Let’s face it: Blizzard has always had a bit of a problem with homosexuality. Early on in World of Warcraft, the company came under fire for restricting the recruitment of gay-only guilds in trade chat, even going so far as to threaten to ban a lesbian player who had been doing just that. This was another example of a game company trying to sweep gay issues under the rug with the misguided notion that it won’t be problem if it isn’t mentioned. At the time, Blizzard defended itself with this statement: “Topics related to sensitive real-world subjects—such as religious, sexual or political preference, for example—have had a tendency to result in communication between players that often breaks down into harassment.” Log into the game today and spend two seconds in trade chat and you can see how well that policy has worked out.
It’s not just recruitment for LGBT-friendly guilds that blizzard has tried to curtail. Late in the beta building up to the release of the Burning Crusade, Blizzard adjusted the size and shape of the male blood elf model. A CM stated that this was done “In response to concerns that the Blood Elf male appeared to be too feminine, and after reviewing the model from a visual and conceptual standpoint, the decision was made to increase the body mass to give them a more substantial, masculine feel. It was also important that as members of the Horde that the Blood Elves gave the impression of strength and a more menacing presence. Please be aware that all beta content is still subject to testing and can change at any time.” It never got changed back, of course, but the numerous instances in the game where male blood elves are equated with women, quests mistaking them for damsels in distress, to /sillies quoting the Pussycat Dolls, remained. The various jokes and phrases that blood elf males themselves say are doubly interesting considering that Cam Clarke, who is himself gay, provided their voices.
So we’ve got a history of trying to keep gay guilds out of the public eye, although the players on Proudmoore would find that laughable, and the attempted conversation therapy pointed at the blood elf males. There is one other instance in game where blizzard has tepidly dipped their toes into the world of rainbows and glitter only to go running away back into the arms of hyper machismo.
The second encounter of the bastion of twilight features twin drakes Valiona and Theralion. Theralion had a very distinct voice track in the beta. He appears to have a very (and I do mean very) stereotypical gay voice. His primary attacks are ‘Dazzling Destruction’ and ‘Fabulous Flames’. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to bars that have shared those names at various points in my life. This particular encounter even drops an item called Theralion’s Mirror. The names of these attacks, Theralion’s mother issues (if you listen to the youtube clip you’ll see what I mean) and the fact that he would be narcissistic enough to carry his own enchanted mirror around all seem to stereotypically point to the fact that he is a big ol’ flamer, and I’m not just talking about his breath. However, Blizzard changed his voice from the more effeminate beta version to a more masculine one. Just as they had with the blood elves in burning crusade, Blizzard nerfed Theralion’s queer stat by HALF, yet chose to keep all of the same voice over lines, attack names, and of course the mirror that, ironically enough, my male blood elf mage has equipped.
Blizzard has always been a bit shaky when it comes to LGBT content in WOW, and once again they went halfway with Theralion. Speaking as a gay gamer, I really enjoyed his old voice as it let me know that Azeroth isn’t 100% heterosexual. I can see where there may have been some objections that players were beating up a gay character and some people somewhere would no doubt have complained that we were, as players, bashing him. However, I know that my ten man raid wiped a lot to this encounter and Mary here is the tougher dragon of the two of them. So what if he lisps a bit? He can still crush you and your best friends into the ground.
Blizzard’s reaction to gay content in their game is starkly different from another vaunted RPG company: Bioware. Bioware has always gotten high marks from the LGBT community for incorporating same sex story lines into their RPGS. “Mass Effect” allowed for female Commander Shepard to have a mental heavy petting session with a same sex crew member. While getting applauded by some, this did generate some negative press from more conservative media outlets such as Fox News. Did this deter them from adding more gay friendly content? No not at all. In their next major game franchise, “Dragon Age: Origins”, characters could have a gay romance with members of their party who just happened to be bisexual (and why the male options couldn’t have been Alistair I’ll never get over, but I digress).
In their most recent release, Bioware allowed even more options for same sex pairings when they made a majority of the player’s companions bisexual (I DEMAND A PATCH TO DRAGON AGE 1 DOING THE SAME THING!). When a forum poster claiming to speak for all male gamers complained about being hit on by his male party members, David Gaider, lead writer for Dragon Age 2, slammed the poster, stating that “The romances in the game are not for ‘the straight male gamer’. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.” He squashed the concerns of straight gamers being ignored saying, “You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance.”
One can only hope that Blizzard would have such an open minded and, more importantly, brave stance on this subject. With the number of players in this game dwarfing the sizes of several nations, there are a lot of gay people playing, myself included. It would be nice if, in the lore, character creation, encounters, and other aspects of this game world, we could feel more included instead of being sidelined, altered, or, in this particular case, one very sad dragon forced to go back into a very large, very ineffective closet.
What ways would you like to see Blizzard improve their approach to LGBT issues? Is there any way they can do this without causing a major uproar from the other end of the spectrum? Maybe it’s time they have a Glee-like moment where we see Varian Wrynn dealing with the fact that his far more delicate, Power Word: Shield-spamming son won’t be following in his Conanesque shoes?