Monday, September 06, 2010

Female NPCs

So there was some chatter in the blogosphere over the last couple weeks about women or feminism in WoW. No real comment on that issue, but on reading some of the posts, I had a random thought:

What if Garrosh was female?

Would Garrosha still be presented in the same fashion that Garrosh is, as a hot-headed warmonger? What would the player-base's reaction to a female character who displayed the same traits as Garrosh does?

I actually started thinking about this while playing the Starcraft II storyline. There is only one female character1: Dr. Ariel Hanson. The thing is that there is nothing wrong with Dr. Hanson. She's smart, educated, kind, a leader for her colonists. She is entirely unobjectionable. She is also completely uninteresting. For all of Tychus Findlay's flaws, he was a far more intriguing character.

You kind of see the same thing with female Warcraft NPCs. The only interesting (non-villain) female character is Sylvannas Windrunner. The other ones, Jaina, Tyrande, Liadrin etc., all tend to fall into this unobjectionable category. They're all competent, powerful, smart, non-sterotypical2 characters.

The female villains are interesting. Lady Prestor had style, and I really liked the portrayal of High General Abbendis of the Scarlet Onslaught, as revealed through her diaries3. But this doesn't seem to extend to female heroes.

Varian and Garrosh are at least unique characters, even if they are--or perhaps because they are--terribly flawed. They generate debate and passion. But it seems very unlikely that Blizzard would make a female NPC like those two.

I wonder if that's a defensive reaction. To keep people from objecting to their portrayal of female characters, they make those female characters unobjectional. It's just too bad that this process seems to make them uninteresting as well.

1. Discounting Kerrigan/Queen of Blades as she is a villain.
2. At least, they don't match the sterotypes of previous generations. Whether this in itself is a stereotype of our current generation, I leave as an exercise for the reader.
3. [The Path of Redemption], [The Diary of High General Abbendis]


  1. I really hated killing Abbendis in that questline.. She wasn't actually a badguy. She's actually a firm believer in the Light and the Scarlet Crusade. It isn't her fault that the Scarlets are being influenced by a demon in disguise; and she's being fed hallucinations of visions of the Light, probably by Yoggy, in my opinion, although I might be wrong about the source.

    She's cute, and basically a good paladin who just happens to be in the wrong organization. If she had been an Argent, she'd probably be Tiron's 2IC.

  2. Hum... Tyrande released Illidan and killed Maiev's watchers. She's could be found (at least partially) guilty for a lot of shit.
    Then we have Maiev, of course.
    Garona Halforcen killed King Llane, also another gray character.
    Queen Azshara, Lady Vashj, two ladies with an ill reputation. Oh, and think of all those females bosses we killed (a.k.a. "the bad guys").
    The only one that comes to mind is the mage from nexus, Telestra I believe.

  3. One of the blogs that talked about this hit it on the head. The females are objectionable, in that they fall into the Biblical stereotype. They cause problems and are deceitful.

    Jaina goes against her people to side with the horde, repeatedly (or at least to side with Thrall). Or how about the dwarven princess who has the dark iron son?

    Onyxia... etc etc. Are there any women who didn't cause some sort of problem or scandal?

  4. I just supports Jong's theory of bikinis and panzer tanks

    This is a fantasy game, in a fantasy setting. It's the same as conan, the male heroes are all body-building blood-mad raving barbarians, the women are all eye-candy supermodels (even the ones that kick ass). getting mad about it is like getting mad that boys like GI-Joes and girls like Barbie, and the arguments for and against it are the same.

    It's make-believe. It's not real. Get over it

  5. @Pangoria
    The crazy cat lady in Elwynn Forest. She's awesome and she never caused any scandal - and she's crazy, so not too boring! I loved her since I got my first tabby!

    that said, there's indeed not many interesting female NPCs around in WoW and I believe it was Pewter who wrote a more detailed article on how the more prominent ones are portrayed in the game.
    My favourite character is Sylvanas definitely.

  6. I think you're a little late to be chiming in on this topic, Rohan, but for what it is worth I agree.

    If you make a character wholly nice, intelligent and good, then they become somewhat boring: see, for example, the Draenei.

  7. I think Kerrigan was an interesting character BEFORE she ever became the Queen of Blades. Kinda a stealth Ninja badass!

  8. I meant Starcraft II specifically, SirFWALGMan. I've edited the passage to be more specific. I don't remember the original Starcraft that well.

  9. @ Pangoria. thing is, the same thing can be said about men in WoW. each and every one of them caused some sort of a problem or a scandal, even Jesus, I mean Thrall.

    Women are just less flawed in WoW then men, it seems, and as a consequence more boring. I agree with Rohan on that.

    On the other hand, its difficult to write "for the good" characters without making them too good and too predictable in their reactions.

  10. @Vespers:

    I couldn't bring myself to complete any quests that involved attacks on the Scarlet Crusade/Onslaught. I would trust them over a "reformed" death-knight, any day. It's a pity they don't trust me!


    You are making Rohan's point for her. If Blizzard make any female NPCs that have any failing whatsoever, you're going to complain!

    The lesson Blizzard will learn is to make them bland, because anything else can be interpreted in a bad light. Take the examples you give, of "females [that] are objectionable ... [and] cause problems and are deceitful":

    * Jaina you criticize for siding with Thrall (you have no criticism of Thrall for siding with Jaina, I notice). You give her no credit given for her strong willed defiance of Arthas and many Alliance commanders in this example. No: you make it a problem that she thinks outside the box, and has different opinions to the rest of the Alliance leadership.

    * Moira Bronzebeard you criticize for falling in love with Emperor Dagran Thaurissan and having a Dark Iron son (you have no criticism of Dagran for falling for Moira and fathering a Bronzebeard son, I notice). No credit given for following her heart, and possibly causing a rapprochement between the two great dwarven empires.

    When these are your examples of women who "cause some sort of problem or scandal", I wonder how we can avoid the conclusion that you only want bland women women who do nothing that can possibly be construed as problematic, because they do nothing.


    She is a leader, not a villain but pretty controversial, similarly to her sister, who at the end forced to do something un-sister-like.

  12. @Dàchéng

    Yeah, the Ebon Blade are slighty.. squicky.. but remember that the Scarlets are being run by a demon. Again.

    They're good folk, just misled. But I do the quests so I can get to the demon-slaying part. Cos that's what I do! Space-goat paladin.. not killing demons when I have the chance would probably get me kicked out of the race.

  13. Gevlon, Krenna is an interesting case. Though she's flagged by the game as an ally, story-wise, she's actually an enemy.

    You do your best to undermine her orders, and support her sister to depose Krenna. I would say that the role Krenna plays is much closer to Drakuru than to Garrosh.

    And note that the sister, Gorgonna, fits the bland mold much like the other female heroes.

  14. I take it you never sided with the Protoss against Dr Hanson? Try it some time.

  15. Gorgonna feels exactly like a female version of Thrall. Krenna is a female version of Garrosh.

  16. "No real comment on that issue..."

    Wise beyond words.

  17. "I actually started thinking about this while playing the Starcraft II storyline. There is only one female character: Dr. Ariel Hanson."

    What about our intrepid reporter Kate Lockwell (you know, the one who sent Arcturus Mengsk fleeing in shame and fear)? Or Executor Selendis, one of the most badass Protoss characters ever? Nova? That mercenary girl with weird piercings and an even weirder accent?