World of Warcraft: But Who Were These Paintings For?

Dear Warcraft Community… WTF?

Scenario: You are a woman. You work for a company currently under fire for a toxic, misogynistic workspace. Worse, you have suffered as a woman in this environment. You have been harassed, objectified, abused, and knocked down. Perhaps it was the time you were breastfeeding your baby in what was supposed to be a private room only for a male coworker to burst in unannounced and uninvited because boobs.  Maybe it was that you designed a revealing armor set for an NPC and someone in your department commented on how good you would look in that armor. Or maybe it was the time you wore a shirt that showed cleavage and some of your coworkers thought the reveal of skin was for them. That’s what people who create toxic environments mold that space for. It’s for them.

Imagine for a moment that you are a woman who requested that the scantily-clad women depicted in in-game art assets were given an update in light of recent events. Envision yourself as a woman part of the art team who personally oversaw this change, perhaps even put a digital pen to it. Now, consider that you are a woman who received overwhelming support from the community for bravely sharing your truth about the harassment you’ve endured in a place you thought was safe… only for, not two months later, that same community to lash out at your discomfort of how women are perceived and thus created in-game by the very men who also created that noxious workplace.

Some of these assumptions being wielded in the community this week over in-game art assets are detrimental to and downright hypocritical of the support we were lending several weeks ago. Have you even considered that the employees who were abused may have been the ones who asked for this change?

The answer to that requires a grasp on the situation at Activision Blizzard and for the men in the room practice silence on this one. Because it doesn’t matter if you, a man, care or not about these changes – especially when this is the first time for so many women in this space to feel heard. This isn’t about you beyond the fact that the artwork was likely created for your gaze.

There is a staggering amount of flawed logic floating around social media at the moment.

…and from people I did not expect.

“These changes to the art are ridiculous. What’s next? They take away our slutmog?!”

There are two things to be considered when making any changes to the “culture” of or questionable assets in the game: What is the purpose of this feature now, and how salvageable is the feature if that purpose is lacking?

There is little doubt that my prized Bloodscale set and these controversial art assets were created for the male gaze. Over the years, however, players have taken back the purpose of these armor sets and made them their own. We have made the choice to use them for a purpose we define. How they are treated by players now has made them salvageable and for that there is no reason why they should be removed or altered.

You cannot confidently say the same about the paintings. These paintings are of women for men. That has not changed. These paintings do not belong in a world in which we are combating the “boys will be boys” mentality.

“This is setting them on a path to destroy certain settings in the game!”

I love Karazhan. I enjoy every whimsical flavor about the place. My favorite area in the dungeon? The Guest Chambers. For those who don’t know which wing that is, it’s the wing where the Maiden of Virtue resides – the same wing that contains not one but both of these controversial images.

I would not be a fan of any major changes to the Guest Chambers in Karazhan or the Den of Mortal Delights in Black Temple. I’m pro-sex work, for one. I also think the atmosphere there is fun and makes for interesting roleplay scenarios. However, these NPCs were not likely created by someone in a way meant to lift women. They were likely created for men by men with no intention to serve any purpose except to objectify women. For that reason alone, I would understand if these places changed.

The concubines, courtesans, night mistresses, and wonton hostess are all killable NPCs, so we’re far past the notion of anti-sex work at this point if that’s the argument you want to make. The neat thing is that Blizzard can make these spaces more sex work-positive by making the denizens of these wings friendly to the player. Maybe not too friendly to keep within the boundaries of the game’s T-rating. Uh, unkillable. Green bars!

Still, we have to ask ourselves what purpose they have in-game now and how salvageable they are.

“But mah freedoms!”

In-game art assets are not obstructing your freedom of expression because they don’t belong to you in a way in which your freedom can be oppressed. If I paint a picture of jelly cat that you like and I later alter it, I am not hindering your freedom of expression, because it’s my art. In the same way my art does not belong to you, Blizzard’s art does not belong to you. You can protest all you like, but at the end of the day they own the work and get to decide what to do with it without owing you an explanation as to why it was done.

The issue here isn’t freedom of expression or censorship at all, but rather psychological ownership and people believing something is specifically for or belongs to them if they put enough friendship/playership/viewership “tokens” into it.

“They’re adding all these cool things because they are trying to hide the lawsuit!”

Kindly let me know who you believe is implementing these new features. Is it Bobby Kotick? Do you think Bobby woke up one day last month and said to himself, “Self, let’s give the kids account-wide ignore because I know they’ve been asking for it and while we’re at it let’s redo those art assets because that will most certainly sweep this whole lawsuit thing under the rug”?

The people fighting for changes at Activision Blizzard, some of whom are survivors of sexual harassment/assault, are some of the same people working on the game right now and providing us these amazing new features. When spouting ignorance like, “they are trying to get us to forget about the lawsuit with these 9.1.5 updates,” who are you talking about, exactly? Because the employees I know are busting their asses right now to give the players things we’ve been asking for. And they’re doing so in the middle of all this chaos – not to avoid a conversation or divert your gaze, but because they are allowed to enjoy their work by creating exciting new features for the game.

These last few months have been rough and some of you are lashing out at the same people trying to make different aspects of the game, their lives, and their careers better. Think about that.

“These changes are not progressive!”



Remember when we all watched this, some of us for the first time, back in July? Remember how horrified we were that she was treated this way by a panel of men and then booed by a crowd of them, and so many of us declared the moment the clip ended that we would not stand for this? That Blizzard should not stand for this?

We literally demanded changes such as the ones being made to the portraits.

This isn’t about being progressive. It’s about making women feel comfortable in gaming spaces, virtual and otherwise. If you don’t have a problem with half-naked dragon ladies walking around, cool. They bother some of us because we are not comfortable with why they look the way they do.

We have to ask ourselves what purpose they have in-game now and how salvageable they are.


I saved this one for last because it’s the one that upsets me the most. Not only are people ignorantly tweeting out this word in opposition of the changes, but many of these tweets are from the same women who rallied behind survivors when news of the lawsuit broke.

A prude, by formal definition, is someone who is shocked by and/or against things that are sexual in nature. A prude by informal definition, and the definition most often meant when the word is tossed around, is someone who does not engage in or refuses to engage in any form of sexual conduct. Both definitions are volatile and used to objectify and harass people – usually when those people are placed in uncomfortable and unwanted situations. To accuse people at Blizzard of being prudes is absolutely not the argument you think it is.

The thing is, you can’t use the word “prude” in this way and in the same breath say you stand with survivors – many of which are so because they refused to willingly engage in sexual advances.

Remember what we’re fighting for.

I know we all don’t agree on every single thing and that issues may arise that some of us feel more strongly about than others, but I don’t imagine it would be super difficult to be a little less hostile toward anyone at Blizzard right now. If a change helps someone without hurting anyone else, then it’s usually a good change. Have a little more faith, yeah?

Bells has a pretty incredible thread out there. Check it out.

If it isn’t already clear, I agree with and appreciate all the tweets I’ve linked to drive a point in this post.

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: