Friday, May 23, 2014

It's Never Boring Around Here

I wasn't exactly planning on making a second post today, but there's currently a bit of an internet kerfuffle going on right now concerning some commentary that Rob Pardo, Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard, made at a recent MIT Media Lab talk. While he made some references to emphasizing fun and gameplay over narrative during the talk, the most interesting comments happened afterward.

Todd Harper, writing an opinion piece for Polygon, covers the questions and answers he had with Rob Pardo that touched on how Blizzard portrays women:

His subsequent list of justifications, reasons and examples became increasingly problematic. Pardo argued that Blizzard works primarily in sci-fi and fantasy because they're "kids at heart," reinforcing the idea that games — specifically Blizzard games — are not a place for "real world issues" to be discussed:

"We're not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that," he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.

Pardo notes that "because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books," Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that "is offensive to, I think, some women."*

There's a bit more there --particularly about Nintendo and their Tomodachi Life issues-- so if you want to follow the link below and read the article, go ahead.

Aside from the issue where it seems that Blizzard is all but saying they're not that interested in appealing to women, one of the problems with Pardo's statement is their belief that because they don't intend to write about real world issues their game has no effect. But unless you live in a bubble, everything has an impact on the wider world.

I've told my kids time and again that when they wear their school t-shirts and jackets out and about, people are judging their school based on their actions. It is most definitely not fair to judge an entire diverse community based on the actions of a few, but nevertheless it happens all the time. That's the entire point behind the term "represent" as in "Represent your school". If you act like an ass, you taint everyone with your behavior. But if you act responsibly, people will think more highly of your organization.

The same thing happens with Blizzard and WoW. For all their words, Blizzard demonstrates with their actions that they don't value very highly a substantial portion of their player base.

But the thing is, their representation issues are so easily fixed, it's not even funny.

Looking at Heroes of the Storm, for example, you could easily replace the Priest with Tyrande and the Paladin with Lady Liadrin, and you'd then have 4 of the 9 WoW characters as women.

Want to (partially) fix the lack of female faction leaders in WoW? Swap out Lor'themar for Lady Liadrin. Hell, until Mists dropped, I'd wager that most people thought she was the faction leader anyway. You could also make Moira the head of the Council of Three Hammers.

And before any lore nuts go ballistic over my suggestions, remember that Pardo also said that Blizzard emphasized "fun and gameplay" over "narrative".** Given the lack of emphasis on story and their total control over the content, there's no reason why they can't simply tweak this via a novel.


As I mentioned earlier, all this has stirred up a huge hornets nest in the WoW blogosphere.***

Kurn and Rades each have a take on the issue. Cynwise cancelled his WoW account.

And I can't help but think this is another black eye in Blizzard's direction when the company is having retention issues.

Maybe this won't have much of an impact with WoW, but the company can ill afford to piss off a not so insignificant amount of their player base. I doubt there will be a boycott of Blizzard, but what I do think is that some people who were considering taking a break from WoW might decide to pull the trigger now.

And really, if you feel shunted off to the side, why continue to spend money on the game?

It will prove interesting to see what happens next.

*From Erasing your audience isn't 'fun': The false choice between diversity and enjoyment by Todd Harper.

**Which kind of explains why they're not bothering to go back and fix major continuity issues in WoW.

***As of this moment, WoW Insider has been completely silent on this.

(EtA: At 7 PM EST, WoW Insider had this post by Matt Rossi on diversity.)


  1. Though I realize that it probably isn't possible, I would be rather interested to see a complete verbatim transcript of that conversation between Mr Pardo and Mr Harper. It feels to me like Mr Harper has picked out to share only the most damning bits of what Mr Pardo said. The full interview would probably still be pretty damning -- Mr Browder certainly shoots himself in the foot in the Heroes of the Storm interview -- but it would be nice to be able to form my own conclusions/opinions of Mr Pardo's statements.

    1. That's probably the only thing missing that I'd like to have a link to.

    2. Of course, this coming on the heels of the screenwriter for Batman v. Superman, David Goyer, calling She Hulk a porn star didn't exactly help matters much.

    3. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, just track it down, but here you go Kam:

    4. I have it linked up above, too, but I didn't watch it all the way through to see if the questions afterward were on there.

    5. Oh boy, teach me to not read in the morning without contacts in yet. I've listened to the first 30 mins. but kept getting interrupted.

    6. The questions at the end are included; I just watched the whole thing. The "social issues" subject is brought up at around the 70 minute mark.

    7. I listened to it, and it followed pretty much what the Polygon article said. I would have really wanted to hear the other part of the discussion after the program was over, but that's not the case.

      What I did get out of the program was how closed in Blizzard is as a culture; how they're really not into using interns or co-ops, and while Pardo isn't opposed to it, he's not all gung ho about it either. That is reflected in the hiring of women: he's not opposed to it, but he doesn't go out and seek women as game developers either. It's the passiveness of it all that surprises me, especially since they do their own thing with BlizzCon.

      I gathered from the discussion that Pardo doesn't go out and give talks in academic settings, either, making Blizz more of an opaque organization.

  2. I've been thinking lately that on the micro-level, at least for the PC races, WoW has quite a decent representation of female NPCs in a variety of roles and prominences. As Matt Rossi says in his article, Mists has actually done a pretty good job with the gender balance thing. The Cataclysm revamp of levels 1-60 does, too. Wrath isn't so bad, either -- BC might be the most imbalanced, at this point. It's really in the major lore figures that the roles and representation of women are problematic. Well, that and the lack of female models for so many NPC races.

    I think it's good that Mr Pardo is at least aware enough to be willing to admit that some of the ways Blizzard portrays female characters are offensive to some people -- even if it perhaps makes him something of a cad to not be interested in being "socially progressive" enough to do anything about it.

    1. That is an excellent point.

      It does seem, as Shintar says, that the more often this subject comes up, the deeper the Blizzard execs dig their hole. *sigh*

      I don't always recognize these kinds of issues myself, but once they are explained, I usually understand and agree with the need for change. The loyal Hufflepuff in me always wants to defend, though.

  3. It's kind of sad to see that every time this subject comes up, Blizzard manages to wedge their foot even deeper into their mouth. I mean, I have some sympathy for their position because I used to think like that when I was younger, but these are grown men, and once you give the subject some thought, it really isn't that hard to understand why it matters...

    1. As Matt Rossi pointed out in his article, all of this is easily fixed without any real impact to the development process. Swap a gender here or there, change a model, and you're done. The technical issues are practically non-existent, as are (the lack of) gameplay issues. It's all about how people see things.