Spoonman/come together with you hands/save me…
The above image is from: http://www.theirisnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/figure7.jpg . I cropped it because all I wanted to use for this entry is the Draenei. It is part of a fascinating paper by Andrea Rubenstein (http://www.theirisnetwork.org/archives/12) that says many of the same things I’m about to say in different ways.
So here’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks. When I started playing World of Warcraft, I chose to play on the Horde side (longstanding tradition of going with the villain :)). As such, I’ve done a great deal of thinking about the Horde races (see my article—hopefully one day forthcoming—on male blood elves and homophobia), but not nearly as much thinking about the Alliance races, other than noticing that all of them are either super buff (humans, night elves, Draenei) or fantasy dwarf/gnome style small.
Then my girlfriend (yes, my girlfriend plays WoW—she’s awesome, and no, I don’t think there’s another like her so step back, Jack) created a Draenei paladin and showed her off.
I know as a researcher and an adult and someone who lambasted an icon in the field of gaming studies for NOT talking about the problems of objectifying women, who wrote a sustained argument about the ever-changing figure of Lara Croft, I should not have had this initial reaction, and I’m going to attribute it to carry-over from the fact that she was sitting in front of the laptop while she showed me her character so I might have been reacting to my girlfriend herself… but the toon was… as embarrassing as it is to say this… sort of “hot.” In the Paris Hilton use of the word, though not at all like Paris Hilton who is sort of repulsive.
So instantly I had to re-think Draenei lore. For some odd reason, there are really no PVP female Draenei on the two servers I frequent, so it isn’t often that we encounter one. The males of their race are—as you can see in the image above—hypermasculine to the extreme. They basically look like someone sat 300 pounds of solid muscle on a pair of upright goat legs then gave it a weird sci-fi head. The women… look like Victoria’s Secret’s newest accessory is “barely there hooves.”
This fascinates me based on the discourse analysis I did while studying the blood elves. The prevailing pressures on the game’s design are the expectations of a very specific discourse community (one that is hyper-male and has a penchant for fantasy) and the genre expectations of fantasy gaming in general. Knowing this, I’m not so shocked that the Draenei are presented so that both male and female are “attractive.”
What shocks me is that they do NOT look as if they “go” together. The Horde has two races which feature hulking males (truly hulking males, anyway). The Orcs and the Tauren. Both races have females that are significantly less hulking but still seem as if they are based on the same anatomy. The Draenei female and male appear to be the sort of zenith point for WoW’s alterations of how physical form is idealized (and it is someone’s ideal, though it might not be the average user’s ideal—that’s a place where we’d need more research). There is a massive size/build difference, but even the odd tentacle-like facial/hair protrusions that characterize the males (some have ridges akin to the Klingons of Star Trek lore) do not appear on the females.
What I want to research later, based on these musings, is how these differences shape the game play experience. I noted, anecdotally, that I don’t see many female Draenei on my server(s). That could be coincidence. But if there’s a chasm between what seems “right” in the gaming genre and what gamers see in practice, the design of the characters could have something to do with that.
We shall see. More research is needed.