World of Warcraft addresses LGBTQ storytelling: ‘Whatever your background is, there’s a place for you in this world’

    
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World of Warcraft addresses LGBTQ storytelling: ‘Whatever your background is, there’s a place for you in this world’

TechRadar has an interview up this week with Blizzard’s Steve Danuser, currently the lead narrative designer on World of Warcraft, and Johnny Cash, senior game designer and LGBTQ+ Advisory Council member, and no, it’s not just another preview of Shadowlands’ story. Instead, it homes in on Blizzard’s new push into being more LGBTQ-inclusive with its storytelling going forward.

This past summer, for example, we covered Madeleine Roux’s Shadows Rising, the Shadowlands prelude novel, which as our review noted gives shippers a nod by expanding on the budding Flynn Fairwind and Mathias Shaw relationship as well as casually drops in several other references to LGBTQ relationships. That was all by design.

“We could have had them just be friends if we wanted, but we felt like man, they have a much deeper connection, and it’s something that could feel like a really genuine relationship,” Danuser says. “It just felt really right for these characters.”

The interview also discusses the NPC Pelagos, who is effectively the game’s first clearly telegraphed transgender character, with accurate pronouns as a result of staff and player feedback. And of course, gender changes will now be available in-game, not in the cash-shop, alongside other tweaks to the customization and barber tools that detangle those options from the character’s gender. As Danuser puts it,

“We have a team that has a lot of different people with different viewpoints and backgrounds, so it’s important to us to tell stories that we care about, that reflect our concerns, and also make Azeroth a place that is representative of lots of different points of view, and very welcoming. […] Whatever your background is, there’s a place for you in this world.”

Source: TechRadar

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April-Rain
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April-Rain

Being trans myself I am really happy to see this, it maybe a small nod but its a positive one.

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treehuggerhannah

Representation makes me happy. Their attempts may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better than not showing diversity at all. The more commonplace this becomes in games, the better game writers will get at it.

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rufty

I remember coming across some gay characters back in Wrath and Cata then none for ages. Glad they’re including them again. :-)

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Roger Melly

I get the feeling this is could be another example of a corporation using the tick box method to fill out a quota. I do wonder sometimes where the entertainment industries push for diversity will end because I know it angers a lot of people and pushes them to more illiberal political and social stances. The end result might be the opposite of what they are trying to achieve.

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Malcolm Swoboda

What end result? What are you getting at?

Mr. E.™
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Mr. E.™

Imagine being weak-minded enough to be “pushed” to “more illiberal political and social stances” by seeing diversity in fiction.

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Bryan Correll

Johnny Cash, senior game designer

Holy crap, I thought the Man in Black died 17 years ago! And I never pictured him as a game designer.

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Ben Stone

As a queer guy I think I prefer this more subtle ‘this person just happens to exist and be LGBTQI’ type of storytelling that games like GW2 and now WoW have adopted.

In WoW, the straight relationships don’t get promoted or discussed much either, the only ones I remember much being done with was Tyrande/Malfurion and Alleria/Turalyon in Legion. So if they made a big event about a queer one it would seem very out of place.

This seems to be handled really well, and apparently that is because it was an initiative of their own in-house LGBTQI staff alliance.

Representation really does matter, I wish there had been any notable queer role models, or even just regular characters, in mainstream media while I was a teenager.

Karma_Mule
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Karma_Mule

Same here, it doesn’t have to be some “hit you on the head” moment, just a casual reference here and there to let you know that it’s not a hetero/cis only universe.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Hetero/cis have more than casual references, even in WoW.

They just don’t have a LOT more. There is not a single major arc that revolves around a romance. Includes, yes. Have mattering, yes. But not revolves. But it’d still be weak if queer stories were left for ‘casual reference here and there’ while others are front and center, just not spotlit.

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Dug From The Earth

Gotta love when corporations try to appeal to peoples desires when its got nothing to do with their actual product… not because they care, but because they know it will earn them more money.

Ultimately… I just walk away from this thinking, “more bad writing on blizzards part” because they arent going to make it meaningful, or with purpose. Its just there to check off some box.

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Sorenthaz

Welcome to corporate wokeness. It’s good that they’re being more inclusive, but at the same time they were very slow to do it. But it sounds like now they’re doing it more the “right” way by making it more subtle and not forcing it out there like games used to do, so that’s good, but it’s pretty obvious they’re doing this mostly to follow social trends and appear like they care while they bend over backwards for whatever gets them money in China.

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Arktouros

This has always been largely my objection to things on a corporate level. It’s just pandering and generally forced there to cater to a particular group of people. All you need to do is zoom out a bit to a global scale, see that in countries like China they avoid and actually remove other content to show that it’s more about catering the content to the audience than any being supportive of a cause. What they’re supportive about is making as much money as possible.

