Warcraft
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Does the Warcraft movie have a problem with women?

I want to be excited about the Warcraft movie, but the hype from SDCC has left me decidedly un-hyped, and not just because they didn’t reveal the public trailer we all expected. After all, thoughI may not have seen the particular footage shown at SDCC this year, I caught the teasers at SDCC and BlizzCon last year, and I feel completely confident that the movie looks great — I don’t need another trailer to prove that.

But I’m starting to worry that the Warcraft movie may have a real problem with women. It’s a problem that World of Warcraft itself has had for some time. Warlords of Draenor has made great efforts to include female characters, but while it’s fantastic to see Yrel, Draka, and Aggra (appearing in Nagrand after we were explicitly told she wouldn’t be part of the expansion), it’s impossible to ignore the game’s lousy track record with leading ladies who are often forgotten, neglected, fridged, or simply never important enough to be mentioned (or given names) in the first place. (Which reminds me: has anyone seen Jaina lately? Should we send out search parties?)

And then there’s the fact that I can’t seem to go a solid week without being told women don’t play games like WoW — so I must be faking my name, voice, and/or identity as a whole. Despite having met more women playing World of Warcraft than I have in any other gaming community, the reaction to them often ranges from hostility to denial to complete inappropriateness. There’s a reason why many women gamers won’t advertise their online presence: simply existing can be an invitation for harassment, and that will kill any enjoyment found in the game.

Many players log on the game world to escape from real world problems, but logging on to any multiuser platform as a woman isn’t always as much of an escape as one might hope. I’m currently in a fantastic guild where I can talk on voice chat without any fear of being called out for faking my own voice and “pretending” to be a woman — but in my decade-long history of playing WoW, that hasn’t always been the case.

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What does this have to do with the Warcraft movie?

The connection between these thoughts and the Warcraft movie is this: when director Duncan Jones talks about World of Warcraft, I have wonder if we’re playing the same game at all. “It [Warcraft] has always been a very welcoming environment for women,” Jones told Time last week. Reading this, my eyebrows went up. Even now, in a friendly, welcoming guild, I still meet people in game chat or in groups who tell me I don’t exist, that I don’t belong, to get out. My last encounter with such an individual was Thursday, July 9th — which I remember particularly because I screen capped some especially amusing lines of dialog — the day before Jones’ interview with Time.

It’s hard to see Warcraft as a welcoming environment for women today, but even its current state is better than what it was a year ago or a decade ago. Saying that the game has “always” been welcoming doesn’t just ring hollow, it denies the experience of hundreds of thousands of women who put up with harassment every time they log on — but log in we do, whether ignored or abused for it, because we love the game. We love the game, but we know it’s not perfect: and I expect many of us are still here because we know Blizzard can make better, more inclusive games, and we’ve seen them making efforts to so. Though I applaud the steps Blizzard has made, I also don’t think this is all its games can be: we can do better to create a game world that’s fun and welcoming for everyone who logs on.

But it feels like Jones disagrees with my assessment. “When we were writing the film it was also really important to me that we maintain the balance that they got so right in that game.” I reread that sentence, and then I reread it again. Duncan Jones clearly does not play the same World of Warcraft that I do, but the game he’s describing sounds awesome and I want in. Is his experience of Warcraft representative of what it is to be a man playing the game? Because I’d love to have a subscription to the game Jones is playing and I’d happily pay a higher subscription fee for the experience.

But I can’t. The internet — and Blizzard’s games, by extension — come with a side order of misogyny that’s hard to escape, even in a fantasy world about orcs and elves.

While Jones certainly has an obligation not to bad talk his source material (if he wants to keep his job), it feels like he’s gone out of his way to talk about how great the game is… and while it may be a great game, its history with sexism isn’t one of the things that makes it great. Why not call out the game’s great female characters (who exist, even if they don’t always get a fare shake)? Why not call out the number of women who play the game? To say that the Warcraft movie isn’t going to be sexist, did Jones really have to tell the game’s female playerbase that what they see every day has never existed?

Whether he doesn’t realize what women experience in the game or he’s trying to downplay it to promote the movie… neither bodes particularly well for how women are likely to be treated by the film.

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Will the Warcraft film transcend its gaming roots?

This leads to the question of whether the Warcraft movie will be modeled after the game Jones describes or the boys’ club that Jones can’t see because he’s part of it. It’s possible Jones is trying to push the story beyond its source material, and make it something that’s genuinely welcoming to people of all types, even though answers in that interview don’t explicitly say as much. Still, this seems like a tall order, especially when the cast includes only four named women out of 15 named characters total — not an unusual ratio to see an action movie, certainly, but a far cry from even-handed gender representation that Jones seems to believe exists in Warcraft’s gaming universe.

