Warlords of Draenor (and the lack of Warladies)

There has been much discussion since Blizzcon about the lack of female characters represented in what we've seen so far. It's a pretty important topic, and I think it's definitely worth examining. Lissanna wrote a very good post about feeling excluded and the implications of such a severe marketing misstep, while Akabeko started rallying the twitter troops around the egregious lack of Aggra in the expansion.

I have some basic thoughts on a few of the issues being discussed, and here they are.

Complaint: All the chieftains are male

One of most obvious points of contention is that all of the orc chieftains are male. Blackhand, Kargath, Killrogg, Durotan, Grom, Ner'zhul, and Gul'dan, all males. There are even other chieftains who don't appear on the Warlords promo image, such as Zuluhed and Cho'gall, who are also male.

I personally don't think this is something that deserves complaint at this time. Is it balanced or fair for WoW's female audience, that none of these clan heads are women? Of course not! But these positions and characters were cemented in Warcraft lore over 15 years ago. Even if they wanted to, it's not like the current writing team could just retcon Kargath or Killrogg out of history and simply swap in a new female chieftain replacement.

It's very firmly established history, so the writing team really had no choice or say regarding the all-male chieftain lineup. It's like the Arthas novel - large segments of that book felt extremely stiff, since author Christie Golden had to literally shoehorn in entire pre-existing conversations from the earlier games, to stay accurate to canon events.

Could they have shown some non-chieftains among those seven dudes? At least like, Draka, since we know of her already? They could have...but I think they were sticking pretty firmly to the actual literal chieftains for that promo shot, since Orgrim Doomhammer, one of the most influential characters in the entire Warcraft universe, is conspicuously absent.

That being said, while the writers can't help who the existing chieftains are right NOW, there's absolutely no reason they can't switch things up moving forward. There is plenty of room to introduce cool new female characters in important positions, such as Drek'thar's role as Durotan's trusted advisor. Or if one or more chieftains die in Warlords, it would be great to see a badass female orc warrior or shaman step up and take over, much like we saw Zaela do in Cataclysm's Twilight Highlands quests. They could be a chieftain's daughter, or wife, or maybe not even a blood relation at all, simply a proud member of the clan.

In summary: Since the current writing team had zero input about the current all-male lineup of chieftains, I don't think we should hold it against them. But what they do next and where they take this sausage fest of leadership? That's a different story. The original male-dominated hierarchy is old-fashioned and quite honestly, unacceptable in today's age and considering WoW's audience. What the writing team does to improve upon these outdated orcish traditions will be very important.

Complaint: All the Warlords are male

Like the chieftains, the "Warlords" shown on the WoD website are all male. There are the seven major orc chieftains mentioned earlier, as well as Velen, Khadgar and Maraad. No women.

Unlike the orc chieftains, Blizzard COULD have avoided this. Let's say they absolutely had to show the seven chieftains, and there was only 3 spots left, and one HAD to be Velen, for obvious lore reasons. Okay, sure. I can buy all that so far. But what do they do? They use up the remaining spots on Maraad - a character who's only had minor appearances/importance so far in lore - and Khadgar??

While it's true that Khadgar is a pretty significant Warcraft character, his presence here as young (well, younger) Khadgar is baffling and feels totally random, since it seems to contradict existing lore. Why not put a few women in these spots, such as Ishanah, or the new "Joan of Arc" female draenei paladin Yrel, who's apparently going to be very important in WoD? Why not include her in this lineup of "Warlords" and get people really intrigued/excited about her upcoming role?

I have to say, right now I'm intrigued with Yrel but so far it's all talk. Seeing her up there on equal footing as Durotan, Grom and Velen would have really impressed me and made me think "Wow, they're serious about her!" Put Yrel in the lineup of Warlords, and give Maraad the brief casual mention instead - the people who know and like him would still be plenty happy just to know they'd be seeing their favorite paladin again.

Complaint: Thrall in, Aggra out

First things first. Whether you're sick of Thrall or not, he absolutely should be in Warlords, because of the amazing story potential of him meeting/talking with his long-dead family. It's great story, and it's definitely worth exploring. Same for Garrosh, possibly interacting with Grom, perhaps visiting Nagrand as a healthy orc warrior, not the weakened cripple he was as a youth...endless options!