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Ben Stone

Honestly, as long as it leads to visibility and respect for queer people I really don’t care what the motivation is.

I would rather someone be part of the solution for selfish reasons than to continue with the status quo of pretending diverse queer people don’t exist media and entertainment, or representing them as problematic caricatures or tropes.

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Croquantes

It’s cliche for a homo to say this, but I feel like people who aren’t minorities (I.e. heterosexual cisgender white males) don’t understand that we have to fight to even exist in this world, our whole lives are struggle.

So they can’t understand how wonderful it is to to finally be represented in a natural way, one that doesn’t overtly pander or telegraph with fanservice and a wink. No matter what kind of corporate package this comes in, this feels great.

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Ben Rubinstein

Thank you!

If you’re a straight white male, and your response is gonna be something like “This is just pointless corporate box-ticking,” … maybe consider not saying that.

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Arktouros

I would also similarly suggest if your statement starts with “If you’re a …” you probably also consider not saying that. Because we can easily take the reverse scenario and I could say something like “If you’re a gay white male then you’re not entitled to have an differing opinion” and I’m sure it’d go over as well with you as such comments go with me.

Instead we can all be fairly respectful that we all come from various diverse racial, gender and sexual orientation backgrounds and because of that we might have differing opinions on things. Through respectful discussion of our differing viewpoints we can come closer to a consensus and understanding.

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Ben Rubinstein

Nah. As a gay white male, there are plenty topics on which I don’t have sufficient lived-experience or authority to speak. Were to try to, I hope I would welcome being told to stop centering my (lack of) experience, and to listen to those whom the issue directly impacts.

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Arktouros

The great part about discussion is you you can still listen to whom the issue directly impacts without having to shut down and compromise having your own world view at the same time.

So “Nah” I simply refuse to play a zero sum game where it’s either 100% you or 100% me. I’ll continue to work towards a scenario where we both come out ahead with the sum greater than the total of our base lived-experiences.

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Arktouros

I’m a big fan of what Cornell West was talking about in regards to race in that there are plenty of examples of representation but really what there needs to be is substantive transformation.

To me that comes in the form like you talked about above where whatever character in a game is gay (or whatever) and it’s not some big huge deal it needs to be talked about. There doesn’t need to be some press release patting themselves on the back for just making a normal decision. It’s just a normal every day thing in a setting where it’s relevant. I also thought GW2 did a great job of this for example.

Instead what we often get are overtly pandered stereotypes that are thrown at us with a wink and a nod. I’ve really been enjoying “The Boys” having a go of all that corporate pandering in fact with “Brave Maeve” and the ridiculous focus grouped caricatures they expect people to adopt to stay “on brand.” Meanwhile the companies are falling over themselves to let you know how much of an “ally” they are and boy you should sure just appreciate all they do for you.

If it was all just self serving it would be one thing but the minute it’s not self serving, such as in other countries with different cultures, they immediately drop the matter and in fact censor out and change the content to remove such things. This goes for more than just sexuality as well. It’s just so fake and when people like me complain about that fakeness people twist that into complaining about the agenda itself when in fact it’s the disingenuous nature of the message that causes people like me to bristle at it.

So you’ll get no argument from me for not representing such scenarios as problematic tropes. At the same time the argument “I don’t care how or what they do so long as it helps” is kinda like arguing “there is no bad publicity” but I think we’ve all seen that there certainly is such a thing as bad publicity.

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Arktouros

That was just the first part of the argument. The second half and the other reply was also about the “how and what” when we started discussing the lack of queer people in media and entertainment and/or problematic caricatures of queer people to paraphrase Ben.

I think there’s a large gulf of distance between “perfect humans and companies” and just ones that are consistent in what they’re about. Nobody likes a liar or people who misrepresent themselves and have a natural reaction to bristle at it when discovered. Then you have problems with associations, as the thread below indicates, where people dislike the company but in turn get lumped in and called bigots because of the cause involved which again they bristle at further.

Yet continuously I hear the arguments this is all very helpful and good, one change at a time. I’m not sure I really see it without turning a blind eye (or dismissing any other views as hateful bigotry) to how people react to this kind of empty duplicity.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Bigots about what? Queer people existing and having social equality? They can get out.

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Arktouros

Thanks for proving my point.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Bigots about what?

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Arktouros

As you can re-read any number of times I never specified. At all.

In fact I used the word to describe a scenario where if a person is not 100% on board with the scenario (such as criticizing the companies involved) they are called/attacked as bigots which just frustrates the scenario even further. At which point you decided to swoop in and prove my point by doing that very same thing. Bravo. It’s almost like we planned the whole thing out.

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Malcolm Swoboda

What views would be deemed hateful bigotry?

