No Room for Negative Characters in WoW?

There has been a lot of controversy in the MoP beta over Ji Firepaw and his dialogue. More specifically something said to female characters.

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To Males he greeted them with:

“Hello, friend! You’ve got a strong look to you! I bet you’re all the rage with the ladies! Join me! You and I are going to be good friends!”

To Females he said:

“Hello, friend! You’re some kind of gorgeous, aren’t you? I bet you can’t keep the men off of you! Join me!”

This upset some people and the line has been changed. I have to say was pretty creepy, but then I think the male version was too. My take on it was he was trying to flatter either gender into joining him but getting it wrong and going waaaaaay too far. I’m not sure what it’s been changed to, not having played in the beta. And I’m not against the changes.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. It got me thinking though.

Is there no room for ‘offensive’ characterisation in games any more?

I’m not sure I worded it right there so I’ll try and explain.

For example a dev wants to write a new character for the game. This character needs its own personality, and that may depend on what part of the storyline it fits into. Let’s say he is a member of a faction you have to deal with to gain acceptance. But this guy, well, it turns out he really doesn’t like women. And says so. Possibly in vocal terms. And part of the storyline is about you overcoming that. Either he gets cut down to size, or you change his opinion, whatever. My question is this.

Would people allow this to remain in game?

Personally I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Oh, sure, the quest line may make my blood boil, but in the end, as long as the over all message isn’t “Hurr hurr, wimenz are useless” and finishes up with only male characters getting passed it, I’m not going to demand it changed. Shit like this exists in real life, and I hate that, I really do, but I feel removing all traces of offensive subjects from the media would harm rather than help. Show it being challenged. Show it bring overcome. But please don’t act like it never happens, because if people don’t know it does then how can it be beaten.

Another example:

A new game comes out. In this game female toons can only take the cooking profession and their level cap is 5 levels lower than a male toons.

Now THAT I’d have a major problem with. It doesn’t highlight any issues other than the devs are assholes, and can influence young males into thinking of women as inferior.

Im not saying that it’s ok to have a character do a sudden about turn in personality and abuse someone out of the blue. I’m not saying it’s ok to have offensive content for the sake of the ‘lols’ or to troll users. But I am saying that in my opinion content shouldn’t be sanitised too much.

I hope this makes sense, as it did in my head, but on print I’m not so sure!

8 responses to “No Room for Negative Characters in WoW?

  1. Since I don’t know what the rest of the story with Ji Firepaw is, I won’t comment on that. But I agree with you that over-sanitization of the game in the name of political correctness can hurt more than it helps, in the end.

  2. I think that it would be very interesting to have characters with negative personality traits who end up changing them because of a quest line. I’m not sure that WoW can do it, though. Not because Blizzard isn’t creative enough, but because of how careful they would have to be with both the US version (the easy one) and all of the localization requirements put on them by both societal norms and government policies (I’m looking at you, China) throughout the world.

  3. My issue with this wasn’t so much that the line was offensive — although it was — but that Ji is a very important character to the story, and he’s important in a unique way. He’s the Pandaren representative to the Horde. He needs to be a likable and compelling character to make people want to follow him and join the Horde — just as Aysa Cloudsinger needs to be a compelling character to inspire people to join the Alliance.

    It’s okay to have some screwed up and unlikable NPCs. Calder Gray is a fan-favourite, and this is a guy whose favourite hobby is killing people and sewing their corpses together. But Ji, because of his unique position in the story, needs to be held to a higher standard.

    Making him learn from his mistakes as you suggest might have been interesting, but it would have required a total rewrite of his quests and might have overshadowed the other events of the starting zone, so I can understand why they wouldn’t do that.

  4. “Is there no room for ‘offensive’ characterisation in games any more?”

    There certainly is, however, there has to be consciousness of intent. Subjective as it is, I never had the feeling that this character was intended to provoke, or had any sort of obvious compelling back story that might explain his reasons for doing so. It seemed he was supposed to be a good old jolly, friendly and fun kind of guy.

    I would also argue that to create a character strongly negative towards women would be a fraught territory for Blizzard, given their still large, diverse audience and somewhat iffy track record when it comes to females in game. (Forget the plate bikini issue, I’m still waiting for female Tol’vir …)

  5. I think your first suggestion, with the quest line in which you eventually convince or cut down to size an antagonist, would definitely have a place in games. Although, like you, the quest line would make my blood boil, if the conclusion was that he was shown the error of his gross woman-hating ways, I would be pleased with that outcome.

