WoW and Race

Have you ever taken a moment to look at the characters in World of Warcraft? Like, really studied them?

WoW has a very unique style, and you may not really notice a glaring issue at first. I didn’t. Take a moment to really look through options in the character creator and then realize...there’s no black characters in the game. Sure, there are some skin tones that can get on the darker side, but the darkest human woman looks like she fell asleep in a tanning bed for a few extra hours and the darkest human man looks more akin to someone from the mediterranean. The same goes for dwarves, gnomes, blood elves, and every other race in the game currently.

And that’s just skin colours, not to mention hairstyles. There’s no curly or kinky hair, the alliance races have no braids, dreads, or natural black hair of any kind (that’s reserved for the orcs, but we’ll get there in a moment).

Eventually, we will get dark skinned humans. The Kul’tirans have a much more varied and realistic range of skin tones, with some being incredibly dark; though hairstyles are all still straight or slightly wavy hair, nothing in the way of natural black hair at all.

Which leads me to the orcs, specifically the Mag’har; a new races added 14 years into the game’s life that finally have skin tones akin to black skin, but only just. They finally have hair akin to black hair, but only just. Hair is still mostly straight, with some braids, but even the cornrows have straight hair coming from the back. There are still no curly or kinky hair options in the game, no natural black hair of any kind. It’s disappointing to say the least.

This only with the character models. Looking at the races in game themselves paints an even more disappointing picture. Orcs are, as with most fantasy media, the allegory for black people. They are tribal, considered savage, made slaves regularly in some way or another. They are the brutish, noble savages of the game, a longstanding trope of black caricatures.

The tauren are another group of noble savage trope, this time with the very direct and glaring issue of them being a caricature of Native American cultures. Headdresses, teepees, chants and reverence for nature, all the popular aspects taken for media.

Goblins are an excessive caricature of and anti-semitic trope of the greedy, scheming Jewish people, complete with New York accents.

Trolls are caricatures of Atlantic island nations, specially Jamaica and Haiti, complete with a voodoo magic, dancing and tribal garb.

Pandarens are a racial stereotype of Chinese culture so bad that the entire expansion that centered around them was banned in China.

Now, these are all glaring problems with the game’s portrayal of race, and I could also add the other two Horde races of Blood Elves (addicts/neurodivergence) and Undead (LGBTQA/neurodivergence), but the encompassing issue of them all being on the Horde side is just...bad.

The Alliance side is comprised of different variation on white culture and, in the existence of WoW have typically been the “good” guys. The Horde has been at the center of multiple major conflicts in the game’s story, even so recently as the catalyst for the war in Battle for Azeroth.

I could probably write an entire other script on the issues of Sylvanas's actions, the portrayal of the Horde as in the wrong regularly and generally the handling of the Horde in the story, but to sum it up quickly:

The Horde, as a collection of POC stereotypes, are used as surrogate bad guys when there isn’t a common enemy to fight. The Alliance, as a collection of white people, have been the default good guys. It’s not an issue most people even take notice of but after three major conflicts that have been started by the Horde, typically committing some type of war crime or atrocity there’s a pattern that seems...wrong.

I love World of Warcraft, I truly do. I’ve put thousands of hours into the game over my on again off again relationship with it over the last twelve years, hell, I’m literally working on this script as I run the raid finder for wing one of Uldir. Literally, we just downed MOTHER and one of the healers had to go for a minute so we’re taking a rest.

But, just because I love something, doesn’t mean that I can or should ignore the blatant issues it has. There are a lot more, in terms of game mechanics, content and so any other aspects, but this is a surface one that can very easily alienate new people coming to the game. Also, it’s just good to look at these kinds of things in media critically and bring them up so they don’t continue.

WoW is long standing in its success and it’s problems. I don’t honestly think they’ll ever be properly addressed but I still have hope for it. I want it to continually improve, in every way, and its portrayal of race and allegories for marginalized people could definitely use improvement.