But I'm really bewildered that Aggra isn't going to be there too. Aggra, who unlike the Azeroth-born-and-raised Thrall, actually has personal connections and memories of Outlands/Draenor. And Aggra isn't some non-combatant civilian who would be a liability in the field! She's an accomplished shaman (she's probably a better shaman than Thrall, considering she was originally Thrall's mentor/teacher), she's not afraid to speak up and tell Thrall right to his face when he's being an idiot, and she fearlessly set out to save her man when no one else would, after his own doubts and repressed emotions almost destroyed him. And she succeeded!

And what does Aggra get from this impressive resume? She gets benched because Thrall's story in Warlords of Draenor is "a boy's trip." Like it's some frat boy bachelor party? That is more important to Thrall than his wife, than the mother of his child?

We don't yet know how this will go down - will Thrall order Aggra to stay behind, or will Aggra actually want to stay home? Frankly, neither seems at all plausible or realistic for the characters involved OR what we already know about orc couples. I can't help but be reminded of this exchange from Lord of the Clans, between Draka and Durotan, Thrall's parents.

"You shall not go alone, my mate," said Draka, her soft voice a sharp contrast to the ear-splitting sound of Durotan’s Oath Cry. "We shall come with you."

"I forbid it."

And with a suddenness that startled even Durotan, who ought to have known better, Draka sprang to her feet. The crying baby tumbled from her lap as she clenched her fists and raised them, shaking them violently. A heartbeat later Durotan blinked as pain shot through him and blood dripped down his face.

She had bounded the length of the cave and slashed his cheek with her nails.

"I am Draka, daughter of Kelkar, son of Rhakish. No one forbids me to follow my mate, not even Durotan himself! I come with you, I stand by you, I shall die if need be. Pagh!" She spat at him.

Draka isn't having ANY of Durotan's "I'm the man, I'll tell you how things are going to be." And the best part? Durotan laughs at his own foolishness moments later and scolds himself, realizing how arrogant and disrespectful his words were. He loves his wife, he values her advice and opinions, and views her as an equal, a warrior well deserving of respect.

Now put Thrall and Aggra in that situation. Like Draka, Aggra is a complete badass - do you REALLY think she'd stay docilely at home while Thrall was out risking his life? No! She'd react just as Draka did, smacking her stupid husband for daring to order her around. That's the Aggra we saw in The Shattering and frankly, it's the Aggra lots of people would love to see more of.

Can you imagine Thrall meeting Draka and telling her he told Aggra to stay at home with the baby? Because she's a woman, or a mother, or that he felt like she didn't belong because this was a "boy's trip"? Man. Time for mom to smack some sense into her dumbass little boy.

So what now?

Hopefully Blizzard is listening. Like the issue with Ji Firepaw's dialogue before Mists launched, people have concerns, and are not afraid to voice them! And like Ji Firepaw, we have seen that Blizzard is willing to listen to such concerns, and make adjustments.

I like to think Blizzard is TRYING to be better at acknowledging their vast female audience. Yrel sounds like an exciting new character, especially if she's going to be pivotal to WoD's main storyline. And I suspect most people were surprised that one of the four new character models shown at Blizzcon was the female gnome model. Obviously, 25% isn't as balanced as 50%...but it is definitely better that what we've seen before. (ie, the "female Pandaren" being male Pandarens with bows.)

Regardless, it's early, and there's plenty of time for Blizzard to take note of what people are asking for. Personally, I'd love to see Zaela, Garona, Aggra and Draka play major roles. Not just because they're women, but because they are all extremely INTERESTING characters! Like Zaela! I mentioned the great story possibilities of Thrall and Garrosh meeting the old clans, but what about her? Her relationship to the Dragonmaw clan would be SUPER fascinating to explore, as well as just being able to see how she went from "just joined the Horde" in Twilight Highlands to "absolutely dedicated/loyal lieutenant to Garrosh". We want to hear what happened in the meantime!

