Monday, October 24, 2011

Two Problems With Pandaria

5.0 sounds like a lot of fun, but there are two basic things that I think are worth discussing - one is not an issue at all, but has become a problem for the player-base, and the other is an actually sort of a problem but I haven't heard too many people discuss it yet.

First, the thing that might actually be an issue: Is Blizzard reducing Chinese culture to an expansion?

We've seen Blizzard co-opting culture before. Trolls for Caribbean culture, Tauren for Native Americans, the dismal portrayal of Middle-Eastern and African people in the Pygmy of Uldum (down to their gibberish gibbering), the one-dimensional Irish/Scots among the Dwarfs... is this another step in that direction, where a pop-cultural understanding of Chinese and Far-Eastern culture is being stuffed into the Pandaren where we're going to see mildly offensive stereotyping based on fantastical imagery rather than any basis in the reality of that culture?

I can't say, but I do think that Blizzard does a lot of this without thinking about things. I don't think there is a process in Blizzard that filters ideas - I think it goes from design to execution with little conversation in between in terms of thinking about what the impact might be culturally. If there was even a minor conversation in the vein of, "Do we think this might offend the cultural sensibilities of the people involved," we would never have seen the Pygmy, or at least not in that incarnation. Or for that matter, quests in which we torture people, but that's a different topic completely.

The most confusing and unfortunate part of it is that nobody ever calls Blizzard on it, and when they do, the argument is thrown out as it's a game and not meant to be taken seriously.

Well. As a brown person playing the game, I felt a little hurt seeing the Pygmy. I wasn't particularly offended, I wasn't going to stop playing the game, but it just made me wish that Blizzard had taken the time to have a conversation about cultural impact, impression and stereotyping before building those models or designing the race.

And I think the fact that they never even had that conversation is kind of the point I'm trying to make.

Without playing through 5.0, it'll be impossible to tell how the far-eastern culture makes out among the Pandaren, but we'll see.

Next, let's talk about the non-issue: "Pandaren area a joke race, Blizzard is ruining WoW."

The problem isn't with Pandaren, the problem is that it's not Wrath of the Lich King. It's not The Burning Crusade. It's not the Cataclysm. It's not about your world in danger, it's not about a threat, there is no angry, angst-ridden, gritty and horrible antagonist to rage against, and certainly no obvious Gothic elements to be seen. Armor doesn't have skulls and bones on it.

Do you remember the Diablo 3 fiasco with the color pallet issues? This is the same thing in a different vein.

The criticism leveled against MoP is ultimately  in the vein of, "This isn't what I like." Now, measure that against a game with walking cows, pig people with crossbows, and gurgling fish men who chase you on land. It isn't about the silly nature of the Pandas, it's their lack of grit.

Pandaria is beautiful. It's breathtaking. There are no ruins, the buildings are alive and open. The landscape isn't scarred by war. The mountains are cloaked in mist. The forests still stand whole and pristine.

After 3 expansions full of war, grit, dirt, blood, and more skulls and bones than you can find in an abattoir, I think the artists were done with those themes and wanted to move on. I think the writers were tired of pushing the same styles of quests. The creative team wanted to stretch its muscle in a way it hadn't before and Pandaria was that venue.

I can't seriously have an issue with that - video games at their purest, are art. Artists don't just repeat and do the same thing over and over - they experiment, they modify, they grow. That's what Blizzard is doing with Warcraft - they're moving on to something completely new, and I'm excited to see how it turns out.

A game doesn't need to be drowned in inches of blood to be good or interesting. People change, stories grow, and the game evolves.

This is a good thing.


  1. Well, we has a pop-cultural understanding of medieval Frankish and Norman/Anglo-Saxon culture being stuffed into the humans of Stormwind, and we has mildly offensive stereotyping based on fantastical imagery rather than any basis in the reality of that culture.

    I has called Blizz out when I thinks they's usin' stereotypes 'cause they's lazy, and if Pandaren ends up doin' laundry and talikin' like Mickey Rooney I'll do it again. But borrowin' pop-culture tropes is a reality of the necessaries of fantastasticals story-tellin'. Creatin' a brand new world where absolutelies nuthin' be familiar would be a preposterous amount of work fer both the developers and the players, just as it be fer moviemakers and novelists and they's audiences. This be entertainments, not a sociology degree.

  2. I dunno, Saif. My discontent with the expansion announcement is that the game series is clearly drawing to a close, as it should. This expansion feels like it's just something thrown in there to make more money. Sure, the art and development teams are going crazy, but that's sort of beside the point. The Warcraft lore has gone pretty far afield since the days of Orcs and Humans; granted, some of that is just scope of the story... but the story should be exploring Sargeras and the remaining Old Gods, or something.

  3. Ratshag - I appreciate what you're saying, and I agree that we shouldn't expect a sociology class in a video game. I guess I just don't want my culture to be reduced to gibbering, slack-jawed, illiterate pygmy. :)

    Calibar: if your criticism is that we're not focusing on the Scourge or Old Gods then I think that's completely valid. That's a story-mode thing that you can't really argue about, you like certain stories, and that's all there is to it. However, I've bee playing through the same stories in WoW for ages.

    I'm curious to see what kind of stories open up when they leave the familiar behind. It worked well for them, when they did it in Outland. I'm hoping it lets them stretch out similarly here.

