[…] clipped from interactionculture.wordpress.com […]
I love this. /clap
This is so interesting. I like the naked belly dance most. 😀
As I pushed play, my girlfriend, who was sitting near by but not looking at the screen yelled, “andy stop listening to music and get to work!” haha, this was really cool
Was anyone else a little disturbed about the machinima depictions of race in this video? I mean, more than the history of dancing was represented. Stylized representations of the dancers were also depicted. It was interesting that M.C. Hammer (a black man) is represented as an orc, while the white and Asian women were represented as night elves. (Also, read into this what you will, Michael Jackson was also represented as a night elf.)
Anyway, the brilliant humor aside, I am always interested to see how race gets represented in machinima.
Did the machinima authors have a choice? Blizzard created the races and imbued them with dance, the machinima authors had no choice in that regard. However, they did have some choice in the human dancer to represent in some of the generic dances.
If you are right (and you may well be), then it just passes my criticism up the line to Blizzard. Why did Blizzard model an orc’s dance on the signature moves of MC Hammer? (Etc.)
That is really the only significant design choice that stands out to me here (regarding MC Hammer’s dance moves being attributed to the orc)….
I think that night elves (or a scantily clad character of some sort) would be an obvious choice for the female dance moves… Or maybe just really good dance moves in general. Not only was Michael Jackson a night elf, so was Napolean Dynamite 🙂
I think if there was anything phishy going on, it was probably subconsious in the minds of the designers… Just my opinion though. Either way, I think this video rocks.
I think Jeff’s comment is really important. I think we (designers) have to be careful not to bring racism in to another medium. One of the most influential films in the development of cinema, The Birth of a Nation, also was one of the most racist. This lucrative film helped set the film stereotypes of the free wild black buck(who raped white women) vs the domesticated enslaved (happy and friendly) sambo. These characters can still easily be found in movies today.
If you ever get a chance, I recommend you all see Bamboozled. It is one of my favorite movies and provides a sharp satirical social commentary. To fully appreciate the movie it is best to read up on racism in media first.
I have heard the argument that racism in media is in the past. In India I had an experience that really opened my eyes to the portrayal of African Americans in our media.
In India I met a bunch of people who mentioned to me at one point of another that they “hate (or are scared of) black people.” None of them knew any black people, but they do have access to our media (mainly movies and TV).
(sorry about the rant, but I am passionate about this subject matter)
Devil’s Advocate Warning
Are you an orc racist? For the average WoW player, what makes the association between Orc and popular black culture a bad thing?
Have you ever seen, read, or heard of LOTR? Have you considered the history of orcs in RPGs? In many of these games, you can be half-orc. Guess what your starting statistics are? You are unusually strong and unusually stupid–a perfect brawler but not a good magic user. This parallels racist discourses that characterize blacks as “great athletes” but not “intellectuals.” Even if WoW does not explicitly give brawny/stupid statistics to orcs, there is a decades-old history of representations of orcs in the media to contend with.
And it’s not just orcs. I was going to go into this whole thing, but you know what? Check out this post I found in the WoW forums:
Having thought about it here is my definitive list of racial stereotyping in WoW:
Humans = North American
Gnomes = Diaspora Jews
Dwarves = Scotts
Night Elves = Asians
Draenei = Turkish (whirling Dervish damance an all that)
Forsaken = British
Orc = Mainland African
Troll = Rastafarian – Jamaican
Tauren = American Indian
Blood Elf = Post war German
Goblin = Arab (oil merchants and stuff)
Obviously, one could contest this list, and people on the forums do. But seriously, can you dispute the overall (but not perfect) alignment of alliance/horde, good/evil, beautiful/ugly, and white/of color?
I’ll grant that Blizzard in a narrow sense explicitly avoided the obvious traps (WoW’s orcs are not stupid athletes), but can’t you see that in a broader sense Blizzard is nonetheless aligning racial discourses with high fantasy in ways that are troubling, if not because WoW explicitly participates in racist stereotypes, then at least because WoW has tended to assign people of color to races/species that are traditionally evil, stupid, and brutish?
Side Note: In this list, the only ones who get to be human (i.e., the standard of normalcy) are North American and English, and the English are undead. Presumably they went from human to undead in 1776.
I stand corrected. Orcs ARE stupid and brawny, statistically. Let’s look at some starting attributes.
Night Elf Hunter:
Strength 17; Intellect 20
Strength 23; Intellect 17
Night Elf Warror:
Strength 22; Intellect 23
Strength 24; Intellect 20
Night Elf Rogue
Strength: 20; Intellect 23
Strength: 22; Intellect 20
Night Elf Hunter:
Strength 17; Intellect 20
Strength 23; Intellect 17
Night Elf Warror:
Strength 22; Intellect 23
Strength 24; Intellect 20
Night Elf Rogue
Strength: 20; Intellect 23
Strength: 22; Intellect 20
(Data excerpted from World of Warcraft Official Strategy Guide, first edition.)
I am ready to claim explicitly that racial stereotyping is a resource drawn on by WoW’s game designers to create balance and diversity within the game.
1) I just noticed the super tiny smiley face at the bottom of each blog page.
2) I agree that there’s some form of racial stereotyping in WoW, but perhaps there’s also an altruistic message buried in the game as well.
In my experience, high end players don’t care about in (or out of) game race, those minuscule differences in starting stats mean nothing in high end play. Every race can equally perform the classes available to it. Generally this includes intellectual and brawny classes for each race.
In fact, the racial attributes that matter for end game play are the special racial abilities for which Humans have arguably the worst in the game.
Also, raids encounters in WoW (and EQ et al) are balanced in such a way that race never matters negatively. In fact, some races (non-whites) are preferred and sought out in some encounters. Early in WoW there were some efforts at racial purity in guilds (all NE guilds, all dwarf, etc) and I’ve seen the same thing develop in most MMOs but it always leads to certain failure. The designers purposefully make racial integration and cooperation a necessity.
Where does the racism enter the discussion?
Is it in the inherent original connection between a fantasy race and a real human one, then propagated through media treatment to where the accepted standards of role-playing games embed it in the game appearance?
Is it in an observer who applies a real human stereotype to the original depiction?
I don’t know how this machinima was created, but it clearly involved some advance editing (i.e. re-centering the picture and applying a mixed-media integration). What I noticed first was that the game characters were similar in appearance to whomever was on the screen. I assumed those moves are not implicit in the game but added as an after-effect or special in-game extension. In short, what I saw was a skilled editor able to manipulate the characters as primitives and then match the motion and appearance to the real-life person.
I wouldn’t know a blood orc from a high gnome.
The dance moves are race-specific and built into the game. Moreover, the game is more or less explicit about its use of RL race to generate in-game characters and cultures.
It would be a wild exaggeration to say that WoW itself favors one virtual race over others (as Tyler correctly points out) and therefore very difficult to claim that there is any kind of white supremacist ideology explicitly promoted by the game. I certainly would not agree with any such characterization, and its mainstream success would probably never have happened if it were so egregious.
Nonetheless, in assigning RL racial characteristics to virtual races whose in-game difference reinforces negative stereotypes about RL race is a form of racism. WoW is not the KKK, of course. But by making the dumb and brawny race == blacks is bad, even if, as Tyler says, those starting differences in values quickly become meaningless (and they do). But that doesn’t get them off the hook, because as I have said several times (and Tyler hasn’t addressed this) whether “high-end players” (just like Stephen Colbert!) “don’t see race,” 50 years of the symbolic portrayal of orcs and blacks in mainstream western media suggests that it is a remarkable coincidence (to say the very least) that in WoW Asians were the model of a physically slight, but highly intelligent race and that blacks were the model of a brawny, dim-witted race, and this is no less true even if they are able to overcome their racial predispositions through magic and play (that’s almost WORSE, isn’t it?).
@ Kevin again
No, it is not an “observer” who applies the stereotype. These RL racial stereotypes are unmistakably built into the games.
