What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about sexism, whether real or imagined, in WoW. Perhaps I’m a bad feminist. I don’t have a problem with characters like Alexstrasza wearing skimpy clothes. I think she looks good. I would likely dress like that if I looked like her (and you know, lived in a fantasy world). I accept that many people find women (or men) with impossible body proportions attractive and often depict them ways that emphasize those assets. I don’t even mind so much that there aren’t as many prominent female characters as there are men in WoW. It’s a video game – I just want to play and have fun, not think too hard about sexual and social politics.

However, last week Vidyala posted a link to some artwork on the offical WoW forums on Twitter. Blizzard has been adding portraits of the faction leaders over the last few months and the most recent image added was of the leader of the Night Elves – Tyrande Whisperwind…in a matter of speaking. As I discussed the picture with some people on Twitter I found myself getting more and more angry about how she was depicted.

Here’s the picture:

Tyrande WhisperwindImage from Blizzard Entertainment (Original can be found here)

What is it about this particular picture that bothers me so much? In a word – everything. There is nothing right about this picture. Everything about it makes me mad. The only thing that could have made it worse is if Tyrande was naked.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The first problem is that Malfurion is in it. Sure, he’s an important person in the Night Elf world, but he’s not their leader. Tyrande is. The picture is even called “Tyrande Whisperwind”, so why is Malfurion in it? Why does he take up most of the space? None of the other leaders have to share the spotlight in their pictures (except the Dwarves, but that’s a Council). All we can clearly see of Tyrande is one arm, the side of her face, lots of hair and one (large, melon-shaped) boob. The rest of her is obscured by Malfurion.

The second problem is the pose. The pose is wrong both symbolically and anatomically. While every other faction leader portrait shows the leader staring menacingly into the camera or looking intently into the distance, Tyrande is gazing at Malfurion. While every other leader is wielding some kind of weapon, Tyrande is clinging on to her husband. Come on. I know Tyrande is the type of leader who prefers peace when possible but she’s also a fighter. She fought the Burning Legion and in the battle for Mount Hyjal and defended Moonglade from Eranikus, but rather than portray her as a strong leader and fighter, she gets shown in a matronly light, surrounded by flowers, and enveloped in a man’s arms.

Then there’s the anatomy of the pose. As someone with zero artistic talent I feel a little bad about critiquing someone’s art, but really – people don’t bend this way! When I first saw this picture I thought it was a side view of Tyrande so I didn’t immediately see anything wrong with the pose. Then I realised her body was directly facing the audience, with her head cranked around to face Malfurion and her arm bent awkwardly behind her to hold on to Malfurion (though to me it looks like her shoulder is in front of her head/chest, which seems like a recipe for dislocated joints). After seeing what the picture was actually portraying, my first thought was that Malfurion had just broken Tyrande’s neck.  Narci had the much less violent and much more hilarious thought that an evil wizard had cursed Tyrande with back-tits. Either way, she doesn’t look comfortable.

So, while the Orc, Tauren, Troll, Gnome, Dwarf and Worgen leaders are all portrayed as strong, independant and battle-ready, the female leader of the Night Elves is portrayed as a delicate flower, being supported, protected (and twisted into a terribly uncomfotable position) by a man.

Please Blizzard art department, try a little harder next time you create a portrait of one of the few female faction leaders. Maybe you can put some more work into portraying Tyrande in a way that isn’t so diminutive (and offensive) before you start on your fourth picture of Garrosh. I hope Sylvanas turns out better.

37 responses to “What’s Wrong with this Picture?

