WoW Alters Its Character Creation System to Add Diversity

from the art-reflects-society dept

For some years, we have been banging the drum repeatedly pointing out that video games need to be viewed through the lens of artwork. There a variety of headwinds in solidifying this stance, but they mostly revolve around older generations repeating the sins of their forefathers in declaring any art they aren't "in to" to not be art at all. And, yet, thinking about this for ten seconds will reveal just how silly that is. Video games include elements of drawing, storytelling, creative modeling, and music. Any one of those is most certainly art in and of themselves, yet combining them to make something entertaining somehow throws a lot of people for a loop. And, yet, we see revolutionaries turning to games these days to make compelling artwork, while museums have already begun curating the output of this relatively young industry.

And once we accept that video games are a form of art, it follows that the flow of culture and society will influence that art. That's the way it's always been. Art is a mirror held up to society. And one of the glaring flaws in that mirror image in gaming has, for a long time, been the multi-faceted lack of diversity in both the industry and the games themselves.

One of Nintendo's recent games, Fire Emblem: Three Houses has some downright insulting LGBTQ+ interactions, which is rife through the series dating back to Fire Emblem: Awakening in 2012. In Three Houses, your male or female avatar can romance other characters of the same gender, yes, but throughout the franchise, the LGBT options have been extremely limited and mostly amount to nothing more than platonic 'special friendships'.

Consider as well, characters like Cal Kestis from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, who are seemingly considered the norm. Respawn could have meaningfully designed Kestis as literally anything other than just one more white male protagonist. The reason behind his design? Respawn has said it thought about having either an alien or female protagonist, but Kestis was ultimately used because they didn't want to “alienate” the player.

It should be immediately understood just how absurd that reasoning is. Who is at risk of being alienated... and by what? If Kestis was a female character, it would alienate men? And, if that is indeed true, doesn't it follow that the male character alienates women? Or are only men so frail as to be unable to play a game as a character of the opposite sex, whereas women are able to shrug off such base concerns? If Kestis were black, or gay, or old, or Buddhist, would that alienate anyone? And, if so, isn't the same true in reverse? Being in the majority, I would think, ought to make one more secure in this sort of thing, and yet the opposite appears to be true.

But with the reckoning and awakening of the racial justice movement that's occurring, games are changing in its wake.

Last weekend, Guerilla Collective – something of an alternative to E3 following its cancellation due to coronavirus – held dedicated broadcasts focusing entirely on Black video game studios, which make games with Black protagonists.

Among those featured were the likes DecoyGames, Gameheads, Waking Oni Games, and Jesse Wright, among several others.

This is, of course, a step in the right direction and only helps spark further conversations about why video games themselves are so white, and why games with people of colour as a starring role are seldom found.

And whereas stock main characters are indeed becoming more diverse, finally, there are also changes being made in games that allow for custom character creation, in order to add more representation and diversity as to what kind of character a player can play. World of Warcraft Shadowlands is an example of this.

Shadowlands will also bring the ability to make changes to a character’s gender on the fly. As reported in Eurogamer, Blizzard intends to make gender changes free in Shadowlands. Before, one could customize face, skin color, hair, and eye color for a nominal sum of gold in one of the game’s many barber shops. Changing a character’s gender, though, required paying real money to do. “We felt like that’s not the right message,” according to WoW executive producer John Hight. “Unfortunately we can’t fix that right now,” he told Eurogamer. “But it is our intent with Shadowlands to take that out of being a paid service thing and [put it] in the barber shop.”

The changes and additions being made to Warcraft’s character creator seem to reflect a broader push for more diversity in the game. This initiative goes beyond the start screen and delves into the world of Azeroth itself. “We are planning on broadly incorporating the range of character customizations for NPCs just across the world,” said WoW game director Ion Hazzikostas during an event yesterday. “Walking through Stormwind, walking around other parts of the world, you will see guards and random civilians that have these looks as if they’ve been there all along. Frankly I think we see this as correcting an oversight on our part over the years. [We’re] trying to improve representation more broadly.”

Like all new inclusions for the sake of diversity, these changes will surely face a backlash. There is some cadre of gamers out there that seems to think that these nods towards representation are either a threat, somehow, or else a pathetic genuflection at the altar of virtue signaling. But to break it down to its most basic: if you spend even one calorie fretting over players having more choice in the creation of their characters, you're the one that has the problem, not the gaming industry. And if you enjoy the character creation in games as much as most people do, you will realize how important it is for any gamer to be able to see themselves in those options.

