Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rough draft, rough like the skin of a shark! Anybody ever felt a shark before?

Disclaimer: Some of the stereotypes mentioned here are not personal beliefs of mine and I may not agree with some of them so please do not be offended. If you have any questions concerning my personal views: do not be afraid to ask me in class – I assure you I hold no prejudices against anybody and I am not a bigot although I am afraid many people in the United States are.

World of Warcraft:

Social Commentary of Modern Stereotypes

Many people discard the notion of academic studies concerning themselves with video games. In many cases that is certainly a valid position to have because many video games have no relevance to society and academic analysis is impossible when narrative elements are lacking (i.e. Tetris). However, World of Warcraft (WoW), which has become a rather large cultural phenomenon, could prove itself worthy of vigorous academic examination. The designers of WOW have carefully shaped a universe that mirrors our world today, with subtle but sometimes obvious metaphors to represent concepts and stereotypes that people have today. This is significant because it can help people of the future (or people from other cultures) learn about the predominantly Caucasian American youth of this current generation and their respective beliefs, manifested by various stereotypes.

The Tauren are fictional race of bull-like humanoids in the World of Warcraft. Very peaceful in nature, these creatures live in the hilltops of land called Mulgore. Mulgore’s geography represents that of the Midwest of the United States circa 18th century – vast grassy plains with ample wildlife. These Tauren live in small tribes for the most part, in tiny villages consisting of a dozen or more teepees. Tauren’s greet each other with sayings such as “Ancestors watch over you” and “Peace, friend” which reflects some of their key characteristic of peace and ancestor worship. They are one of the only two races who can learn to become druids (individuals that worship the land). Their special racial ability (which is not available to any other race) is called cultivation and it is a talent in their skills of herbalism. These two characteristics are a representation of the Tauren’s love for nature. The Tauren do not believe in technology and they rely on crude strength to achieve their goals. Why is this important? This is important because it teaches us (a faulty) modern stereotype of Native Americans – ancestor worship, love of the land, living in teepees and peacefulness. People in academia understand the warlike and very brutal truth of many of the Native American civilizations and the fact that some of them were not tribal based but lived in giant (much larger than their European counter part) urban cities. The importance of this lies that it shows us the stereotypes that many the current generation holds concerning Native Americans.

Orcs in the World of Warcraft are also humanoids, with large fangs. They are green in color and slightly larger than humans at around 7-8 feet in height and around 300 pounds in weight. They reside in the land known as the barrens which looks like a stereotypical savannah with its respective wildlife (Zebras, Giraffes, Lions and Hyenas). Their homes are small huts made of mud with straw roofs and they live in small groups, although their largest city, Ogrimmar, is the capital of the largest alliance (the horde) in World of Warcraft. Their values lie in strength and prowess in combat. Their leader’s title is “warchief” and their sayings included “War first…ask questions after humans are dead.” and “blood thirst is the only thirst” clearly reflecting their warlike and barbaric culture. The unique Orcish racial abilities include an expertise in wielding axes, bloodthirst (increased strength in combat) and hardiness (resilient to stunning effects). These traits represent the Orc’s toughness and strength. Thrall, the leader of the Orcs has worked hard to abolish slavery and that no Orc would ever be a slave again to anybody else, which shows their hatred of oppression. The combination of these qualities matches the modern stereotype that many people hold about native Africans: Warlike, tough and barbaric people that once sold one another into slavery but now vehemently oppose the notion of slavery and value their freedom. These stereotypes are again clearly faulty because we know there are warlike people in Africa and very peaceful people in Africa, including people that still practice slavery and countries that have achieved technology that rivals the western world. So again, we are able to derive cultural stereotypes that people here have.

In the World of Warcraft there are also humans that look just like us. Some Humans live in farms surrounding Elywnn forest (a stereotypical central European forest with its respective wildlife consisting of bears, deer, boars and wolves) although most Humans live in the mighty city of Stormwind. Stormwind is a formulaic fortified city, surrounded by mountains on side and a river on the other. There are mighty walls surrounding the city and the only way into the city is over thin bridge that is protected by guard towers. This fortified city looks like a carbon copy of what most people imagine medieval European cities. The guards of Stormwind are wearing heavy plate armor with shields and swords – complete uniform. Humans greet one another with sayings such as “Strength and Honor” representing their chivalrous nature and their value of honor. The title given to their leader is King (although at the moment he is missing in action and his young son is ruling in his place). The unique human racial abilities are an increased skill with swords and maces - clearly their weapon of choice and diplomacy a passive ability used when gaining positive repurtion with various factions around the World of Warcraft. These characteristics are a stereotypical of the Arthurian notion of feudal Europe. Farms scattered around a castle with their loving king who protects the brave and hard working citizens of his empire. To top this idea off, their values consist of honor and chivalry like one would imagine the Arthur’s round table. Finally, their weapons are much less barbaric (swords vs. axes). The human stereotype of World of Warcraft is of course also a misconceived stereotype of medieval Europe as we know from various accounts that it was an age filled with war, disease, poverty and exploitation.

Dwarves in the World of Warcraft are similar to those seen in Lord of the Rings. They are short but muscular, usually with long beards that are braided in various ways. Their favorite past time is drinking mead and living in homes that resemble mines, usually dug underground or into the mountains to shield them from the cold and harsh weather of their homeland. Dwarves speak with a very thick Scottish accent and their writing looks primitive like Norse writing – very jagged and simple. The unique racial abilities that dwarves possess include frost resistance, which apparently helps them against the cold nature of their home. Ironforge (the dwarven capital) is a large city dug into a volcano. The center of Ironforge has a lava river flowing through it and is surrounded with a series of forges where blacksmiths can master their trait. The Dwarven stereotype represents the drunken Scottish stereotype on the northern British isle where it’s cold for a majority of the year. Their accent coupled with their excessive drinking and Norse writing has a clear resemblance to the 12th century stereotype of the various people living in modern day Scotland.

