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Diablo III: A Devil of a Game
blase [joan watson; elementary]
lickbrains wrote in feminist_geeks

First and foremost, Diablo III is an exceptionally entertaining and highly addictive game. As a player with zero MMO experience, coming in with lots of expectations–I first played Diablo when I was 11–I was highly sceptical of the always-online game, not to mention its “rune”-based, rather than skill-tree and ability score, customization–a big change from Diablo II. But it certainly didn’t take long for Diablo III to win me over. In the age of Skyrim, the Diablo franchise can’t compete as an RPG; but what it lacks there, it makes up in spades as an action-packed loot-bonanza.

This is not to say it’s a perfect game. The mechanics may be at the core of a gaming experience, but anyone with at least one eye and half a brain will find that Diablo III is a game designed for neckbeards and their ilk–leading to a rather complete set of groans and shudders for those of us still hoping that big gaming companies can produce something that is not racist, sexist, and directed by the male gaze.

It takes no particularly critical analysis to realize that the Diablo franchise embodies the notion of “two steps forward, one step back” when it comes to racism. At least in the previous editions, the token person of colour was professed to a class noble and powerful in its own right: the Sorcerer (Diablo) and the Paladin (Diablo II). Alas, in Diablo III, people of colour are relegated to the cartoonish Witch Doctor. Shake your juju, my African friends! And, since Blizzard for some reason didn’t bother to include another coloured class (which would have still left the non-whites outnumbered), all the rest of humanity ought to get on the bandwagon, too. Don’t worry, though: there’s enough shrunken heads for everyone!

But we shouldn’t be too angry, right? Because at least Blizzard made all the classes available in both sexes! That’s progressive, isn’t it? Not exactly. In the fantastic land of Sanctuary, men wear shirts and women wear brassieres (and, concomitantly, men wear pants, and women, thongs). And even when those suits of armour aren’t absurdly lacking in means to protect (and, of course, cover), they’re still form-fitting to those double-D breasts–which sit atop those perfect size 2 waists. Is it the influence of Diablo’s evil reaching forth from the Burning Hells? Or just the male gaze directing all the game’s artwork?

Despite my sarcasm and the rhetorical nature of the question, the first of those two suggestions is actually narratively plausible–because in Diablo III, women aren’t just to be looked at: they’re evil. [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.] There are only four principal NPCs in Diablo III: Tyrael, the angel who became, when he was cast out of the High Heavens, not just mortal, but a black man (take your pick, visible minorities: savage spellcaster or forsaken of the gods); Deckard Cain, ancient bearer of white-man wisdom; Adria, the witch and seller of magic items from the original game; and Leah, Adria’s daughter. As it turns out, though, Adria–who initially helps the player foil Belial and Azmodan’s machinations–is actually evil, having copulated with Diablo himself to produce Leah–who, in time, becomes the vessel by which Diablo is reincarnated. And, guess what? The latest incarnation of Diablo has breasts.

In short, the women who form the storyline of Diablo III tick off all the feminine stereotypes of the worst kind: knowledgeable, dangerous, sexual Adria; innocent, goofy, tomboyish vessel-for-other-powers Leah; and, finally, the androgynous Prime Evil, Diablo, who growls like a man but walks with an obviously feminine saunter (never mind those mammaries). And, hey, just to make it all pat, Tyrael becomes a doubter later on in the game. Only Deckard Cain, white man extraordinaire, is true to goodness to the very end. Great job, Blizzard: you’ve outdone us all and created the paragon of offensive videogame narrative.

I will never understand how people who are smart enough to create a game so mechanically fantastic can overlook how narratively and graphically offensive it is. Nor will I understand why they couldn’t just add one more character of colour. Even though there’s Tyrael, he is, after all, the only coloured NPC; and at the end of the game, though Heaven lets him back in, Blizzard makes sure we know that he’ll never really be an angel again.

Come now, Blizzard. You had a decade to prepare this game. We who were children when Diablo began are adults now. And though you may not know better, we do. Grow up.

Source (Border House Blog)
ETA: Relevant post about ableism in Diablo III.

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This sums up pretty much all the problems I have with the game. At least Leah herself is a good person, but yeah, she falls into the stereotype so hard.

I also, despite the game play being awesome, can not STAND the Demon Hunter's look. She should have ass kicking boots and maybe a coat, but no, she has "stripper heels" and bodices that show skin. And runs like she has a pipe shoved up her rear.

Way to go, Blizz. :/

i actually felt that both the monks and wizards were meant to be west asian and east asian respectively, but it's not particularly clear either way. Similarly, I never considered the idea that Tyrael became a black man when he "fell" but that is how he/the angels look under the robes that hide their bodies. But of course, your interpretation makes far more sense.

I was really unhappy with what happened to Leah and Adria. my investment in leah as a character didn't make what happened to her any more important, like I already knew the demon lords were bad shit. you had to kill one of the most interesting characters? not to mention, adria's face heel turn seemed really abrupt. the plot storytelling was bad which was a shame because some of the side stuff you get from conversations with your companions and whatnot was really interesting.

Yeah, the Wizard looked/read as east asian to me, though extremely subtle like Blizzard went "oh, well, here have a bone".

The plot points were some I could see coming from a mile away -- Belial and the Emperor, for example -- and that disappointed me a HELL of a lot, but sorta at least goes hand-in-hand with Blizzard's stoyrtelling ability?