  1. This picture drove me up the wall as well. Previously, especially in Warcraft 3, Tyrande was a violent warrior leader. She ruthlessly slaughtered anyone who might be a bad guy (even if she later found out they weren’t). Meanwhile Malfurion is a love sick fool who eventually falls asleep for a long time. She used to be awesome! But now she’s just falls into the typical baby-making, subservient female role, at least according to this picture. I have no idea if she actually wants babies, I could only bring myself to read the little snippet they posted and it hinted at her being sad at having no children, which only made me angrier. I wish I knew if the story was as awkward as the picture. 🙁
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  2. I agree with you a bazillion percent on this. No way in hell they’d ever portray Sylvanas like that.
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  3. I think the great thing about art is that it is subjective. People can see something in a number of ways and nobody really has to be right or wrong about it.

    Aside from the obvious contortion issue, which resembles something you would see on a Photoshopped Vogue fashion model, I don’t see much of an issue with this picture.

    I hear what people are saying about Tyrande being represented differently and perhaps better in the background story of the game. My response to that would be, “Why can’t she be all things?” Why can’t she be a warrior and a lover and a leader and a potential mother? Does this one picture have to sum up everything Tyrande Whisperwind is?

    If you snapped a picture of me at the office, I would look different than I would outside of it. That one picture shouldn’t encompass everything that I am. There’s me at work, there’s me in the game, there’s me with my family, etc. To me, this picture captured one side of her. She’s with her lover and they appear to be having an intimate moment. Do I think she leaves the house always looking like that? No. Do I think she’s always within arms reach of Malfurion? Probably not.

    This is one side of Tyrande that the artist chose to capture and to highlight. I think it is possible to be all things to all people and this image is just one aspect of who Tyrande is.
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    • I agree that people are more than one thing, and there’s nothing wrong with being a wife and lover. However, given the context of this picture – it’s part of a series on the leaders of Azeroth titled “Tyrande Whisperwind” – portraying Tyrande as a lover instead of a leader is a huge mistake. Dedicating 75% of the frame to Malfurion is also a mistake.

      It’s great that Tyrande is a multi-faceted character, but I think in this case the artist focused on the wrong facets.

  4. You bring up some great points, and I have no doubt that Tyrande can be both a lover and a fighter. The big problem with the picture is that at first the accompanying story was described as only Tyrande’s (now I believe they changed it to Tyrande and Malfurion). But if it’s Tyrande’s story, why is Malfurion in the center of the drawing and staring menacingly at the viewer, while Tyrande is to his side and staring lovingly at him? From a feminist point of view, this only drives the point home that this story is really about Malfurion, and Tyrande is only there to further develop his character. This picture bothers me so much because it’s a Warcraft example of “Female success is family” trope.
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  5. When this picture was first posted, one of my co-officers hopped online and whispered me with only the words “TYRANDE’S ARMPIT!” I immediately knew what she was referring to, and yeah, I can’t even tell you how long it took me to realize she’s apparently facing forward.

    Weird body issues aside, I agree with the rest of what you said as well. It bothers me that this looks like the cover of a romance novel, and it kind of ties into the issue I have with how Blizz portrays a lot of their female “heroes.” I wish that they would have just let the image be about Tyrande, and that’s it. I’m not even an Alliance player, and it annoys me that they’re not really portraying her as a strong, independent leader here.

    I suspect whatever image Sylvanas gets, she’ll probably look like a badass, but then she’s craaaaaaaaaaaazy. I would love to see an active female leader in this game who is not obsessed with her love life and is also completely sane. Here’s hoping Jaina surprises me in the next book.
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    • I would argue that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that Tyrande is being misrepresented and that her achievements are being overshadowed by her relationship and an attempt to portray her in a possibly sexual light, then turn around and overshadow all of Sylvanas’ accomplishments by portraying her as a crazy person.

      Sylvanas’ actions have been widely debated, with regards to just how “crazy” they are and I’m always really loathe when people use that word so casually. Well, what does “crazy” mean, exactly? And should it be enough to overshadow the things she has done and the things she has accomplished? I don’t feel that it is.
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    • Compared to all the other pictures of the faction leaders they’ve posted so far Tyrande looks the least like a leader, which I think is sad.

      If they were to put up multiple pictures of her, some which showed her as a strong leader and some which showed her as a loving wife, I’d be fine with it, but this is the only one we have to look at right now and I think it’s lacking.

