May 21, 2006

Terra Nova Discusses Colonialism in World of Warcraft

Filed under:Race, Videogames, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 8:03 am

In response to my post yesterday on Race and World of Warcraft, commenter Dave linked me to a recent Terra Nova article on Cultural Borrowing in WoW. Blogger Greg L quotes an undergrad paper:

The clearest indication of colonial awareness can be seen in relation to the excerpts concerning the Horde and Alliance cities. The majority of the respondents note that, in some form or fashion, that the “Horde seem to be more tribal or barbaric. Much more primitive or backward…. The Alliance cities are paragons of sturdiness, whimsy, technology, and nature. This reinforces the idea that the Alliance are the ‘good guys’ by being more advanced.” Part of this thought process seems to reflect a certain measure of acknowledgement for the ‘European’ or Western bias built into the good vs. evil dichotomy in the game. As one interviewee puts it, “Alliance cities are cleaner and more epic. Even the music is epic.”

No wonder there are so many more alliance players than horde!

The post was slashdotted, so there is a huge discussion going on. If you have time to wade through the comments, feel free to pull some of them to discuss here.

The Terra Nova post also links to a Gameology call for resources discussing Race and Video Games. Commenters were able to find some references, but race in video games seems even less examined than gender is. I wonder if most writers don’t feel qualified to write on race, like it’s something other people experience. It’s not; white is a race, too, and we can talk about it.



  1. I completely agree that race is less discussed about than gender. I think there’s a lot of reasons for this: the videogames we play are often so whitewashed that a lot of white people just don’t think about it, a lot of people are hesitant to talk about it, and some people think we’re “post-racism.” I often heard that at school when people talked about the movie Crash—made me completely disgruntled.

    Comment by 100littledolls (46 comments) — May 21, 2006 @ 11:08 am

  2. Especially good point about people thinking we are post-racism. This is what I always thought growing up (except for the confederates out on the edge of the water shed). I remember a friend in junior high coming to me when he was upset a peer had said something racist to him, and I told him the brat needed to get with the times because only backwards freaks were racist. It was hard relearning about what exactly racism is when I got to university, but at the same time it made so much more sense that what I previously thought about race and the problems people of color faced.

    Comment by Lake Desire (208 comments) — May 21, 2006 @ 11:13 am

  3. These days I notice it, but I don’t really know what to say about it. You’d think with all the background in gender deconstruction, that doing a similar one for racial deconstruction would be easy… But, in in truth, outside of Asian and Asian American issues, I’m clueless.

    I get caught up by questions like, “Is this a stereotype, or is actually part of culture and I’m just overreacting because it’s not whitewashed?”

    Part of the problem for me is that I’m so acclimated to either whitewashed or caricature, that I don’t know what could be seen as a “good” representation of non-white culture. So I just sort of mention these things in passing and hope that one day I’ll feel confident enough to, at the very least, ask these questions on my blog.

    Comment by tekanji (62 comments) — May 21, 2006 @ 2:33 pm

  4. It is okay to ask those sorts of questions of people from the culture being portrayed. We can also ask who is creating these images, and who is profiting from them?

    I am afraid everytime I write about race that I’m going to screw up, but I think I’ve been trained to hold back and be PC. But it’s important for white people to talk about race, and if I put my foot in my mouth I’ll learn from it.

    Comment by Lake Desire (208 comments) — May 21, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

  5. As far as what a “good” representation of non-white culture is, I think the most important term is dynamic. There are many dynamic, multifaceted representations of white people. It is when we use one sided stereotypical images of a culture or group and limit all members to this image that we have an innacurate representation. It is important to realize also that there are exceptions to every rule, that even if the majority of a group is one way, it does not define everyone. As white people, we are never asked to represent our race or our culture. How many times have I been asked “so, what do whites think about this?” or “how does it feel to be white?” but this is a constant for people of color, the LGBT community, women and other marginalized groups.

    Comment by Serr (2 comments) — May 30, 2006 @ 12:15 am

  6. In terms of character construction, I think many people choose characters that they feel are a representation of themselves, or what they would like to be. In addition, I feel character selection for ‘hardcore’ gamers is a completely different process. I am keen on the PvP elements of the game and consequently I build my character based on what is optimal for performance in PvP. Primarily I take into account racial traits, stats and size. But I also factor in appearance. I try to select/create characters that a. move in a manner that I find ergonomically appealing, and b. I believe look as aggressive and intimidating as possible. Aside from this, I have little interest in what the ‘front end’ of my character looks like, as I will predominately be staring at the back of its head.

