You are on page 1of 5

A Restricted Narrative in an Infinite World

A response to Edmond Y. Chang’s paper Love is in the Air: Queer (Im) Possibility and
Straightwashing in FrontierVille and World of Warcraft
Paul Curry, HONORS 210
In this paper I respond and expand the critiques of video game narratives in the
aforementioned paper by Chang. I have more experience and knowledge regarding
World of Warcraft (WoW) then FrontierVille. So I have chosen that subject in Chang’s
paper to analyze.

One would think that after six expansions and over a decade of development,
the lore writers behind the stories in World of Warcraft would have added in some
queer narratives. However, this is not the case. While sexuality is oft eluded to in
World of Warcraft, queer characters and stories are scarcely found.,
the largest source of World of Warcraft lore knowledge on the internet, states that
homosexuality is implicitly mentioned in only two quests in the World of Warcraft
universe (2). To put this in perspective there are over 6,000 quests within the World
of Warcraft (5). Edmond Y. Chang in his paper Love is in the Air: Queer (Im)
Possibility and Straightwashing in FrontierVille and World of Warcraft details several
other ways in which the universe of World of Warcraft is straightwashed (1).
According to his paper, the valentine’s day events in the game often split players
along gender roles and have been patched in future expansions to not contain any
possibility of same-sex interaction. Chang, while exposing the homophobic nature of
the narratives in World of Warcraft, does little to explain the why the lack of
narrative exists. In this paper I hope to unpack the reasons behind World of
Warcraft’s straightwashing. I argue that the absence or avoidance of gay themes
can be explained by the current and changing demographics of the player base of
the game: namely, the predominantly male player base of World of Warcraft, the
growth of the internet community known as the alt-right, and World of Warcraft’s
growing player base in Asia. It is important to note that most of these explanations

are not exclusive to World of Warcraft, and can be used to frame the absence of
queer narratives in a variety of other media.
Chang brings up the interesting phenomena that there are multiple threads
on World of Warcraft discussion boards calling the race and gender of night elf male
gay because of their perceived femininity. I agree that the predominantly male
population is less receptive to differing body types and gender roles, however I
must disagree with Chang’s method of supporting this claim. Finding threads on a
discussion board that support your argument is trivially easy, thousands of threads
are created every day on discussion boards with a wide variety of opinions.
Comments on these threads add to the permutations of opinions. A more robust
support of the claim that World of Warcraft has a predominantly male population
that is less receptive of gender roles is found in online statistics. According to 60% of the player base of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs)
in 2014 was male (3). Psychologists Mary Kite and Bernard Whitely reviewed 112
studies examining men’s and women’s attitudes towards homosexuality and found
that overall, men were more negative than women (4). What’s more, according to
WoWWiki nineteen out of the twenty-five writers for World of Warcraft are male (6).
However, the male female disparity explanation for the complete absence of queer
narratives seems incomplete. After all, the player base of MMOs is surprisingly
gender balanced given the perception that MMOs are played solely by men and one
would presume that at least some of the writers would pencil in a gay character into
the massive story of World of Warcraft somewhere.

According to the South Poverty Law Center “The Alternative Right, commonly known
as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core
belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political
correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.
Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes” (11). The Alt-Right
community has bene found growing in many online mediums, including games. For
example, the #Gamergate movement included a wide harassment campaign of
several women in the video game industry by alt-right members (7). The internet
has always been a safe haven for dissenting and radical views, which is why it is so

often censored by government entities. The alt-right is just one of many radical
online communities that have grown because expressing their views in public is
unacceptable. As progressive ideals like LGBTQ rights have moved out of internet
chat rooms and into the public eye, far right movements have taken their place
online. It is important to note that the current ebb and flow of American politics
might not support the presumption that alt-right opinions are not mainstream,
however in the analysis of the past it is apparent that the alt-right was movement
that was not borne through mainstream sources. It is hard to know exactly how
many members of World of Warcraft’s community would call themselves alt-right,
but if it’s any indication, Steve Bannon, well known white nationalist and now Chief
Strategist for the White House, used to sell gold in World of Warcraft (9). As the altright shifts into the gaming community, there is bound to be more resistance to
queer narratives in the World of Warcraft universe. However, a gross simplification
of the World of Warcraft player base is unsatisfactory and not supported by direct
evidence. A third and final layer must be keeping any inch of queer narratives from
piercing into the lore of the game.

According to WoWWiki, the largest source of players for World of Warcraft is “China
and Asian servers” with around 3.2 million players (8). While homosexual rights in
Asia are as diverse as the nations of the continent, LGBT rights in Asia are limited in
comparison to many other areas of the world (12). In China, a large source of World
of Warcraft’s player base, there are strict guidelines regarding what types of media
can be bought and sold in the country. According to a Shanghai government release
in 2014 all games must be approved by the “culture department in charge” and
cannot contain content that “harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions”
and “Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling”
(10). It should be quite obvious that these rules are selectively enforced. To say the
World of Warcraft does not promote violence is to say that the game Need for Speed
does not promote cars. However, the implications of these censorship laws are
broad and severe. In a game like World of Warcraft, the in-game world is persistent
and large, making it difficult to localize. Having three separate game worlds with
different cultural constructs, quest lines, and characters is three times as difficult to
bug fix and maintain. Thus the world of World of Warcraft is similar beyond country

lines. This forces World of Warcraft to conform to the rules of the strictest country it
is played in. In many countries, content that “promotes” (read: mention in a positive
way) queer narratives and homosexuality are disallowed. If World of Warcraft wishes
to keep its massive revenue source and player base in China, it must conform to the
culture rules set there, meaning that it must straightwash its narratives, avoid
homosexual characters, and do everything in its power to prevent players from
engaging in homosexual behavior. In my opinion this is the largest factor
contributing to the homophobia latent in World of Warcraft. The explanations of
predominantly male and potentially alt-right player bases involve presumptions
made without accurate or explicit evidence. But it is legally set in stone that if World
of Warcraft wishes to sell copies oversees, it must conform to oversees cultural

Chang does not mention the effect of oversees sales in his article, perhaps an
overstep in order to bring attention to the United States’ own latent homophobia
and avoid xenophobia. However, I argue it is not xenophobic to demand queer
narratives even in the face of oversees oppression. In either case, the power of
game narratives is greater than we give it credit for. If queer narratives can be put
into place in the lore of World of Warcraft, then maybe the player base can be
educated and see past sexual orientation. Until then, we keep for fighting, for
Stonewall or the Lion’s Pride Inn, whichever you see fit.

1. Copyright © 2015 Michigan State University. Edmond Y. Chang, “Love Is in the
Air: Queer (Im)Possibility and Straightwashing in FrontierVille and World of
Warcraft,” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking 2.2 (2015): 6–31. ISSN
2327-1574. All rights reserved.