We only know two of those characters from previous lore: Draka (Anna Galvin), wife of Durotan, and Garona (Paula Patton), the half-orc assassin. Of the rest, one is Lady Taria (Ruth Negga), wife of King Llane Wrynn, mother of Varian Wrynn — and an invention of the film because, prior to this point, Varian’s mother was neither mentioned nor seen. Two more female characters are complete unknowns: Aloman (Anna Van Hooft) and Kultiran (Valérie Wiseman) have not been previously mentioned in the lore, but play an important enough part in the film to be named.

This, at least, does suggest that Jones intends to grow the game universe, to flesh out the women that the games, novels, and comics have glossed over or outright ignored. At the weekend’s Legendary panel, Negga said of her character that “behind every great man, there’s a greater woman.” Despite the implication that women must stand behind their men (and, thus, well away from the front lines), this line does reassure us that Warcraft’s leading ladies will be more than set dressing: they’ll be heroes in their own right, fighting for their cause and their homeland. Still, in the case of Negga’s Lady Taria, if the film follows the game lore as we know it, she dies and leaves Varian an orphan during the First War. Though we don’t know how much of the lore the Warcraft movie intends to cover, it may well be that we only have Taria for a single film before she, like many of Warcraft lore’s other leading ladies, vanishes to make room for more stories about the male-dominated cast.

Art by Aleksandr Nikonov

Just what are they wearing?

Also in the Time interview, Jones talked costuming: “You can dress however you want in the game world. You don’t have to be in slutty costumes.  You can dress like the character that you see in your head.” Again, I’d love to play the game Jones describes as World of Warcraft… but it doesn’t sound much like the game I’m subscribed to. Often the same armor will look radically different on male and female character models (with the latter showing significantly more skin). The chainmail bikini look is a popular fantasy trope that seems impractical in a combat situation — and never does much to make me feel like a kick-ass warrior.

While there are many options in armor, you’re often required to wear certain gear to do your best in combat, and sometimes that means women aren’t wearing much at all, especially while leveling up. Fortunately, transmog has opened up a world of armor options to all characters — and allowed female characters to escape from the chainmail bikini and plate thong that are entirely too common amongst Blizzard’s armor designs. Today, women in World of Warcraft have a lot of choice about how they look: they can adopt a sexy look or wear garb with a more protective appearance if they’d rather (insofar as Blizzard’s designs allow).

So does the Warcraft movie follow Blzzard’s skimpy-on-female-models, full-coverage-on-male-models armor design philosophy? We’ve only officially seen a few of the characters of the film so far. Lothar and Durotan both have their own movie posters, and we’ve saw models of Llane’s armor on the SDCC floor plus a character shot from BlizzCon last year. Of these, there’s a definite orc/human divide: Durotan is bare-chested while Lothar and Llane both wear full armor.

Of the film’s leading ladies, we’ve seen nothing officially released and very little unreleased. Shots of Draka in the BlizzCon trailer focused on her bare belly while blurry images of concept art shown during the Legendary panel show Garona in armed with some kind of weapon while wearing typical orcish garb, with similar coverage to a bikini. Taria appeared fully covered in a long gown and, though it’s unclear whether or not her character art includes it, we know she wields a dagger.

For all of Jones’ comments about not having to dress in “slutty” costumes, two of the three women we’ve seen so far show a lot of skin. Jones himself has already spoken up to assuage concerns, explaining that the promo art from SDCC didn’t feature Garona in her armor, which she’s in for most of the movie. So how will the women of Warcraft be dressed when we see them on the big screen? Should we trust the things we’ve seen or the things we’ve been told?

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So does the Warcraft movie have a sexism problem or doesn’t it?


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We’ve put together these pieces from the limited information about the movie that’s available to us. We’ve seen little of the film to suggest what the finished product will be like, and that’s part of the problem. Jones’ words might be easier to brush off if we had anything else to go on, but as it stands they represent the bulk of what we know about the movie’s female characters… and the disconnect between those words and the reality of the game we know is more than a little worrying.

While Duncan Jones talks up the movie’s lack of sexism, based, in part, on what he claims is the game’s lack of sexism, there are only two conclusions I can draw: either he doesn’t play the same World of Warcraft that I do and he’s making the film he describes or he’s making a film that’s just as sexist as the game he heaps praise on. Until we learn more, we can only hope that Warcraft’s women are used as more than set dressing.

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