We all know that the gaming community is not known for being particularly sensitive to women. The lack of sensitivity increases exponentially with amount of in-game violence; even I’ve let some things slip when fragging Covenant that, if recorded, would prevent me from ever running for public office.
But gaming communities fall in a pretty distinct spectrum of crudeness. In fact, I see it as an “Insensitivity Triangle.” You have the FPS and fighting gamers on one end, churning through endless bodies in historic and future wars alike, where the string of racial, cultural, and sexual expletives tossed back and forth seems somewhat secondary to the fact that you just shot someone in the face.
Then you have the RTS realm, where gamer behavior is recorded, broadcast, and archived for the viewing pleasure of all of the South Korean public. RTS tournaments I’ve watched are eerily quiet aside from game audio, partially due to the social protocols of the Far East, and partially because meticulously controlling a hundred semi-autonomous stationary and mobile units in a combat situation likely takes up every neuron available in the brains of even the most evolutionarily advanced gamer. (In contrast, my Starcraft games pretty much end up like this.)
Finally you have your MMORPGs, the social gaming vertex of the triangle that, ironically, often includes the least social gamers. The role of gender is what you would expect. Cultural allusions though, can take on some pretty odd manifestations when layered on a platform of fantastical creatures from magical lands.
What ethnic race is an orc or a troll or an elf? The answer should be none, because, well they’re orcs and trolls and elves. But Blizzard has always slid in allusions to world cultures in their games. For example, both the witch doctor in D3 and the troll from WoW are given Islander accents. Now, there’s a part of my brain appreciates the extra added richness given to the world by having different accents or a non-European mythology centered magical world, but mostly that’s overshadowed by the fact that cultures linked with ethic minorities in the US are never the elegant, civilized, or powerful in-game races. In other words, why do you never see an elf with a fro?
So there lies my discomfort with the situation, always bubbling away beneath the surface, mostly ignored, when along comes the new WoW expansion, “Mist of Pandaria,” and the crux of this post. Let me simply explain with a picture.
For those wondering, yes, that is indeed an anthropomorphic panda wearing a conical straw hat, cheongsam, and a sporting a fu manchu. And yes, apparently he lives in places called “The Jade Forest” and “Kun Lai Summit” that apparently look like this:
Sigh. For about 5 seconds when I first saw this, my brain went “Yay! Representation!” That didn’t last long, as I was hit by wave after wave of the most ridiculous orientalism I have ever seen in a modern commercial product. As one of my friends commented, this is “representation” the same way Native American depictions in 1980s video games like Custer’s Revenge can be considered “representation.”
Finally, to end this on a happy note, there was one good thing that Blizzard’s new “pand-emic” produced— namely, the first fat WoW body type. Yes, I know this was only the result of Blizzard trying to cache in on the cute, chubby panda factor rather than any statement against society’s obsession with thinness and body dismorphia. And that, as this following piece of rather odd fan art shows, they could have gone a little bigger. But I’ll take what I can get. And what I get is a racist but acceptably larger sized WoW character to play.
Did I tell you I cancelled my WoW subscription?