    • @Faye
      Even though I now know she’s facing forward, I still immediately think she’s actually facing Malfurion every time I look at the picture. It’s just so awkward looking. And why is he holding her armpit? Sigh.

      Being a Night Elf as my main, I find this picture especially infuriating. I want to see her portrayed better than this.

  6. Okay, purely from an art perspective… this is not a great piece, admittedly. Tyrande’s body positioning is rather fuzzy and it makes it look like her breast is either displaced or disproportionately huge. But Malfurion’s positioning is that he’s looking down, not out. If you are holding your SO in a similar position, the taller on is going to be in that position, ‘wrapped around’ the person the are holding, so the head is down, towards her, not looking out.

    But note they are holding each other. I do not get a sense of Malfurion’s dominance from this. He is holding her, she is holding him, they are oriented towards each other. The roses confirm this picture is a couple, not an individual. Probably not the greatest pick for Tyrande’s faction leader story, but now that Malfurion is back and it IS acknowledged in the book that the two are partners, I find it natural that the lines are a bit blurred at this point. Malfurion and Tyrande are the most fabled relationship in WoW. Ten Thousand years they’ve been together. They are a couple, you don’t think of one without the other. That does not lessen either, mind you, it’s just how you think of them.

    A comparison. Yesterday I got an email from a friend telling me she and her husband have decided to separate after 18 years together. It’s amicable, mutually agreed upon and they are reassuring their friends they are fine, and do not need to be socially separated with our grouping of friends. The clincher for the circle of friends is going to be learning to think of them as individuals again rather than as a couple. That is going to be the hardest mental adjustment for any of us friends.

    The same applies here, in reverse. Tyrande is the leader, but it’s been said openly with her as the leader of the people, and him as the Cenarion Circle leader they will work closely together. To reinforce this, Malfurion is even placed with Tyrande in the Temple, rather than across the city in Fandral’s old place. This does not lessen her power or authority. He is placed with her, not her with him, mind you. If you consider the past of each one, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that Tyrande is probably the more intimidating of the two! She’s slapped him down in the past and will certainly do so again if the need arises.

    Basically, I’d agree this picture wasn’t a great choice for this story, but the two ARE together and that’s honestly how it should be with a couple that is partnered as completely as Tyrande and Malfurion are. They will stand together, advise each other, share their strengths, etc.

    Thrall/Go’el and Aggra may come to this point eventually and I think Blizz IS trying for that because she is a large part of Thrall’s recent changes, but for now, she is still too new and unknown by the majority of the player base to accept her in that role yet.

    • It’s hard to tell exactly where he’s looking since night elves have no pupils. I think he’s looking at the camera, but it’s possible he’s not. Either way, when I look at this picture I see Malfurion in an aggressive, protective stance while Tyrande is much more passive. There’s nothing wrong with Tyrande being a loving wife to Malfurion, but for her specific leader portrait she should be shown in a more powerful light. Having her gazing at Malfurion does not send a message of strength or leadership.

  7. Tend to agree. Besides the horrible pose, that one melon shaped boob is rather protruding out the side, which I think is what makes it look like she is facing the other way, a side view. It’s disproportionately wrong in many senses.
    The whole pouty lipped moonglow eye look, just doesn’t depict Tyrande’s fierce loyalty to her people. I don’t know, she just looks like a doe-eyed groupy of Malfurion, HE is the one with the fierce gaze. Wrong? yes indeed.

  8. God, thank you so much for this.

    Here is the thing that makes me angry: do you think that this “but they’re a couple!” art is the piece they’d use if *Malfurion* were flagged the faction leader? Because I will bet a million billion institutional sexism dollars that it wouldn’t be.
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    • They definitely would not have used this for a portrait of Malfurion. He’d be off somewhere on the Molten Front kicking some fiery ass. Tyrande *might* have been in the background. Doing his laundry or something.