But most importantly, I cringe and hope that Blizzard doesn't ignore the issues being so heatedly discussed. Obviously, we don't know what all they have planned for WoD, and maybe these early concerns have all been neatly and adequately planned for already. Fingers crossed! But until we know, I think it's certainly fair for people to be both worried and skeptical from the content we have seen so far. It's early, yes, but that just means it's even more crucial to start talking NOW, to make sure Blizzard hears these complaints and - hopefully - has the time to address them.

As for the awful and dismissive "boy's trip" line...I hope it was just a case of unfortunate phrasing and not REALLY a case of "we flat-out don't care about Aggra because she's a GIRL so she's being left out." (To be fair, Metzen does tend to just shoot wildly from the hip and let his excitement get ahead of him, as we saw when he tried to talk about the time travel elements of WoD. It very well could have been intended differently and just came out terribly wrong.)

But speaking of NO GIRLS ALLOWED, here's one more quote from Blizzard's own Rise of the Horde.

Blackhand watched, his frown increasing. When the last of the Warsongs had drunk from the cup, he grunted. "I will drink!" he demanded, seizing the cup and swigging down a great gulp. Blackhand clutched his throat for a moment, but stayed completely silent while whatever dark magic was in the cup did its hellish duty. He had removed his armor, and the muscles rippling and growing beneath his taut green skin were clearly visible. Red eyes glowed when he finally looked up.

He motioned to his sons, and Maim and Rend shoved other orcs perfunctorily out of their way as they rushed forward. Durotan saw Griselda, Blackhand's only daughter, hesitate before she, too, stepped up to drink. Blackhand sneered at her.

"Not you," he snarled. Griselda drew back as if struck.

Don't be Blackhand, Blizz. He was pretty much a giant jerk and nobody liked him.

(PS, Griselda, there's someone else we could meet! The poor woman could use some new lore - her existing canonical story is...rather depressing.)

12 Responses Subscribe to comments

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    Great write up. Couldn't agree more. I'm still not sure what to think of the display this year that was Blizzcon, but something about it left me disappointed and distant from my beloved developer. This was one of those uncomfortable truths, the severe lack of female presence ANYWHERE at Blizzcon. Whether games, interviews, or members of the dev teams. Its extremely white and male.

    November 15, 2013 at 2:43 PM

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    There's one thing I think you've missed and I think it deserves asking. You note (rightly) that there's little to complain about that all the orc chieftains are male. Putting a token female in there wouldn't really make things any better. And similarly for the 10 person warlord graphic. As you said, you have to have Velen and at that point you're not doing much better than tokenism even if both of the next two slots are filled with women.

    The point is: once you've decided on the male-centric theme of Warlords of Draenor, you're pretty much cornered into a situation where males outnumber females by quite a bit.

    But the question you don't consider is why should one tell THIS story instead of any number of others? One joking suggestion around the twitter sphere has been "Warqueens of Azshara" (and I guarantee you, that would have far more men than WoD has women). Azshara provides a compelling story without the mucking around in time and space. Another story could involve the Emerald Dream. Why was WoD chosen over those? Why does it seem that Blizzard bent over backwards to tell yet another story about male-dominated orcs?

    That's a question that I think people should ask, and not one that should be jumped over by saying "Well, all the Orc chieftains are male, so it had to be that way."

    November 15, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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    I was and remain enthused about all the cool stuff that is coming up in this expansion. However, I wonder if I should bring my main or two primary alts to Draenor since they are all female. Metzen said it was "a boy's trip" and if Aggra isn't badass enough to come along then perhaps I'm not either.

    November 15, 2013 at 4:11 PM

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    K. White

    With a description of "Draenei Joan of Arc", I really hope that means she's a kickass warrior of the light and not getting set up to be martyred on the altar of Manpain.

    November 15, 2013 at 4:28 PM

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    We're short on details as to the nature of the time-travelling element other than "Garrosh goes back to prevent that bad thing with the demon blood." Okay, that gives you a little bit of a time window to work with. The big thing here is: this changes the history of Draenor profoundly, such as nobody-blows-the-place-up.

    Another effect of this new reality is that the clan leaders unite under the banner of the Iron Horde, and that by the time we encounter them, they are more powerful than they ever were, united for a terrible purpose with no demon-blood haze clouding their thoughts.

