, more charisma for her), I thought, "Good, someone's on the ball." Turns out not so much.

I would, however, if you're scanning the field in general, check into some of the other MMOs out there.

Before getting World of Warcraft, I took a run at MapleStory, which is a 2-D platform-jumper MMORPG from Korea, recently ported into English. The business model is interesting: the game itself is free to download and play, but there's an in-game cash shop where you can buy cooler-looking armor, better weapons, etc.

Unfortunately the interface is poorly designed -- it took me ten minutes to discover how to leave the arrival platform, and I wasn't alone -- and then, because my character was female, one of the tutorial NPCs starting hitting on me in a really annoying and condescending way. So I gave up after the first half hour.

EVE Online does sound interesting. Have to say I'm surprised there hasn't been a World of Starcraft yet, given the popularity of the RTS title.
Jun. 30th, 2007 06:09 pm (UTC)
haha 'how' indeed, 'mon'. That is priceless! I'd be insulted if I could just stop laughing!
Jun. 30th, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
Hie thee to Malfurion, where you'll find some friends (and help) among the Consummate Vees.
Jul. 1st, 2007 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm kind of enjoying the solo adventuring right now, but at some point when I'm ready to try raiding I'll take you up on that. What level are you guys now?
(no subject) - frabjousdave - Jul. 1st, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frabjousdave - Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frabjousdave - Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frabjousdave - Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
OK, I know I'm not the only one who thinks MMORPGing in the settings of either Fool on the Hill or Sewer, Gas & Electric would totally rock...
Jul. 1st, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)
I think I'd pick Sewer over Fool -- but I'd pick a completely original world over either.
(no subject) - bassfingers - Jul. 1st, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
You should've rolled alliance, I'd be happy to play helper :)

I spend quite a bit of time on that game (not to the exclusion of things like outside, exercise, work, playing guitar, cooking, but a lot nonetheless). Such is raiding, I guess.

If you ever want the nitty-gritty math and optimization of your character, there's a well-moderated forum at elitistjerks.com with a wealth of info.

I'm Apate on the Khadgar server.

If you ever get to create a world, well, maybe I'd finally find the "next big thing." (I'm been beta testing ome of the other ones...good stuff, but no WoW)
Jul. 2nd, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
I do have one math question, if you know the answer: when I see a monster labeled "Elite," what number should I add to its nominal level to determine how dangerous it really is?
(no subject) - morbid_o - Jul. 3rd, 2007 02:21 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 1st, 2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
alliance is easy mode
just wait until you get into guild drama. Grown MEN crying about an item and getting mad enough to disconnect.

oh and the swinger guilds. hos 'r us.

My guild is mostly adults with the exception of a few children that occasionally play their parent's accounts. I've been extremely lucky to have almost no drama (although i'm sure the corrections officer guild leader helps ;).
Jul. 1st, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
Re: alliance is easy mode
The above would be my girlfriend and in the same guild (house, life, etc.)

We actually have a few couples, a father/son pair, and some Grandfatherly types.
Jul. 2nd, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC)
Matt: My kid used to play this game all the time and I watched over his shoulder sometimes to get a sense of what's going on. The entire WoW world is a stereoptype of, at least, tired Fantasy tropes (I don't mean to say that this should negate its enjoyment for people). I'm not surprised about this stuff, though I think your discovery is interesting. What I could never get over is how much time you actually spend in the game just running here and running there. They should have called it World of Running.
Jul. 2nd, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
the standard fan phrase is "World of Walking".
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ex_14thedit - Jul. 2nd, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matt_ruff - Jul. 2nd, 2007 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 2nd, 2007 05:27 pm (UTC)
why do i always respond to this news like "hey, i tried heroin today"?
Jul. 3rd, 2007 11:23 pm (UTC)
spazzychic pointed me to the Daedalus Project. it's real research on MMORPGs instead of anecdotes. the problematic usage article made sense of my past experiences with MMO players.
Jul. 4th, 2007 02:57 am (UTC)
Thanks for the link. This is interesting.
Aug. 13th, 2007 12:07 am (UTC)
Perhaps the Troll accent is in that Calypso style because they come from the South Seas and not because they're "superstitious jungle savages". Besides that accent isn't just Haitian. Haven't you seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3? ;-)

The Tauren are very respectful of the whole native American, shamanistic culture side of things. As you said they are enviromentally conscious citizens, they respect their surroundings and each other. They try and live in harmony with the world. Yet you've picked out one small thing, "How!" and used it to conclude that racism is endemic in the game.

It's easy to find things that aren't there if you are looking for them.
Aug. 13th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
I think you're missing my main point, which is not that the Trolls and Taurens are racist, but that they are bad for business.

Women and ethnic minorities play computer games too. Maybe not in the same numbers as the prized white male age 18-35 demographic, but still, they exist as potential customers. It's stupid to include content in a game that's likely to offend potential customers -- particularly if the game makes its money off subscriptions.

Apr. 7th, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
More on Racism in WoW
Yeah it sucks that troll history is appropriated from black culture at the same time they are cast as savages. Also Why cant I make my human pladin black. I've made him brown, but thats not good enough I need him midnight black like me.
Aug. 11th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
This discussion seems long dead, but I found it interesting enough to drop a note. At what point does politically correct become silly? I mean, the voodoo stereotype is rife throughout the culture and isn't necessarily viewed as a negative, but (and particularly in the fantasy genre) magical, dark, mysterious. Your twisting the fantasy to 'superstitious jungle savages' may be a view point, but then, couldn't anyone take ANYTHING and twist it to be insulting? Hobbits in tolkien world could be viewed as 'isolationist narrow minded short people who smoke pipes', thus insulting all short folk, pipe smokers and/or isolationists if they decide to take offense.

My point is 'why go looking for insults in a game'?

Apr. 27th, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
Commenting to a longer dead reply:

No one is looking for insults/racism/sexism. It's just so blatant that you can't miss it.

A lot of this stuff affects people in different ways. Like the MapleStory. A man would just laugh at the NPC trying to pick up his female character and think nothing of it. A woman would know that it's sexist tripe and be put off by it, since women are always objectified in the MMO arena and this game is being more blatant than most.

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