    Ji’s dialogue did nothing to add to his character and wasn’t necessary for his story or interaction with the player, so the fact that it was 1) unessential and 2) offensive made it unnecessary to include.

    A lot of times the fact that games are “fantasy” is used to support offensive language, storylines, etc, but those things aren’t fantasy – they exist in the real world. For me the real fantasy would be a world completely devoid of sexism :P

  6. Dunno… the issue is probably best left to single-player games where it can be explored in proper depth. MMOs don’t have much by way of characterisation or choice, and any attempt at highlighting gender equality issues would likely be halfhearted and thus unsatisfying for fear of attracting controversy over ‘man-hating’ quest designers. Controversy is a swear-word for a company looking to keep its spot as the most accessible game on the market.

  7. It’s doable, certainly. The first Mass Effect game did it to a degree, with both Ashley (a member of your team and possible love interest for male PCs) and Nav. Pressly (a flavour NPC) hovering in xenophobia territory. Zevran, a “bisexual” character in Dragon Age, was perhaps less bisexual and more “will do whatever, with whoever, if its profitable/keeps him alive/is convenient), was in my experience pretty sleazy to both male and female PCs. I didn’t like him much, certainly, and I think he was probably designed with the knowledge that some people *wouldn’t* like him. There are more.

    I actually rather enjoy it when there are characters that I don’t like in videogames. I don’t like everyone I meet in meatspace, not hardly. And while gaming can be escapism, where you only want to be with nice folks, there’s plenty of scope for the irritating, the unpleasant and the bigoted to exist in at least *some* games, alongside the usual cavalcade of heroes and villains.

    I even think it could be possible to incorporate such a character in WoW, although arguably not worth the effort. The keys for me are awareness and influence.

    So, in the case of Firepaw: I don’t think it’s necessarily true that Blizzard can’t create a character who is a chauvinist. But firstly, they have to knowingly and deliberately do so. They have to write the character in such a way that they consistently display their *insert negative trait*, so we can see that this isn’t just a slip of the editorial process but is a deliberate expression of this NPC’s character.

    Secondly, if Blizzard wanted to make a deliberately prejudiced character, then they need to think carefully about how that NPC fits into the game, and the options the player has in dealing with that NPC.

    Rule 1: don’t make them a critical component to the story or the leveling process. This was a big part of why Ji was so problematic, AFAIK.

    Rule 2: Give the player some options in how they interact with them. Imagine a strongly characterised male NPC vendor who consistently made “inappropriate” comments to female player-characters. Perhaps the PC could tell the vendor that if they wanted any business at all in future, they should say nothing more than “thank you” and “hello” to them in future. Perhaps the PC could insist that they are never served by this particular vendor again. Future visits to the same location would find an “assistant” serving, or perhaps a new vendor who “took over this pitch after the previous occupant lost his market license for lewd behaviour”.

    To return to my opening example: in Mass Effect, I had the option to disagree with Ashley and Nav. Pressly, and to vary (to some extent) the strength of my disagreement. Most interactions with them were entirely optional — in the case of Ashley, I could in fact allow her to die at a certain point ;). With Zevran, I was free to leave him at our campsite and not include him in our adventures. In both cases, there’s little or no loss to me, the player.

    It’s a thought crying out for a lo-fi indie satire.

    Samus Aran returns to the Galactic Federation base after killing a level’s-worth of space pirates and has to deal with random privates nudging each other, saying “I’d hit that” and offering to carry her suit helmet. Equal-rank soldiers snigger together and tell her to go make them a sandwich. The base commander checks in on her frequently, “to make sure she’s ok”, and to let her know he’s there for her if she needs him — “hey, maybe we could get a coffee if you want to talk”. Meanwhile every piece of armour is a special order, even though there are piles of spares for the guys, and bitter, grumpy career-plateaued noncoms mutter to each other about “getting ahead by lying down” and half of all conversations with male NPCs devolve into distracted “mmm… sure … uh-huh… what was that babe-er-sarge, I missed that”, aimless flirting or outright dismissal. And any attempt to argue with this treatment would earn the reply “Oh sorry. Bad week?”

    Metroid: The Space Station Massacre, anyone?

    Coming back to WoW: I think it’s possible to create this kind of character in Azeroth, but whether it’s advisable is another question. Probably not.

  8. Pingback: How To Post: Frost Mage PvP And You « Chainsword and Mana Shield

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