Lol, Leah. "Look, here we just lost her but let's just go on as if nothing happened okay?"

I struggle with the Witch Doctor as much as I love her. She's mechanically interesting, tough-as-nails, with an interesting viewpoint of the world.

But she fits so perfectly into that "other" mould that media likes to use to portray PoC, and that is ... one of those "Come ON, Blizzard" moments. I love this game, but damn it, everything you've pointed out. Spot on post.

The fuck? They made Adria evil? She was my favourite NPC in the first game. :

This article... misses some points, definitely. Deckard Cain, for instance; while he remains a good guy, it's to his end, not the game's end; he dies at the end of the first act, and Tyrael takes over as the wise elder. Also, total mischaracterisation of Tyrael's arc; he isn't cast from Heaven, he rejects Heaven and its hubris and refusal to intervene. The angelic leader is an antagonist. (Also, angels are hooded; we've never seen an angel's face. Saying that he became a black man when he fell is... an interpretation, not a fact.) Finally, Tyrael's doubting is a specific game mechanic, where everyone but the protagonist and her follower lose hope; if you go back to town and talk to everyone, they've all lost hope to. Resolve the quest, and everyone - including Tyrael - are up and doing again.

However! She's dead on about the thongs. I've played through Normal with all five classes as women, and it took me forever to get pants with everyone but the Demon Hunter. (Who wears stilettos heels.) I got very tired of staring at butts. At higher armour levels, there's a lot more parity in coverage, but I still made happy noises when my Barbarian picked up some nice armour that covered her whole torso, instead of a bustier. And I facepalmed when I inspected my Monk's new armour to find... a boob window? arrrgh. My level 32 Demon Hunter is still in a bustier.

Also, there's much less visual range in the female toon. My Barbarian, pleasingly, is pretty solidly built, but while the male Barbarian, Monk and Witch Doctor are older men, all the women are young. And the Monk... has an asymmetric peroxide 'do that juts out distractingly from under her headgear. She couldn't be bald too?

On the plus side, I've found the voice acting to be a pretty high standard, and they say some awesome things - I particularly enjoyed my female Barb telling the Templar to grow some stones when he complained about the cold. They get to say badass and challenging things to the villains, and there's nothing sexualised/gendered in what villains/almost all NPCs say to her, apart from pronoun change. (IIRC correctly, the Scoundrel follower will flirt with some female classes.)

Also, women in the game - there's a female Enchantress follower, who's generally nice, but is very scantily clad and other NPCs comment on her beauty. (And PCs make the occasional jibe at her lack of clothing.) There's Asheara, who's Captain of the Guards, sensible, good, and wearing standard guard uniform. There's Queen Araneae, who's a Spider Queen, IE a giant spider. Who lays eggs in people. There's Cydaea, Maiden of Lust, Azmodan's consort, who's a... spider woman, ie she has the torso of a woman growing out of a spider body, except the eight legs are still woman-leg shaped, and when she hangs in the air, her back six legs and spider abdomen are pulled up to reveal her front two legs... which from behind, curve in such a may as to resemble a normal human butt. How many man hours went in to ensuring the spider-woman still had an approximation of a sexy butt? Priorities! Oh, and Maghda, who is a witch who witched with Adria back in the day, and now works for Belial. Doesn't believe the Lord of Lies would ever betray her. And how could I forget Mira Eamonn, who we meet when her husband's agonizing about having to kill because she's turning into an undead? We help her husband kill her, and then we can find a letter she wrote, wishing her husband would go on to do great things, and he becomes the player's blacksmith, crafting items.

Oh, and the Scoundrel. One of the three Followers, we meet him stringing along a young woman with promises of marriage to assist him in conning the Thieves Guild, who are about to murder her. The player saves the woman, and the Scoundrel heads out and abandons the young woman without a second thought. I was extremely disinclined to keep him, sticking with the Templar, who mostly makes gambits about how we're honourable warriors and isn't fighting evil awesome? But after playing through a few times, I decided to give him a try, to get the full game experience. Then he sexually harrassed Leah, another NPC, and I ditched him for good. Bleah.

I do like the game, but... there's so many little annoyances.

Yeah, a lot of age range in the men (detrimental to the physical appeal total of the male characters -- not that any big game company has any interest in appealing to gamers who finds men attractive) and all the women are the same age. Wouldn't an older female demonhunter have been cool? I'd play one! Or a wise old mage. Or a middle-aged monk who kicks demons all round. Hey, if a grey-bearded barbarian taking a beating and staying in the fight is believable, why not?

Glad you posted this analysis, though I didn't seem to notice many of those problems. I just don't expect much from the video game scene, especially Blizzard. I felt the game was kind of easy and only played through it once as the monk... The thing that stood out to me was that the female playable characters all seem young and/or pretty.

I liked the bad guy designs. The plot was kind of bland and predictable, characters kind of typical. I did like the game play, but the baddies designs were also cool - my favorites are between Azmodan's and Diablo's. I didn't think of Leah as being evil. She was used, but I basically took it as if she died.

I don't hate Blizzard, but I don't love them either. When it comes to their games and how they design them, especially with race and women, I find them "tolerable", but riddled with sexism and where are the minorities? But why should Blizzard care? They have huge followings for their games and are probably quite well-off. They don't see any reason to change their formula.

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