Character creation is so important because, in games like WoW, it’s the only way we’re able to express our individuality as humans. We tell a bit of our stories in the flesh and fur and bone we shape to our liking. The story of World of Warcraft is one you experience. Sure, your actions drive the plot, but the story is largely not your own. This character creator and the other changes the development team are making allow the player a far greater ability to tell their own, personal, story.

These are good changes. Whatever backlash may occur from art transforming as a result of societal change, well, art always has its critics. But good art reveals more about us in how we interpret it, rather than we reveal the value of artwork by doing so. It just might be that changes like these are simply revealing how far we have to go as a people in accepting differences, diversity, and our fellow men and women.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: character creation, diversity, world of warcraft, wow


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 8:22pm

    Many people spend a huge portion of time in games like Skyrim making their custom character exactly how they want, down the last detail. There are scores of mods designed to increase the amount of customization allowed for players.

    I see this as Blizzard catching up. No one who matters will see this negatively, and tons of people will have a ton of fun with it. That's what really matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 12:03am

      Re:

      I would argue they're not really catching up with this move, since it doesn't add any detail to character customization; they're just improving customization freedom by removing a paywall.
      The extra detail they're adding to the character creator with Shadowlands, that's catching up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 6:39am

        Re: Re:

        To be fair, the paywall only applied if you changed your mind about what you wanted your character to be. You were free to create the character as male or female from the beginning. It was only if you decided to change gender that you had to cough up your $20.

        As a male player, half of my characters in that game were female. I am not any degree of LGBTQ+ but I see nothing wrong with males playing female characters. All of my characters, the human ones anyway, were of varied skin tones, too. I actually enjoy playing characters that are not exactly like me. And I'm far from alone in that. This is common in gaming. I even paid more than once for the gender change service and I know plenty of others did, too, or the service wouldn't have existed.

        I don't think WoW ever lagged behind in this respect. Plenty of others have and do though, such as most single-player games and most FPSes. Sometimes it makes sense. Imagine Lara Croft: Tomb Raider with a male protagonist...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 8:31pm

    This is what I call a "WOW" virtual signal.

    "Respawn has said it thought about having ... an alien ... protagonist, but Kestis was ultimately used because they didn't want to “alienate” the player."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 9:16pm

    The heart of diversity is .... marriage. A man and a woman, very diverse beings, bonded together for a life time. And yet the left shuns this diversity in favor of men having sex with men. Hardly diverse, men with men. Men with men is actually much less diverse than men with women. Men understand men, are motivated by similar things, speak the same language, display the same sex organs, fantasize in similar ways, NOT DIVERSE AT ALL!

    Post modernists are idiots. You don't understand the first thing about diversity, or culture, or art. You are the same idiots that would pay a million dollars for a painting of a black square on a red background, based on the same "diversity". It doesn't look like Art, wow, that's a new kind of art! That's not diversity, idiot, that's just stupidity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Jul 2020 @ 9:22pm

    Let's not alienate the bros

    These are the same excuses we've been hearing since the early aughts when we had fifty white dude-bro hero characters, and Lara Croft.

    In 2007 we got Zoey and Louis (along with Bill and Francis).

    It's been a long, slow crawl to the partial diversity we have now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 9:30pm

      Re: Let's not alienate the bros

      Yes, when you're a leftist, your life experience is most akin to a long slow crawl. When you're a normal American, it's more like FLYING LIKE AN EAGLE! Because we're often inspired, we feel no limitations, we defy gravity, we defy chaos, we soar into the heights of happiness and the fulfillment of life, monetary and sexual fantasies, while you lefty snakes are having your long slow crawl amidst the dirty stinky ground of dead philosophies and discarded waste, the feces of history, all that is visible to you from your lowly condition. Snakes, all of you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 11:00pm

    Replace BLM Art with Human Art (Trumpian)

    Speaking of art, I have an idea for a painting, maybe a mural, big enough to replace the BLM sign outside the White hourse. In this painting, instead of the giant yellow BLM letters, would be a picture of Trump grabbing a lady by the pussy, and the lady smiling.

    This goes to the heart of modern times. Is this disgusting pictorial art, or is this deep human truth that we all understand?

    The reason that humans ARE humans comes down to one thing - ladies choice about sexual partners. Animals, as opposed to humans, simply go into heat and mate with any passer by. Human females, uniquely, incorporate their cerebral cortex into their sexual organs. They can mate any time they choose, or not mate, it's totally up to them. That is the center of human creative power.

