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:
Image 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.