Our misconceived modern stereotypes are each manifested in the various races in the World of Warcraft. This is certainly interesting to see and perhaps even study in the future because it is like a book of ethics and beliefs. However, the real interesting part of our social commentary comes with the complex interaction between the various races. There are two major alliances, the Horde led by the Orcs and followed by the Tauren (Trolls, Undead and Blood Elves). These are represented as the savage, unsophisticated force of brute strength and barbarity. The other major alliance is simply called the Alliance. The Alliance consists of Night Elves, Gnomes, Humans, Draenei and Dwarves. They are the opposite stereotype – the lawful good – Sophisticated, chivalrous, honest and hard working citizens of the western world. The horde are at war with the alliance, a clear conflict between barbarity and order, the west vs. the darkness of the world. This conflict represents a war on the scale of the First World War

However, to further complicate issues of morality the brute, barbarian forces of the horde are not necessarily evil while the sophisticated west is at times outright arrogant and evil. A great example of the barbarity of the alliance can be seen by the generation prior to the rise of the horde alliance. The leader of the horde, the mighty warchief Thrall is held in a camp called Durnhold by human captors. Durnhold is clearly an extermination camp as those seen 60 years ago during the Second World War employed by the Germans. Small huts that have beds without bedding, surrounded by armored guards that are forcing Orcs to work slave labor is how it is portrayed in the video game. There is no question about the barbarity that takes place at Durnhold and the war crimes committed by humans just a few generations earlier.

We are therefore proposed with a very complicated problem of conflicting views and stereotypes. On the one side we have the barbarian hordes that are examples of the primitive world, and on other side the Alliance portrays our western world and along with our ancestors. What makes this social commentary so interesting is, while the Alliance does not do particularly evil things in the contemporary World of Warcraft, in the past they can be held accountable for various war crimes. This reflects on the main (Caucasian) audience of World of Warcraft and the fact that many notoriously horrible things have occurred in our recent history (like the holocaust). The other problem of morality in this social commentary is the barbarity of the horde. They are by no means evil, although they are viewed as evil by the alliance. This conflict between the horde and alliance can therefore be looked as, as a reflection of the genocide of native Americans and the horrible era of slavery in north America and the various other conflict between the west and the rest of the world.

I have a few questions that I would like to propose here:

I looked up some things at but the information was available and I have seen it before in the actual video games: What should I cite and where? I am not trying to plagiarize!

I did not cite modern stereotypes, should I? I personally do not have these stereotypes but from the time I have spent in the united states it seems like many people have these beliefs (at least before they enter higher levels of education)

Should I include more examples? If so, of what and where?

What should I write in my conclusion?

How long does the final paper have to be?

Are my points clear or do I use video game lingo that some people may not understand?

Should I talk about more races or should I write more about the Horde Alliance conflict?

What should I add if anything at all?

Thanks for reading!!


Adam Johns said...

Brilliant title to your post.

I found this discussion fascinating. I'm hoping that those others in the class familiar with WoW will be able to comment on this in detail - whether they agree with you fully, whether there are important omissions, exaggerations, etc.

That being said, this is not in any way an essay at this time, although I believe it to be a firm foundation for an essay. You are summarizing the situation as you see it, and offering some light interpretation along the way (you don't need to cite that stereotypes, although some may disagree with you on some details; citing the wiki you're drawing on would be a good idea, though - cite it whenever you use it).

So, how do you create an argument out of a situation or a summary?

Begin by asking questions:

1) Are the stereotypes central to WoW entirely creations of Blizzard? Or are players involved in them as well? Analyzing some actual gameplay (to discover how the stereotypes impact it) would be interesting.

2) Why do the stereotypes matter? Does the game help to perpetuate stereotypes, or does it make the (heavily male, heavily Caucasian) players question their stereotypes? Does it perpetuate them under the illusion of questioning them?

3) How do these stereotypes impact the game from the point of view of a non-Westerner (Korean, Chinese, etc.) playing the game?

So, what kind of thesis might you have? You might claim that WoW has some perverse or positive political impact on the world; you might claim, based on its use of stereotypes (or its questioning of them) that it simply repeats the real world, or that it helps combat it.

What do you want to prove?

erika mcclintock said...

As discussed in class- I think that screenshots would be helpful. I am familiar w/ most of the major cast of characters in the game- but would be interested in seeing their environments, and what you are determining to be the stereotypical attributes/elements of those environments and character traits.

Brian said...

Well I wish I could be of a lot of assistance in helping you fine tune this paper I don’t know how much I have to add. I have never played World of Warcraft and have absolutely no idea what any of this essay explains.
As a positive note, having no connection to this game give me an outside perspective when reading this essay. I would like to see clearer description of the game and its characteristics. What you say and explain seems like it would make perfect sense to an avid player but to me it makes no sense at all. I know this is a rough draft but I am still left wondering what the argument of the paper was about. I found it to be more of an overall game review or description of the setting.
On a more grammatical side I think that some of the sentences could flow a little more then they do. Also transitions would add to the overall flow of the paper. Overall the essay is well written and I look forward to reading the final copy.

to add to what Tony said- screenshots would be very useful when describing settings, also if it was next to a picture of the actual scene that you claim it is emulating that would further your argument.