    With regards to Horde and Alliance options, I believe the use of the word ‘race’ is slightly erroneous. Biologically, they are clearly distinct species as opposed to races. Within the ‘human’ option, there is a range of skin colours available, allowing for characters identifiable with many of the perceived human races to be constructed. These options are limited, but within the target market of the game they seem reasonably acceptable. I play on the European server and I have observed that there are virtually no characters on any of the 4 realms I frequent that have built around the darkest 2 shades of the human skin tone option. I can only suppose that this relates to the likelihood that most players of the game are white, middle class males.

    On a cultural note, it is quite clear that the culture of some of the races in the game has borrowed heavily from known real-world cultures, past and present. I feel that this is in part a concession that had to made in order to expedite the production of the game. It would be extremely hard to generate entirely new cultures that bear no resemblance to real human cultures without making them somewhat artificial and unlikely in feel. The lifting of cultures, however inaccurate and biased is evident in the fictional worlds of both Star Wars and Star Trek, and embeds a degree of familiarity within an otherwise alien world. It takes an enormous amount of time for a multi-facetted culture to develop from scratch so borrowing appears to be somewhat inevitable, even thought the characterisations may appeared heavily tainted with the authors/designers personal world-view.

    I think it’s wrong to assume that a culture that is more primitive is ‘evil’ and is in fact more primitive. Concepts such as good and evil and right and wrong are very subjective, and this is supported to some extent by the World of Warcraft lore. Often supposedly primitive cultures live in far grater harmony with their surrounding environment, which to me suggested a far greater level of wisdom. Of the Horde races, the Tauren are clearly wholesome and ‘good’ in their intentions and the Orcs were supposedly corrupted so their actions and behaviour is somewhat beyond their control. However, both the Undead and the Trolls are inexcusably evil by western standards. However, what is evil is again, a totally subjective matter. I personally think the Dwarves who excavate entire mountainsides are more evil than the Tauren who seek to protect the land.

    Age seems to have a significant impact on faction selection within the game. Amongst my friends who have Horde characters, they tend to generally be significantly older than my friends with Alliance characters. I’m unable to quote official figures but I should imagine there are far more people in the 14 – 23 age bracket playing the game than in the 23 – 34 age range. To some extent, this may account for why there are so many more Alliance characters.

    Finally, it may be worth noting that many of the female characters in the game move in a somewhat less fluid manner than their male counterparts. I have no idea why this is, but it is somewhat uncomfortable to watch. As a player, if you play the game for extended periods of time you may find this annoying. I’ve also noted that many male players who create female characters face condemnation from other players, both male and female, for being ‘perverts’, etc, etc. Both of these aspects may be factors in explaining the low number of female characters created within the game.

    Comment by Julko (1) — June 5, 2006 @ 5:12 am

  7. Im going to keep this short but i needed to say somthing because i feel strongly about this. While i beleave any type of discrimination is wrong, like the post that started this discution some people take thing too far and look for trouble where there is no intent. this to me is narrow minded to persive something one way have have it set in stone, this is just a game with charicter from books and storys that have been going for years. people how play the game on both side have there own opinions on the 2 sides. my friend plays horde and sees the alience as evilas all of the factons have in someway attacked nature in some way. the alience has been open to attacks from trolls, trolls are allyed to the horde. this is just one scratch on to the complex story that comes with fantacy roleplaying games. all the factions have there own story that involves sins and redemtions and there own strugle to find a place, but also there is a complex hatching for relation between the all the factions. these are all storys. that you could find in any books since the begining of litarate thorght. the fact is weather you are from the east or west more people are haveing there own personal war with someone elsedown to somthing trivial as garden size. World of Warcraft alows people to live diffrent life styles to stereo type a particular race to live in a particular way is racism its self. wasnt really that short was it. im awear i cant spell and im sorry :).

    Comment by Andrew Spouse (1) — March 8, 2008 @ 4:31 am

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