@ Anyone again
As Tyler says, within the game (understood as a ludic rule system of stats), all of the races are equal (in the sense that they are balanced for fair play). But surely that doesn’t get Blizzard away from implying that Asians are innately smarter and weaker than blacks by (a) building in RL racial codes to demarcate their fantasy races from one another and then (b) setting the starting stats of the races to coincide with RL racist stereotypes. This much is “in the text itself,” and it doesn’t matter what Blizzard “intended” or whether empirically as Tyler claims high-end players are blind to it. One can be blind in more sense than one. And anyway, in a game with 9 million subscribers, how many are high-end? And what were they before they became high-end? And what are the novels they’re reading saying about orcs, and the TV they’re watching saying about blacks? On the latter, Google “Jimmy the Greek” (there’s a football reference for you, Kevin) and see for yourself.
My main point in discussing the ludic racial equality was to give Blizzard at least some credit for creating an altruistic world inside the magic circle. There are many single player RPGs based on high fantasy where races represent still loosely represent real world stereotypes but are not created equal.
It’s definitely more than a remarkable coincidence that racial stereotyping is evident in high fantasy. Perhaps Tolkien himself used racial stereotypes of his era as a scaffolding to create his fantasy worlds. Downstream, people are still bound by Tolkien’s notions of race because players have very high and very strict expectations of high fantasy worlds. Surely someone has looked into this!
I do stand by my remark that in my admittedly abnormal experience (high end players are 10-25% of the population) race, in and out of game, held no sway in player opinion. Skill and performance within the ludic rule system was the only denominator.
Another random idea, players get to choose their skin tone (with varying degrees of freedom) but you very rarely see deviation from the default color. Why is that? Are they reinforcing notions of high fantasy? In game racial stereotypes? Out of game influenced racial stereotypes?
More random thoughts, “hammer time” is a big part of pop culture for the MMOG generation. Can you see a night elf doing hammer time? The orc build, which is consistent with high fantasy long before WoW, also looks more like MC Hammer in his baggy pants and flat top hair cut?
Also, are we talking about race or cybertypes? I think Nakamura even says “race” is too strong a word for the phenomenona we’re discussing, but she might be wrong too. I don’t quite think there’s any identity tourism among races (but definitely among sexes, if you can apply the term that way).
Finally, to what extent did the machinima author alter the skin tones of the avatar dancers to reinforce the juxtaposition against the real dancer?
For the record, Natalie was a contributing author to my previous post. Prewriting at it’s best, well, there wasn’t enough Bowie.
Natalie would also like to point out that race references are strongly rooted in the lore of the WoW races. Orcs were slaves to demon and then human masters. Tauren were forcibly removed from their homeland and sent on natural, spiritual quest for a new home.
Just some active listening in blog form here … You are saying that the appearance and motion of these game characters in this machinima are organic to the game? The inference from this discussion seems to be that the matching of character to performer was just a matter of pulling from the game context without any editorial choices.
As someone whose exposure to World of Warcraft is purely through is geeky peers and mentors talking about it, I will of course defer to your wisdom. It seem implausible that the machinmographer didn’t have control over selecting the dance moves, clothing and (from Tyler’s post) even skin color.
Are all Orcs dressed in yellow and baggy pants? Are orcs the only ones who can do the Hammer dance? How much of this presentation or constraint to racial stereotyping is in the construction of the machinima, as opposed to the presentation of WoW, or the high fantasy genre, or the perceptions we bring as people living in a society that has other forces to reinforce such things?
If a chaotic neutral blood gnome (or something other than the orc) was capable of being dressed in yellow shirt and baggy pants doing the Hammer dance, would this discussion exist?
Also, what race is the banana?
I’ll answer your easy questions. Blizzard gives each race a unique dance which is the only dance that race can perform. That part is pretty much set in digital stone. The machinima author had direct control over the avatar costume, avatar skin tone and the real person they included in the video with the avatar.
@ Tyler –
You Said: “My main point in discussing the ludic racial equality was to give Blizzard at least some credit for creating an altruistic world inside the magic circle.” & “I do stand by my remark that in my admittedly abnormal experience (high end players are 10-25% of the population) race, in and out of game, held no sway in player opinion. Skill and performance within the ludic rule system was the only denominator.”
Just because the races are equal in the game does not make it ok. Racism today is less about better or worse, and more about a race being pigeon holed in to a few roles or stereotypes. Ex: According to films, most young black men are either comics or gangsters.