    So, ladies take their time, evaluate their options, consider their mate choices, and wait QUITE A LONG TIME before they mate, usually (though not always). But usually. What's the result? There are a lot of men that get NO SEX or NOT ENOUGH SEX and NEED SEX MORE.

    So, if you're a man, and you want sex, how do you get it from these crafty ladies? We study that problem all our lives. That's the deep philosophical truth that Trump said out loud on the NBC tape. (paraphrasing) Hey, if you're a successful male, on TV widely known to LOTS OF FEMALES, many will accept you, then will even you GRAB THEIR PUSSY. That deep philosophical truth of this is that women, uniquely, shape the entire universe with this single act of acceptance or non-acceptance. All our cultures revolve around this truth. It is central to who we are, both male and female.

    Of course, if women prefer to mate with successful men, what happens to men who are not successful? They become leftists. Leftism is the price we pay for the deep genius of wisdom of women's sexual choices. In order to pick the winners, some have to be losers, and cry about it, and call people racists. That's the price for the amazing success for humans over monkeys. We have to listen to losers call us racists, while we enjoy unlimited sexual pleasure and fulfillment.

    So the picture of "Orange Man" Trump grabbing a young human female by the pussy represents everything that is good about the human society, as compared to the animal society. And leftists know that. That's why they hate Trump, and imagine him orange. He's the big gorilla, and they're the weaklings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 12:36pm

      Re: Replace BLM Art with Human Art (Trumpian)

      "The reason that humans ARE humans comes down to one thing - ladies choice about sexual partners. Animals, as opposed to humans, simply go into heat and mate with any passer by."

      While you're obviously a crazy person on a grand scale, I just wanted to point out that this is not how the animal kingdom works wholesale, so you're also an idiot on matters of biology as well....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 11:03pm

    As someone who routinely criticizes many so-called diversity initiatives for being censorious or dehumanizing, I have absolutely zero problem with what Blizzard is doing.

    Adding more representation and options is wonderful! I'm all for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 13 Jul 2020 @ 11:07pm

    As almost any seriously invested gamer can tell you, looking good is the real endgame to most any game that has costume options. The game that I have the most hours in (over 2500 hours) I have on more then one occasion spent an entire nights worth of time working up my outfit as well as that of my entire bridge crew.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2020 @ 11:42pm

    Compared with reality

    It's a good move of Blizzard here. I certainly welcome it. If only it were that simple in real life: you may have to pay exorbitant sums of money because your country doesn't provide adequate healthcare. Even if it does, you are still paying, though with nerves battling the health care providers or maybe are blocked by political ill will.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 12:01am

    So long as the company is taking it seriously and isn't just half-assing it to try to score some cheap PR more options is certainly a good thing, though I can't help but think that it's a little crazy that it's apparently taken this long to include 'gender' in the category of 'cosmetic character options you can change without paying real money'.

    Still a terrible company, but a positive change is better than nothing and hopefully seeing a major player like them adding the option in will make other companies more likely to do the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 3:26am

      Re:

      "How progressive..."

      It's been a long time since I've played WoW, but I can imagine this is something that had nothing to do with political or social attitudes.

      For example, I'd imagine that the other things you mentioned have no impact on actual gameplay. Your character is fundamentally the same no matter what colour the eyes or hair are. However, I can imagine that there's some fundamental differences in character depending on gender. Different stats, different gear and abilities and so forth.

      Given that, there would be an incentive to charge real money as you would with other fundamental changes. A quick Google suggests that other changes with a real impact on gameplay such as changing race (i.e. switching from, say human to elf) and transferring characters between accounts also attract a charge. When I played for a while, from memory, it wasn't possible to do these things at all. Once it became possible, real world charges would be the best way to stop abuse of the feature.

      Now, I'm only guessing based on my limited experience with the game, but this could simply be a game design change where nobody involved in the design considered the real world political ramifications of doing it. It's not shocking in that context, especially in a game that's evolved so much during its lifecycle as WoW has.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Strawb (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 4:57am

        Re: Re:

        However, I can imagine that there's some fundamental differences in character depending on gender. Different stats, different gear and abilities and so forth.

