Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wish You Were Here

Perspective as humour, discuss.

I often like to pass comment on current news items, and this week's been a real eye-opener in terms of a topic that's become contentious in my game as well as in other places: diversity. Earlier this week, Marvel decided that Thor's tenure as Norse God in Residence was up for negotiation, and in what is already shaping up to be a master-stroke will be handing the hammer over to a woman. YES, A WOMAN. Just so we're clear: NO, this does not mean they're altering Norse Mythology, simply their own canonical version, where Thor has already been a horse, and a frog. After that, being a woman shouldn't be a stretch, but the whining OH THE WHINING is still going on. Again, just so we are clear: Marvel's VERSION OF CANON, their rulez, they can do what the heck they like because they invented Thor in Comic Books. Late last night US time the company also announced the first officially sanctioned African American Captain America. Needless to say, I think the Market Research Marvel have done on this is sending some EXTREMELY interesting signals through the ether.

Yes. THIS. Because Diversity is... well, diverse.

The clock appears to be ticking for anyone who thinks that the issue of diversity in 'geek' culture isn't either relevant or powerful, and we're not simply talking about comics bought or merchandised purchased. 'Traditional' values (whatever the Hell they actually are) are all well and good, but as your society evolves over time it becomes increasingly important to accept that everything has a relevance, even if it is something you can't personally ascribe to. I kopped flack this week for suggesting those who complain about such changes need to 'grow up' and I'm sticking by that line quite vehemently: there is a distinct lack of maturity in a great many people's outlook currently, and it is very depressing indeed. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to demonstrate you are willing to show you both understand and grasp opposing points of view first before you dismiss them. Needless to say, when it comes to Blizzard's take on the subject of diversity, it is hard to accurately gauge the landscape across all the titles they produce. There are no clear opportunities to 'showcase' a particular NPC in an obviously 'diverse' manner in the manner Marvel has, plus Azeroth is a very long way from the 'modern' world: as has been discussed here before, their latest major Expansion wasn't really waving the diversity flag from the word go.

Saved on my PC as 'nowomen.jpg'. GO FIGURE.

There's been a lot of argument since announcement of the 'all male' lineup of Warlords at Blizzcon, and if we use the Marvel Canon argument that we have above, all of it is remarkably justified. When you're guys making games it is easy to cast characters in your own 'image' and when your Expansion is returning a bunch of characters from an old game you made... well, it makes a lot of sense to not 'update' your backdrops or characters. This is where understanding the context of situations becomes important, and speaking with my writers hat on it is far easier to invent something you can identify with and that has your passion injected into it if you are able to present your audience with something that is convincing for you as content producers to create. All our Warlords have rich, complex back-stories, and that's because they were 'built' with obvious passion and commitment. Is it a problem the people that did that job them are all men? Should it even be an issue that you need to 'identify' with any of them on a gender level if the story is well-produced and the entertainment value that is derived from them is satisfying?

The bigger issue, I think, isn't just diversity in terms of race or gender preference. I think it is the job of creativity, in whatever field we happen to be considering, not simply to reflect the one person who creates that content. For it to be grasped by the majority there needs to be a bigger stage, a larger backdrop, and for it to gain more relevance there needs to be the understanding of the complexity the human race brings to the table in absolutely everything it is involved in. Ultimately, stories that are set in very insular circumstances succeed because people are able to grasp an affinity in the telling that mirrors their own struggles with the human condition. Shakespeare, as an example, maintains a relevance because the stories he told were universal themes on the emotional problems that plagued and created beauty in people's lives in the 16th Century, and remain relevant today. To make things really count you need to NOT focus on the faces or the names, but the feelings and the consequences, but to do that you need to engage an audience first, and absolutely the best way of doing THAT in the modern world is using the right image.

For a company who prides itself on visuals, Blizzard really has missed a trick or two in the last year.


I think, like a fair few woman I know who play games, the sex of my protagonists isn't the end of the world. After all, I've lived through decades of gaming when female heroes weren't anything close to the norm... but if I'm honest I'd not pick my games on the strength of their protagonists. I'd go for stories and good gameplay and the ability to get lost in a good piece of work. However, it is definitely pleasing for me to be able to run my (still) all-female team through Missions in the Garrison in Beta. I don't know if its wish fulfilment, or simply a case of just feeling more comfortable that I am at least catered for now in terms of choice. In the end, I suppose, it would just be nice to be asked what I'd like a bit more and to be offered the option to specify rather than be presented with what I get. In the end, I think that for a lot of people that's all diversity is for them, the power back into their hands and decisions not being made by somebody else.

If Marvel can justify their choices, that's all that really matters. I wonder if the same can be said of Blizzard.

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