    History has changed There is no reason that we should expect to face the same clan leaders that we saw in our original timeline. Any one of the clan leaders could have been displace, by male or female, and it would make perfect sense. There should be NO expectation that everything changed EXCEPT the composition of the Iron Horde leadership.

    The only way this makes ANY sense is if ALL the leadership are "a fixed point in time." Which is silly, of course.

    November 15, 2013 at 4:46 PM

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    I kind of feel like this whole "no female representation" thing is getting blown out of proportion by folks who either didn't watch Blizzcon, or who neglected to watch most of the panels that discussed the xpac or the story.

    It was brought up directly about female characters and their presence. They've stated that Garona will be a part of the story arc, and that Yrel would play a major role in the Alliance/Draenei story. Velen is their spiritual leader, but in this situation, she will likely be leading their campaign to end the Iron Horde. I would be very shocked to not see Zaela in this upcoming story, but as to how big that role will be, we'll see. Now, I agree that Aggra should be part of the story, and if she doesn't, I'll be pretty shocked.

    Really though, the lore from this timeline is pretty set in stone. You can be as upset about it as you want, but the fact is, the Orc clan's Chieftains were MALES. It was passed from father to son. This was their culture, and the wives were most often the Spiritual Leaders(Greatmother Geyah, who as Durotan's mother, I would highly suspect will also have a part to play in the story for the Horde)

    Retcon'ing the lore to put in female Chieftains or throwing Tyrande or Sylvanas, or just about any other female lore characters(aside from those I spoke of previously) into the story would quite frankly, *IN MY OPINION* feel like they just slapped them in and would have no real place in the story.

    We'll see ultimately what happens, but considering that all we've seen so far is a slapstick starting area built for about 30 minutes of play time at best, with no story at all put in, and some concept art and very loose discussions, we can show a bit more faith in the folks who guide our favorite story/game. Totally ok with discussion/debate on hot issues/concerns, though! :)

    This is a nice and well-thought write up, I enjoyed the read!

    -Boomtree, Black Dragonflight

    November 15, 2013 at 5:09 PM

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    I'm not necessarily convinced that they couldn't have done a retcon; this is a strange mirror reflection of the world as it is/was. Yes, many of the chieftans have been that way since 1995 and earlier, but I am not sure that the age necessarily excuses it. This is a setting that is not new to a little retcon action here and there, and who knows, maybe it was just a matter of some scribe writing down the wrong gender next to a warchief's name.

    I do like your writeup though, especially about Aggra and others. I kind of wonder if Blizzard is planning on giving us a "mirror" Aggra or Thrall, as if they'd never come to Azeroth...but I am not exactly clear on the story justification.

    November 15, 2013 at 5:21 PM

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    Garrosh Hellscream

    Orcs are not tolerant feminist humans! They are proud and brutal barbarian warriors, and there is no place for bikini-armored bitches with makeup on their ugly faces among Horde army. They just don't fit.
    Aggra is badass? In what? She is useless character. Blizzard add her only as a mother of Thrall's child. I think WOW lose nothing without her.
    Moreover, I think orc females destroy the brutal look of the whole race, so the game would be better without them.
    P.S.: Orcs must reproduce by spores.

    November 16, 2013 at 8:08 AM

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    ... Alright, so I read this. And... All I can ask is: Really?!

    It's not that important, really. What's more important is the story they're writing. If they changed it because of how it made people feel? That defeats the purpose of literature. Also: A lack of Aggra is a good thing. If anything? Feminists should be -happy- she's not in there. All she is is a glorified babymaker for Thrall.

    First: Aggra not being there. Here are a few points. 1) Aggra is not Draka. They tried to make her into Draka, it didn't work. There's also the fact that Aggra likely remembers all these people as Fel Orcs, and honestly? I'd be scared shitless if I had to face them.
    2) Thrall is just as much a human as he is an orc. His parents died while carrying him. Which took Draka out of the fight more or less because she had her hands full of baby. Thrall could want to avoid... you know. Having his wife and child die. WHICH, if she died, there would be more accusations of sexism. Don't lie. You know there would be.