      Okay, now I’m just being an ass 😛

  9. I’ll be honest I haven’t really taken any offense to that particular drawing. As it has been said from an artistic standpoint things are just plain odd given the poses. I don’t particularly care for how her head is snapped at such an angle to her front-facing body and her arm hooked back around his head.

    I think the actual depicted scene is being read into far too much. Trying to throw a slant on it that it is some form of misogynistic depiction of her or that it takes away from her strengths seems to be a tad much. While in the days depicted in Warcraft 3 and before in the great wars she was a fearless leader and furious warrior she has since taken a much more peaceful path and has not really been active in many of the world threatening situations that have broken out over the course of WoW. This is not a knock on her though I applaud her for taking the peaceful approach and it does not make her weak. She and Malfurion are the quintessential couple in this universe and it is a huge part of both of them. As Oestrus has said it is but a snapshot of her and one they wanted to represent artistically (though not executed on a high level). If you take a picture of me at work I’m fairly serious and might be the glaring at the camera type and if you take a picture of me at home I might be the embracing softer person with my SO. Given that at this point in the WoW universe Malfurion is off fighting the war against Ragnaros and Tyrande is tending to Darnassus and the NE people they are going to have different auras if you will and that is represented here. If he was gazing lovingly at her and she at him then people’s discussions about this artwork would be completely different I believe.

    Sometimes a poem is exactly what its words say and nothing more, and sometimes a painting is just a painting and not a metaphor. Trying to pull too strong a message out of it will only anger your core values. As someone who considers himself a feminist (as much as a male can be) who was active on hot issues back in college, I don’t find myself being aggravated by this picture. The only criticism that I would level is that if they were to do a “team shot” for HER section then Malfurion should be looking at her intently. Their love and relationship has been a pillar for both them as well as the Night Elf people and that should be focused on more intently.

    • I’m not trying to put any slant on it. I looked at the picture, and that’s the impression I got from it. Whether it’s intended or not, I’m certainly not the only one who saw the picture in that light.

      I have to keep coming back to the comparison to the other faction leader pictures. My first impression of the picture was negative. After I saw the pictures of all the other leaders and saw that the picture was specifically called “Tyrande Whisperwind” that cemented my opinion that is was a poor choice of image. Comparatively, she looks like the weaker of the leaders.

  10. ^^This is why some of us with feminist leanings get our validation from Sylvanas, not Tyrande, Alexstrasza, etc. While Sylvanas got her powers (in a roundabout way) from a man, she doesn’t lean on a man to keep her strong in tough times. She’s got a chain-mail bikini, a bow, an army and a bad attitude, and that’s all it takes for her to run an empire.
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    • Which is ok as long as it is acknowledged that she is less than an ideal character morality wise. She is not “good” and tends towards hostile or deceitful activities to get her way. I suppose she’s not that much different than the brash aggressive Garrosh but the Horde is full of those interesting types these days.
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  11. Seems to me that the artist was doing a failed attempt at an homage to the Janet Jackson Rollingstones cover. Considering the context of these pictures (leaders of azeroth) I think this was a very poor choice.

  12. From a guy’s PoV, here is this leader of an ancient, powerful nation being consoled, one may even argue HELD UP by Malfurion’s embrace. It makes her look completely lovesick/needy/distracted. Compare it to the artwork of the other leaders – strong, directly looking back at you. Bold.

    The arguement of ‘why can’t she be both a leader and lover’ is ridiculous. Stop disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing. Of course characters can have layers, be multi-faceted, we assume they are. However this artwork is supposed to depict a LEADER, not a lover.

    • Exactly. It’s great that she’s both a leader and a lover, but show us the leader aspect in her leader picture (or take up the challenge of showing both at once).