        Actually, that has never been the case. Stats depend on race, and gear and abilities depend on class(with a few exceptions). Gender has never had a gameplay impact, so my guess is that when WoW came out, the backend of the game was much less automated, in which case it made sense to collect a fee to change your character's gender. These days, it should be less of a hassle.
        But yeah, that it happens now is most likely due to what's going on in US society.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 5:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ah, I stand corrected. It's been a long time and I know that some RPGs do take gender into account for numerous things.

          But, I think my point still stands - that there's likely reasons for the fee being charged that don't have anything to do with politics or society.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 12:02am

    Before, one could customize face, skin color, hair, and eye color for a nominal sum of gold in one of the game’s many barber shops. Changing a character’s gender, though, required paying real money to do.

    so changing gender was locked behind a real money paywall which they are removing after a paid expansion and the influence of the racial/social justive movements? How progressive...

    Note: I am not against this removal of real money in any way shape or form. I am amazed/shocked that real money was required in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 7:41am

      Re:

      They're not locking the ability to change gender under a new paid expansion. In WoW, EVERYONE is playing on the same client, but only those who have paid for the latest expansion are able to visit the new zones, equip the new gear, etc. It has to be done that way so that everyone can see the artwork for the newly equipped gear being worn by higher level players, being affected by new spells and attacks from higher level players, etc.

      Basically, they're just adding to the barber shop more of the options a player has at initial character creation. Gender in WoW has absolutely no effect on game play. And lots of male players will play female characters. A common rational for this is "if you have to look at the ass of your character for months, might as well make it an attractive ass."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 14 Jul 2020 @ 12:32am

    Brave of them to take such a bold stand 15 years into a game's lifespan after numerous updates where they've had ample opportunity to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 1:03am

    Unfortunately we can’t fix that right now

    I'm tempted to call (mild) BS on that.
    Sure, putting it into the barber shop probably requires some work and can't be done right now. But I would assume, that there is a possibility to set the price for a character genderchange to 0.00$ in whatever the current system is. At least until it is moved to the barber shop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon E Mouse, 14 Jul 2020 @ 6:52am

      Re:

      Given how rapid WoW's dev team's turnover is, I'd say the "can't fix that right now" is not only possible, but probably true as well. There's zero overlap between the people who designed the current systems and the people running the show now. Plain not having any idea how to change things short of a complete rewrite would not surprise me in the least.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 6:31am

    Female orcs had (when last I played) one smooth-skinned, small-tusked not-quite-human skin, and a number of "uglier", larger tusked skins. Guess which skin was chosen more often?

    Blood elves were the most androgynous of the races you could play, back then. Are there androgynous skins being rolled out for other races? More stereotypical "male" and "female" ones for Blood elves?

    And is there a solution for the Chain Mail Bikini problem that doesn't involve gender change? Brienne-style armor for female warriors, anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 6:57am

      Re:

      the Chain Mail Bikini problem

      This is an interesting point and one that has been debated for years. I know many female gamers and among them only 1 who ever took issue with the skimpy female armor due to it being illogical rather than insulting. When I, as a male, play female characters I'd prefer more complete armor and if the game offers costuming options I'll spend a great deal of time acquiring the set I want which invariably covers the character more fully.

      But women don't seem to have a problem with it. I'm certain that some do but perhaps some men would prefer skimpier armor. Maybe what we really need is a toggle to let the individual player decide for themselves. The biggest hurdle to that would be that it would double the amount of art that has to be created for armor.

      The whole point is that enabling diversity means enabling choice. More choice = more work. And most game studios simply don't have the time or resources to support all of that choice and have to make the tough decisions. Maybe that choice will be enabled later on, once the game is established and making enough money to support the additional development; Maybe not. But no game studio is going to regret not spending all that time and money if their game doesn't succeed. And most don't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 6:40am

    Or are only men so frail as to be unable to play a game as a character of the opposite sex, whereas women are able to shrug off such base concerns?

    Some people seem to have real issues if you play even a simple Flash browser game character with a gender that isn't your own. It's super weird. (It's also weird how often people ask "r u a guy or a girl".)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2020 @ 10:42am

    It should be immediately understood just how absurd that reasoning is.

    It's a ridiculous reasoning, but so is the following statement that you ignore:

    Respawn could have meaningfully designed Kestis as literally anything other than just one more white male protagonist.

    Why criticize the stupid reasoning they used to justify Cal's character but not the insanity of suggesting that he should have been "literally anything" else?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 18 Jul 2020 @ 6:14pm

    Open Source Games

    Another reason need more open source games, player have freedom create any kind of character.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.