    Chieftains are all male. This is lore. This is canon lore, and it's not meant to be fair to a gender neutral audience. This is a tribal setting, and if a movie came out about Native American tribes, involving the male Chiefs... would you call -that- sexist or 'not politically correct?'

    Next, they didn't even show all of the chieftains, and the point was -to- show the chieftains.
    Tagar Spinebreaker. The leader of one of the cruelest clans on Draenor, the Bonechewers. You would thing this cannibalistic, blood hungry savage would have something to say.

    Mogor the Ogre. The chieftain of the Laughing Skull. Which would be the Iron Horde's leader of their greatest assassins.

    Zuluhed the Whacked. The leader of the Dragonmaw Clan. A -very- powerful shaman -then- a very powerful warlock... Also, likely the biggest leader of any Iron Horde airforce if we see one.

    Fenris the Hunter. The Thunderlord Clan is already confirmed to be a part of this expansion, and we don't see him.
    And don't get me started on the clans that aren't even there.
    Twilight's Hammer was still a clan there.
    The Bladewind, Whiteclaw, and Redwalker clans... These were the biggest opposition to Ner'zhul's plan to unite the clans for war.
    Or the unnamed clan of Mathogg.

    You forget, until Thrall stepped forward? Female orcs didn't play much of a part at all. To do you one worse or better... Trolls have a patriarchal society and most women are objects. In lore. Until they prove they're just as strong as the males. (If I remember correctly.)
    (But wait, there's more!)

    November 30, 2013 at 2:47 PM

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    Women rarely took up leadership positions because it was a liability to get pregnant while leading a clan of warriors. At least, that's my opinion. You -can- wade into war, but it's ill-advised.
    This is not a complaint to be taken seriously. This is established lore, and you're forgetting that we're stepping back -into- that lore. It's Old Horde rules.

    Khadgar! ... ... Okay, you got me there, that doesn't make -too- much sense unless the Dark Portals linked with each other through out all times. Which, then, Khadgar could be there.

    And they likely didn't get put into the "lineup" because Yrel is a -very- new character and there's not much to say about her just yet.

    You also seem to mistake how much lore Maraad was intended for... He was meant for -more- than just to sit on a ship and teach his loreabomination... great nephew? I think... Anyway. He taught Me'dan, the new Guardian of Tirisfal, how to use the Light. Because why not? Either way, he was along -before- Yrel. So, naturally, they likely have more planned for him because there's already been development prior to WoD.

    As far as Aggra goes... Again, being the token mag'har wife of Thrall... Instead of Garona. (Yes, this was going to be a thing. Garona and Thrall -were- going to be an item in original conception of WCIII and WoW.) - Now... Aggra is just a shaman. This was their first mistake. They made her a shaman so she could help coach Thrall. The mistake you ask? Thrall is the most powerful shaman on Azeroth. He's -that- good. Anything Aggra can do, Thrall can do better. Not because he's got his sexual organs on the outside, but because of built up lore.
    Thrall is a capable warrior, trained by the human simply known as "Sergeant", Grommash Hellscream, and Orgrim Doomhammer. He was trained by Drek'thar, a wise and old man who was a powerful shaman in his own right... And he got some pointers from Malfurion. Thrall has been taught by the most badass people on Azeroth. Aggra? Was not. She couldn't have been, due to: 1) Redpox. 2) All the great warriors, aside from Saurfang the Younger, were on Azeroth.

    As far as calling Aggra a greater shaman than Thrall. The element of earth is against wanton slaughter... All the elements that shaman pray to are. They do not take to mass destruction too kindly, aside from fire which can still be argued.
    Thrall's power and passion was great enough, that when he prayed for the element of earth to break Durnholde keep? IT. BROKE. DURNHOLDE. KEEP.
    He was also keeping Azeroth together while Aggra shuttled people into the Malestrom. She was his mentor in getting in touch with his heritage.

    About telling Thrall he's an idiot... She also just wandered off after Thrall was being stupid. "When will you learn you do not have to do this alone?" ... Instead of "You have others to help you. Rest, or I'm going to knock you out."