I am pretty sure no one who works at Blizzard is a racist, and that many of the types they created were inspired by Tolken and the like. It is just that as (game) designers, we have to look critically at what we take from other mediums. The big black dumb monster is a pervasive character in fantasy. A critical analysis of this character would reveal cultural assumptions and values..
I am betting this idea of light skinned = smart = good stems from euroemperialism (they love the light skinned in India), but this is getting WAY out of my domain.
MY MAIN POINT: (Game) designers must understand that their are cultural and other values embedded in their designs. These (game) artifacts influence how people think and who they become. It is important we critically analyze our (game) designs and make sure the values we embed are the ones we mean to.
Bowie would know how to properly un-apostrophize “its” into its proper use as possessive, not a contraction. And Tyler’s definition of contributing author is the last 4 paragraphs of his post, minus the high fantasy reference, citing Nakamura for an idea that I mentioned without knowing who she was, and the use of the word juxtaposition is just arrogant. 🙂
Before he tries to high-brow this thought, I’d better post it!
Race is intertwined with class in WoW, and some races are not permitted to be certain classes. Only Taurens and Night Elves can be Druids, Blood Elves are the only Horde race permitted to be Paladins, Orcs can’t be mages, and so on…
Can racial inferences also be applied to the ability of races to choose their class? Some race/class combinations are viewed as best case scenarios, whereas other combinations are viewed as disadvantageous.
Arguably, Undead make great Priests, but not Rogues (The British stereotypically have bad teeth, so… they may hide but you can still smell their breath?)
Taurens make good Shamans and Warriors, and are almost as good as Druids and Rogues (Note the obvious Native American references in this race/class combination)
Although these classes aren’t entirely able to compare to RL social classes, they are sort of treated as such in game because of the ease at which one would be able to find successes in the game.
On one player-created website guiding new users on how to select the best class for the desired race, the website notes that an Undead Rogue is considered a 2 out of 5, meaning “the Race is not too suited for the Class, you’ll have a slight disadvantage that’ll go away at high levels”
Read: If you can just get the internship at the investment banking firm, you might have a chance of making CEO one day
Regardless, If I see an Orc trying to hail a cab in Orgrimmar and the cabbie shoots by to pick up a Human in Stormwind….discussion over.
Value of race and class taken from one man or woman’s opinion at the following location: http://infoceptor.net/wow/strategy/classchoice.shtml)
It’s difficult to explain the ludic environment without bringing classes into this discussion because they’re probably more important to the ludic context than race. For example, Orcs aren’t pigeon holed to being tanks but Warriors are. I don’t see races pigeon holed in ludic terms, but they could/can/are outside of the purely ludic
A big questions that we’re all avoiding is “what’s the alternative?” How can we borrow from one medium and remove or replace the bad or unintended messages with those that we desire? More concretely, how can WoW have high fantasy races and not racism? How can we scrub our intertextual selves? Should we promote safe remediation? 🙂
I think you’re absolutely right with the euroimperialism comment, but that’s a pretty general social critique that applies to every medium including games.
Absolutely love your main point and I think we all agree, after all, we’re contributing to this very discussion!
That’s just cold. Stone cold.
how can WoW have high fantasy races and not racism?
Well, there are a couple of strategies that would minimize this. You could come up with new races, so you are not relying on races (like orcs) that have a cultural history that parallels RL racist discourse. You could try to disrupt, rather than build with, alignments of fantasy and real races, by, for example, coding night elves as black. Or you could more radically disrupt this correlations simply by mixing characteristics in ways that don’t obviously parallel any racial discourses. Make some orcs smarter than some night elves. I mean, every single night elf ever born in WoW started out a bit smarter than every orc ever born in WoW. Is that necessary? Does that map to any reality we know? I mean, I don’t think even a racist would claim that every single X person is smarter than every single Y person.
Can you see a night elf doing hammer time?
Isn’t that right there the whole problem? If you can’t see it, it’s because the RL racial coding of these virtual races is too airtight.
And Bowie totally knows how to use apostrophes, but on the class blog, it’s o’k t’o mis’use punc’tua’tion;
How can we scrub our intertextual selves?