  13. For me it’s a wider debate on how leadership is portrayed and shown. We are usually not critical of a male figure staring menacingly out to us as portraying leadership but are of a softer more romantic pose. But that could be revealing more about how we view leadership and it’s maybe that which is turned on it’s head. Someone in love and in touch with their emotions, fully in the present in their lover’s arms, could be someone so in touch with their inner core that they are the strongest of leaders without the need to aggressively display that to the world. The issue gets more complex and contentious here because it is a woman portrayed sexually in the arms of the lover, not the other way round. So it could be construed as woman as sexual/romance objects not leaders. But the gender might be irrelevant. The real truth is that the power and leadership can be shown through sexuality and integrity of emotion rather than ego driven sword waving posturing!
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    • That’s an interesting thought. In most other situations I would agree with you. However, since this is World of WARcraft, it seems pretty natural (to me) that the leaders are usually shown as aggressive and sword-waving.

      I just want Tyrande to get a sword to wave too.

  14. When I first saw the picture, I sighed with disappointment and thought the same thing as Jasyla (I’m a guy, if that’s at all relevant):
    ‘Really, Blizz? You are trying to depict the leader of the Night Elf people and cannot come up with a better picture than that?’

    Granted, Mal and Tyrande are the couple in WoW and there is nothing wrong with the picture itself (apart from the obvious distortion of Tyrande’s body which still has me in amazement about how owl-like Night Elfs apparently are) … if it were just a random piece of artwork.
    As the title pic for a leader short story, however, it is just a poor choice.
    One has to ask oneself if Blizzard artists are either ignorant to the fact that female players are not all only interested in romance (this is only due to the artwork’s placing as the leader story pic) or if they were just not thinking it through when they designed this (and approved it for release as the leader pic for that matter). Either way, a company that tries to cater to more than eleven milion people cannot afford such mistakes. It’s just plain dumb.
    And don’t tell me your artists couldn’t come up with another picture of Tyrande for a short story that — to my knowledge — doesn’t even have a definite ‘release date’.

    Beside the picture, the short story itself is okay, but not quite as good as most of the others (I was a little disappointed by the one about Cairne, to be honest). This has nothing to do with it being the story of a female leader or anything of that sort, and it is only my personal opinion.
    It could, of course, be that my expectations are higher after having read the other leader stories…

    In the words of Pr. Dr. Dr. Roger Leet:
    /facepalm Blizz

    • I haven’t read the other leaders’ stories. I thought Tyrande’s was okay, not nearly as bad as the picture. This picture was just lazy. Even if they didn’t make her look as conventionally strong as the other leaders, they could have done better. They could have drawn from the story and shown her healing someone – some kind of interaction that showed that she is a powerful night elf and in tune with her people. Even if Malfurion was included in the picture helping her, it would have been 10x better than just a picture of them embracing.

  15. I hadn’t seen this picture until you posted it and I seriously facepalmed. However, I showed it to my husband and he said “What, I don’t see anything wrong with it!” And so I facepalmed again and then ‘explained’ my issues. 😉

    Made for a rousing debate in our household that night.

    Yes, they are a couple. Yes, they are THE couple. But as others have said, she’s the leader and shouldn’t be all moony and dreamy over her man. If it was Malfurion, he’d not be doing that. Ugh.
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    • My fiance also told me he saw nothing wrong with the picure. I explained it to him and he still saw nothing wrong. He slept on the couch that night.

  16. The most entertaining part of this is that when a Horde raid attacks Tyrande and all the city guards and npcs throw themselves into the meatgrinder in defense of their beloved leader, Malfurion just stands there, occasionally glancing to his left and right. At least if he was made to despawn or something, it wouldn’t be as ridiculous…
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  17. I had the same reaction to the picture when I went to read Tyrande’s story and saw this as the main image. I definitely thought it was a picture of Malfurion (with a side of Tyrande). Tyrande is a multi-faceted character, and I actually liked that in the story she showcased a lot of her different sides. However, as a representative image of *Tyrande*, I think they should have chosen something with her featured prominently in the forefront, with her face completely visible. At least 3/4 view, if not fully facing the viewer. She can pose or be doing something active like healing, fighting, or sword-waving. Malfurion can even be in the picture! But if he is, he needs to be somewhere understated in the background. This image would better illustrate a story like “Malfurion: He Slept Forever, and Still Got All the Babes”
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  18. I came across this article just today while searching for images of Tyrande on google. I realize I’m slightly late to the party, so to speak, but I’d like to comment on it.