  4. Saif: well, yes and no. It isn't so much about which stories I personally appreciate as it is that this just seems to literally materialize from fog (see what I did there?) This game has artifactual evidence of events that happened on the order of 10s of thousands of years ago and there is minute--maybe even zero--evidence of Pandaren culture or, indeed existence on Kalimdor. To put it in other terms, it's sort of like writing the entire 'Left Behind' series based on the three passages that aren't even IN Revelation. This expansion seems like a major diversion in a direction completely ancillary (if that...) to how the story has been progressing since the conclusion of Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.

  5. Outlands is even part of the story that makes Warcraft what it is; that includes blue space goats. In fact, I buy anything involved with Outlands more easily than I did the night elves when Reign of Chaos was released. Am I weird or confused to think that anything that deviates from the burning leigon--even the Old Gods stuff--is just sorta there as a filler or distraction to make money?

  6. I guess I don't have as much of an issue with this as you do.

    I don't have a problem with Azeroth not knowing about the existence of Pandaria till now. I can easily hand-wave it away as the Europeans having no idea of the existence of Inca/Aztec culture or Aborigine culture until (relatively speaking) recently.

    But what works for me might not work for you, and that's okay!

    For me, if the Pandaren are done well, have interesting stories and blend into the game world, then I don't really have a problem with them dropping out of the sky.

    Further, the suggested motive of escalating factional differences and fighting over new resources is compelling to me - it's based in plenty of RL examples and I always like flawed plans, mistaken actions and so forth, as these obviously are.

    With no obvious threat, the Alliance and Horde are turning on each other - that's the crux of story that's exciting to me.

    Am I disappointed with stuff like Pokeman and not more time spent on challenging PvE content, the lack of level cap dungeons, and the claim of easy heroics? Absolutely.

    But the expansion overall might still work, and exploring new worlds is why I play MMOs, so that works for me. I'm willing to give it a chance as there's no other MMO out there that interests me other than maybe GW2 and there is no raiding in there, so I don't know how much I'll enjoy that.

    I don't want to get too defensive - I have no problem with people who don't like the sound of MoP, but a lot of the reason given is that "Pandas are stupid" which doesn't resonate with the amount of (juvenile) humor and the number of anthropomorphic races already in the game. That's the main point I was arguing.

  7. (didn't see your second comment till I posted the above)

    I think those are the stories that get you excited to go out and do stuff. When you see no real reason to go out and do anything, the game does feel dull. If the main crux of this expansion - factional conflict - doesn't do anything for you, then that's not a problem.

    But to call all other stories in WoW distraction or money-grabs is unfair. There are 11 million people in the game, and I think they all want different stories, and the last few expansions have been about defensive war and dealing with threats and been very dark and gritty.

    I think for them to move on and try something new is actually a risky move. If they just wanted to keep people playing, they would just recycle the old content over and over. They're not. They're experimenting. Change and growth are the opposite of distracting retread. IMO obviously.

    All that said, I wouldn't blame you for tuning out and seeing if the next expansion is all about Old Gods infested Demons invading Azeroth... actually that sounds pretty cool.

  8. Thanks for the replies, Saif. :-)

    I also don't have a problem with the Pandaria-from-nowhere a character. But as a player/subscriber/meta-story-critic, it feels tangential at best. I probably am being unfair by ascribing it to any motives in particular--with money being especially scurrilous--but I also think it's plausible. Again: Azeroth's not knowing about Pandaria is ok-ish, but my versimilitude wears thin when we're supposed to believe that the Pandaren empire used to rule Kalimdor and were buddies of Night Elves. This story move just doesn't sit well with me from that point. I think it could be and probably will be awesome, I just don't expect to care much about it. For the Europeans, your example would work better for Rome than Incas. The Pandarens supposedly ruled all that, once. Though Orcs weren't around.

  9. Also, (sorry for lolpwning your post with walls 'o text...) I am not particularly attached to the burning legion/old gods storyline except as a matter principle. Sorta. This panda thing feels like the singing alligator scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, haha. I actually love the idea of aggressive faction conflict, but there is already so much rich content they could explore and don't. Frankly, I welcome an end to the burning legion storyline (it started feeling a lot like the Diablo storyline a LONG time ago...) but there's no resolution here. I am getting literary blue balls, so to speak. :-/

  10. No worries, I enjoy chatting.

    I must not've caught the Night Elf/Pandaren thing. Menh. That's a bit less cool, but I can see the connection in the architecture.

    And I can see the Nelfs completely failing to mention it since they probably figured the Pandas were gone completely after all this time. It could make for a funny moment where Varian and Tyrande are talking and she's like, "Huh, Pandaren have returned?" and Varian is all, "You knew about this WTFBBQ? Why didn't you tell me?!"

    I hear you 100% on the Burning Legion front. Especially since I didn't get to raid Sunwell at level, so I have *never* raided against the Burning Legion except Magtheridon who was a captured pit-fiend.


    I don't think they can resolve it without killing Sargaras, but maybe killing K'J would be a major full-stop for a while.

    The Scourge storyline was quite good and I enjoyed it more-or-less whole scale (though I still hate the tournament).

    Old Gods are still my favorites. I love that shit and will eat it with a spoon all day long. When I realized there were old gods on Draenor, I was thrilled - the possibilities are endless.

    I kind of just want an Old Gods expansion, where we go to a planet that has been consumed by them so we're literally walking on Old God goo and sutff the whole time. O_O