I stand by Aveda products.
@ Tyler – I am way out of my league when it comes to WOW. And I agree the fact that we are having this discourse is a step in the right direction. It is the type of conversation that all thoughtful designers should have 🙂
Are you still proscribing to high fantasy if you make those changes? Will gamers looking for Tokienesque orcs, elves and dwarves play a game that turns those old, established races on their head? Some might, but others are pretty strict about these things. Also, in terms of WoW, they had to base the game on over a decade of Warcraft lore which even further limited their choices.
It seems to me that WoW bound by an established aesthetic of Tolkienesque high fantasy combined with previous Warcrafts, but can be more liberal with the ludic instantiations in WoW. I completely agree that the starting stats needlessly codify stereotypes.
As far as the night elf hammer time. Pwned. There’s no good reason a NE can’t do hammer time.
I wonder what new dances and pigmentation systems in the next xpac will bring to the WoW universe? More stereotyping or more diversity?
Prescribe != Proscribe
Stop posting when brain is on empty.
Also, I posted the 666th comment to this blog when I commented on how stone cold nkdewitt5376 is.
Subscribe != Prescribe != Proscribe
Man, I was way too tired.
Check out the races in Elder Scrolls. I won’t say they aren’t problematic, but I think they walk the line better than WoW does.
Elder Scrolls are also single player games which provide the developers with very different constraints and motivations for racial stereotyping and balancing.
In my experience, the lore and ludological coding of race in Elder Scrolls is as or more prominent than WoW. However, in terms of avatar aesthetics you are given much more room to de-stereotype your race. Is the aesthetic decoupling of race enough to overcome the lore and ludological structure?
As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of this discussion is due to the fact that we’re bound to Tolkienesque high fantasy because that’s the realm that WoW chose a decade ago and has very tightly married their game lore to that vision.
What about sci fi games which are generally given more freedom in story, race, species, etc? To what extent does the genre’s lore and the player expectation of that lore (very rigid in high fantasy but more loose in sci fi) affect racial stereotyping?
So many questions!
@Tyler & @nkdewitt
Don’t let this blog tear you apart 😉
@Anyone who cares!
Prescribe: you ought to, a normative statement
Proscribe: you ought not, a normative statement
Subcribe : agree with (and often more than assent, it can involve, a signature, money, or both) typically a statement of opinion, not normative
Describe: The facts as I saw them, not normative
Unfortunately in spoken English the first two end up sounding utterly alike as the deemphasized vowel goes to schwa.
Let’s not forget why stereotypes and racism exist: because someone thought they saw some examples of it and then overgeneralized. What I’m saying is that if you look you will find some highly intelligent asian people who are weak physically, and likewise some black person who is strong and and unintelligent, but the problem arises when we start saying ALL people are this way.
Furthermore I would say that we all start out with strengths and weaknesses or predispositions, but I am NOT convinced these fall nicely around racial lines, but some of these things do seem to be inherited traits.
BACK TO THE WOW EXAMPLE:
So to embed the idea that all orcs start out a little stronger and dumber seems to just not make a lot of sense, and is where the racism lays. I would suggest that a more dynamic system be built where perhaps some, or even many NE, are more intelligent, but weaker, but not all.
The redeeming quality of what WoW embeds has already been pointed out: it doesn’t really matter for very long, any perceived deficiency is overcome with some work.
I disagree that race plays a role in many of the examples that have been cited.
One example, I see it more of a “if you are big, you are dumb” stereotype nothing to do with race. Orc’s are large and brutish, therefore they have greater strenght and a lower base intellect rating. For game purposes, its a trade-off and not a result of skin color or any RL racial implications.
Right or wrong, most people are wired with stereotypes that illicit at least an internal reaction. By designing around the stereotypes (intentionally or not), the game has added elements of realism for many players.
From what I gather then, the connection to racial stereotype in the game is made through this video by mapping the signature moves of a character to the actual real-life performers that served as inspiration.
If a different mapping were made, or if the dance moves were universal, would the claim have merit?
[…] presented his research plan for a serious game framework. His well-done presentation and this interesting discussion prompted me to think about serious games of all […]
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