    This is a well-written and very level headed article. However, I feel as though this picture sums up Tyrande ever since World of Warcraft came out.

    I will not lie that I love the night elves. In fact, their treatment in Cataclysm was a large part of why I quit the game (aside from how I feel it’s become more of a job than a game as of late). I feel they were made to look very weak before the Horde, losing most of their conflicts all over northern Kalimdor, and I don’t feel they properly capitalized on all of the losses they suffered as a race over the events of this expansion.

    But Tyrande has been suffering long before Cataclysm. In Warcraft III she was a strong and independent character, but in World of Warcraft she’s become a weepy, sullen woman who is absolutely helpless without her man. She did very little at all, and it was constantly stated that she felt as though a part of her was missing while Malfurion was lost in the Emerald Dream, and she felt unable to lead her people.

    Tyrande went without Malfurion for 10,000 years. The fact her love for him lasted that long is a powerful thing. But 10,000 years is a long time… in fact, I believe human civilization in real life is only roughly 7,000 years old. In all that time, she served as the leader of the night elves. Only in WoW did she become so ineffective without her husband.

    One could make the argument that losing him after waiting for his return for so long could be devastating emotionally. There’s no doubt that it could. But Tyrande is a strong woman – the leader of a race of warrior-women. I cannot believe that she would become so useless with her husband suddenly gone again, especially with the events of WoW starting to press in around her.

    Tyrande has become entirely characterized by her marriage and love for Malfurion. She’s very rarely used for anything, and I hate to say it, but I can’t help but feel a nagging suspicion that a lot of it is inspired by the fact that Malfurion is supposedly Chris Metzen’s favorite character. He is head writer and director of the lore, after all. It’s possible he only thinks of Tyrande as being Malfurion’s wife, and not a character on her own.

    However, I must also temper this suspicion with the realization that if it is indeed true, it’s unintentional. As was the poor treatment I feel the night elves got in Cataclysm, as was the sexist undertones of this picture. I don’t think anything was meant by it.

    A quick note, though: was this image always tagged as ‘Tyrande and Malfurion’ on the website? Or was it originally tagged as Tyrande Whisperwind, and Malfurion just happened to dominate the image, forcing them to re-label it? Because if it was always tagged the way it is now, then I feel as though the way it was drawn becomes somewhat less offensive, because it was likely always meant to represent both faction leaders and the eternal bond that they share.

    • Thanks for the insightful comment Zak. I must admit I am not too knowledgable about lore, so I was not aware that Tyrande had been portrayed like this for so long. It was just the picture that made me realise that something seemed off compared to how the other faction leaders were portrayed. It’s unfortunate that she is characterized this way.

      To answer your question, the image was tagged as ‘Tyrande Whisperwind’ on the website when it was originally posted.

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  20. First of all, i know am a little late about commenting on this picture, but seriously. Lay off blizzard abit, most of the designers are male – judging that presumes that they would make the pictures appealing to the majority of men who play world of warcraft. I am only 17 years of age, and still find no problem with this picture what-so-ver, her ‘boob’ isnt obstructed, or being ‘touched’ by Malfurion. And i wouldnt be holding my queen wife night elf like he was if i was him, (crawling away from the subject). He actually has a $|-|!7 loads of hp, so he would be considered bigger. The point of him taking him the space is that even before you fight here, if an opposing faction ever decides to. He will obviously step into the fight before hand. Anyway cba with the rest, its fine, good job blizz keep up the good work 😛 oh and p.s there in love, they would be together in the same picture anyway :’)