    And I mentioned this before, but it bares repeating. Thrall's family was stolen from him. It was. Draka died trying to defend her infant son, Thrall. She -had- to keep a hold of him for his safety, so Thrall there? Was a liability. As would Thrall's child. He wants his wife and son to be safe. He's just as much a human as he is an orc, remember?

    There's more yet!))

    November 30, 2013 at 2:48 PM

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    Also... Who says her memories of Draenor are good ones? She saw it broken apart, and as a shaman? She likely -felt- it too. Why would someone want to go back and remember their home being torn asunder and the elements -screaming- in agony?

    Your comment about Metzen... yeah, it was a dumb thing to say, but he was excited. I can forgive slips of the tongue.

    As far as Durotan's "I'm the man, I'll tell you how" yeah... He saw himself, at all times, on equal footing with his wife, Draka. His intention was to keep his family safe, and Draka reminded him that she was a warrior.

    I'll then, ask again, when was Aggra a badass? Personally, I -loathe- Aggra. As does my fiancee. We're both supporters of women's rights, and I was raised to see women as equals. Even to treat them with more respect by my grandmother...

    Thrall needs to get back to where he was. If you look at WCIII Thrall and current WoW Thrall? They're different people.

    Zaela -is- going to WoD with Garrosh if I remember correctly...

    Now... If Blizzard changed their lore or altered it just because an audience -demands- it? That weakens the structure and integrity of the literature. -That- is a crime. I love the Warcraft universe and the beauty put into the lore... If they were to surgically alter something just to make one demographic happy? One, narrow minded, entitled demographic? That would leave a -massive- scar upon the work. Detracting form it's value.

    I understand. You want more female characters in lore doing important things. I get that, and I agree. But to change so much just because of these arguments?

    Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima Series... Put in aggressive children in his game to do one thing. He wanted to challenge the player's thought on the Virtues upon which your character, the Avatar, was structured around.

    You could have killed the children who were attacking you. But this isn't Compassionate.
    You could have run away... but that's not Valorous.
    Or you could have dropped your weapon and started punching them in the face... Which didn't kill them but you're still punching little kids.

    People urged him to take this out of the game, but he refused as it served it's purpose in letting the player help write the story. -Would- the Avatar do these things? -Would- he forsake one of the Virtues? Which he is the paragon of?

    As for your final bit... About Blackhand. Blackhand wasn't a sexist from what I saw. His daughter? He considered insolent. Lacking respect, honor, and showing arrogance.

    Or perhaps it was something shallower than this, and that was just his least favorite child? Either way, it was clear that she had major issues regardless... As she then ran away with an ogre, one of the orcish horde's biggest enemies. Don't take quotes out of books without putting in the full context.

    November 30, 2013 at 2:50 PM

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    On Sons of the Storm - the page where all the leads from Blizz post their art - Samwise Didier has this as his first personal quote:

    "Dump that Bitch! Brothers are forever."

    Where are all the girls? Sam chased them away because he thinks they have cooties. As much as I love WoW, the dudebros running the show are pretty misogynistic. Chain mail bikinis, every woman with more than two speaking lines turning into a crazy bitch, and the incredibly lopsided numbers of men and women in-game didn't happen by accident. This is how these guys see the world. To this day that particular wing of Black Temple - you know the one - still gives me so much second hand embarrassment, because it's just. So. STUPID. I really wish my second glaive would drop so I wouldn't feel the urge to keep going back...

    I don't consider myself a feminist - especially not the current SJW crowd - but I also don't see a reason to think ill of and exclude women. And there's zero excuse for it in a fantasy story, where you get to write your own rules. Make a race where the men give birth, or where the women are physically larger, or where the entire species is asexual. Hell, we already have species like that ON EARTH RIGHT NOW, but apparently that's a bridge to far for these guys. Again, been here since vanilla and I plan to stay, but it would be nice if the most popular MMO in the world was pushing the envelope a bit more. We don't need generic fantasy tropes, we can get that just about everywhere else. I came here because I can play a sentient zombie, bipedal cow, or heroic orc. Because things are different here, and not yet another LotR clone. And every time they backslide into stupid, lazy thinking I die a little inside.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:05 PM