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Greaterdivinity

GET YER POLITICS OUTTA MUH GAMEZ

(/s)

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Utakata

Followed by: “We’re not bigots, but we we wish they would keep quiet about this stuff! My pearls!” /le sigh

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Malcolm Swoboda

Funny how PR friendly even that statement is. Nowhere there do I read the words ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender identity’ but just ‘deeper connection’ and fixing on ‘we changed pronouns’. Like how gay people have to handle being called ‘close roommates’, or trans people just get the surface level matter of what word is used to address them. Anything else, and not even talking about anything lewd, is too much.

WoW is one of the places in gaming where I’m okay with this. I just take this form of inclusion as ‘cool, about time, several+ years too late, and still too bad about Anduin/Wrathion shippers’ rather than ‘MY ALLIES! TAKE MY MONEYS PLEASE BECAUSE I KNOW YOU GOT MY BACK *thumbs up*’. Its not bad, its just still amusing that almost nowhere in gaming is there easily a gay heroic lead, and when there is, its the more marketing-friendly woman (hello The Boys). And when its especially a man, its a character you can very easy cut away from, or cut out, or downgrade hugely, or censor for regulators.

And don’t kill anyone – or you can, but it’d be stupid – until you have more than a couple prominent gay relationships (its Warcraft, I get it, someone’s gonna go nuts and kill lots) so you aren’t Burying Your Gays yet again. I hate to quota it, but I’ve seen this nonsense too much. Gays arrive, get a relationship, people complain, owners go shut-this-down, tragic sad sad teary death, no more gays for a while. Or less stupidly, a writer just doesn’t understand the gravity of media gaining representation then deleting it almost entirely. We know this happens. We know this is the real backstory to a lot of fiction.

Pelagos is a little on the nose codex entry for RPG dialogue but this isn’t even Bioware we’re talking about. I don’t know. I’ll defer to actual trans people.

“Its not a huge part of the story” – okay, it not being huge that its gay is .. fine, depending on the story. Sometimes its outright bigoted, sometimes its entirely appropriate for the material. But hesitating from having gay characters do things befitting their gay identity, that’s not good. If you’re a creator and so perfectly willing to put the storybook prince and princess together (alright) but hold your pen back from the prince and prince or princess and princess, even if it fits their characters, can work in the world, and advances interesting storylines, then you have an issue to work out if you want to honestly say you’re helping instead of tokenizing and putting into a secondary box. If you don’t want to help, thank you for your honesty, but I’d rather not have fakers. I know there’s an issue in the industry because we get a ton of platitudes but the number of clear LGBTQIA+ leads in major games are miniscule. Not the minority status of real life, but miniscule. Despite what some assert, audiences actually do quite fine with a diverse array of stories, even largely proportionate to population demos, they just might not make ALL the money RIGHT NOW until acclimated away from a norm.

I’m talking too much about this for my actual interest. But still, cool!

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Danny Smith

While i understand what they were going for maybe “the transgender person is only finally happy after they are dead” was not the best way to go about doing this. When it sounds like a /pol/ joke from the stormfront crowd maybe just some dude in elwynn forest or the new starter zone would have been a slightly less uncomfortable choice.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Yeah I don’t feel its the worst, but when this is your first good showing, its a little ‘yikes’. At the same time though, the text is entirely justifying what trans people often legitimately feel. There is struggle. There is dysphoria. This is just perhaps not a very good portrayal of the regular and worthy humanity of trans people because it took an event of death for Blizzard to be overt about the matter. This is typical AAA lurching forward with a change without a strong basis.

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Danny Smith

Its the fact that “YO MAGIC EXISTS, CHROMIE EXISTS” type stuff that makes the choice so odd.

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Malcolm Swoboda

They can have some stories like that, I agree, though I think in-universe most of many races don’t have such easy access to, nor ability to alter themselves to a significant degree. One of the hundreds of thousands or millions of humans on Azeroth will probably not have the capacity to arrange sex change or body transformation, even if there’s time-limited potions floating around the marketplace, or mages for hire, as mages have limited skill and are often best relied upon for firebolts and creating small items. In terms of the mystical physics of the Warcraft setting though, I absolutely agree. Just most of the mystical physics is not how most of the mortal entities live, and we don’t regularly hear of mortals being able to change themselves to any sort of significant degree. Our Heroes go on tours to gather all sorts of spoils, so that’s another thing.

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Danny Smith

True but this is right after they added “70% mechanical augment” gnomes. The times they are a changing.

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Malcolm Swoboda

I laugh about the transgnomes sometimes. I don’t hate them, in fact I want some mega lore event later that uses them as conduits for huge Titan tech.

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Ben Stone

Yeah it is a bit tacky from that angle, but I guess the theme of this expansion drove that mostly.