This nerdy (but still male) idea of “coolness” isn’t a unique problem to Blizzard. Big creator names in nerd culture are still predominantly male, which has been true since long before “nerd” and “geek” were a persistent cultural identity. You have Tolkien, Lucas, Martin, Whedon and, for our purposes, Metzen. Nerd-dom has been retconned into a male space, a refuge for the those who did not fit the traditional image of masculinity, but who enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons and got thrown into lockers because of it. The duality of this background is that for all of the underdog position that nerd men have had most of their lives, many of them still enjoy the benefits of a patriarchal culture that nurtures and comforts their tastes and desires, often to the tune of millions of dollars. […]
The problem with nerd culture and the belief that only men are considered creators is that it reinforces that the only stories worth caring about are for men, by men, and in a way that is cool to other men. It’s a rigid set of interests that tends to not consider much else outside of it. The worlds themselves sometimes involve a realism and grittiness that is at best, voyeuristic – it’s easy to insert things into a fantasy world to make it more real when it’s not a reality you have to confront on a regular basis.
–Apple Cider Mage on the problem with Brodude Nerds.
I was a massive Blizzard fangirl growing up, and was all over WoW when it first came out, in now small part due to the attention it paid to the way it represented female characters, both PCs and NPCs.
Those days feel very distant, now.
I haven’t played a Blizzard game since Diablo III was the final hammer on the nail put in by the full page spread dedicated to Kerrigan’s “high heels” in the artbook for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (context for non-gamers: Kerrigan is a human-alien hybrid who doesn’t wear clothes, and yet has “organic” six inch stiletto heels because… why, exactly?). I also very notably remember watching Chris Metzen at Blizzcon the year before DIII’s release; lurching around stage in a Blizz-branded sports jersey, grunting and throwing up horns and generally putting on one of the most baffling displays of affected masculinity since Steve Ballmer’s infamous “developers developers developers” speech.
Metzen, for those wondering, is the Senior Vice President of Story and Franchise Development at Blizzard. Knowing that–and finally seeing the guy in action, having previously mostly known him from his art in the WarCraft II user guide–suddenly made a lot of the, um, less inclusive decisions Blizzard has made over the past few years come very sharply into focus.
I don’t buy Blizzard products any more.
It’s sad, really. Blizz has some of the best game designers and artists in the business. Their entire operation is polished and thoughtful, from the web to the client to the branding to the server. Everything about their products screams “best in show”.
Everything, that is, except for plot, character, and story.
Because here’s the thing. In a world of Gone Homes and Guild Wars 2s and Portals, the same tropes and plots that were amusing and cool at fifteen just… don’t cut it any more. They’re tired and dull. And people notice.
I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter, at least not to Blizzard. They have such brand recognition and, importantly (and rightly, given the focus on gameplay over story) buy-in from the e-sports community that they can afford to make vapid, exclusionary games. Maybe. Except… you get the feeling they are still trying, at least on some level; Heroes of the Storm includes the female Barbarian and a female Siege Tank driver, two decisions that feel like a very deliberate counter to some of the usual criticisms of MOBAs (namely, that they don’t show female characters in the “strength” roles, only magic and stealth).
So… who knows.
In some respects I don’t begrudge Metzen for living out his boyhood fantasies at the helm of a billion-dollar franchise. Good on him, and I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing, were I in his place.
But I’m not. And, as it stands, his fantasies exclude me. So I feel no compulsion to support them.
There are other companies out there that deserve my money more.