Fortuitous Ephiphaneia #15: Breaking Stereotypes


Breaking Stereotypes

Blizzard has been one of my favorite game makers ever since Diablo first came out in the mid-90’s. However, for all the great work that they do, their use of stereotypes has always annoyed me. Just take a look at the barbarian. All of the barbarians look like second cousins to Hercules and I’m willing to bet that Harrogoth doesn’t even have a gym or fitness center. The exception to the Mr. Olympia look is Nihlathak but since he is a bad guy he needs to look different. After all, we wouldn’t want such a sly, worm to look good in a pair of “Speedos.” Evidently, the creators of games have never actually spent any time in the gym pumping iron to put on some muscle. It isn’t easy. If it were, performance-enhancing drugs wouldn’t be so rampant. Therefore, these folks must assume that running around in a loin cloth and killing things with a big, hurty, pointy thing somehow provides enough of a workout to get big and buff at the same time. (They better not leak this out to Joe Weider or it will end up in Muscle and Fitness next month as a new fitness program) Speaking of the loincloth, isn’t Harroth located in a cold climate near the summit of Mt Arreat? I hope that there are plenty of lady barbs hiding some place to keep them warm.

Actually, somebody at Blizzard must be familiar with bodybuilding because you will occasionally see Larzuk doing an “Arnold” pose. Just hang out in town for a while and have Larzuk on your screen so you can see him, but far enough away that you don’t cause him to interact with you. Sooner or later he will start up his Mr. Olympia posing routine. When you see him hit a single front bicep pose with one arm and point his other arm in the opposite direction while flexing his triceps, that is the “Arnold” pose made famous by Schwarzenegger during his body building career.

Another big stereotype for barbarians in Diablo is the lack of magic wielding ability. The entire skill tree is devoid of any magic abilities whatsoever. Evidently, the stereotype here is either that barbarians aren’t mentally bright enough to use magic (aka. big and dumb), or their years of backwoods living have made them superstitious of magic. Thus, the corruption of Nihlathak only helps to perpetuate the idea that magic users are bad folks from a barbarian’s point of view.

At a fundamental level, stereotypes allow people to quickly relate bits of information that are unknown to things that they do know (or think they know). Obviously the problem is that false conclusions are made and people assume that one person from a group is just like everyone else from a particular group. Since Blizzard is just following western societies lead, I probably shouldn’t be annoyed, but the fact of the matter is that they could do more to promote a more diverse playing environment.

Personally, I find the double standard set by western society to be somewhat amusing. We try to tell our children that everyone is equal, that everyone should be treated fairly, and that looks are not important. Yet, we give the girls Barbie dolls to play with and the boys have various super heroes to follow. Neither of which is remotely feasible to emulate in a physical nature. If Barbie were a real woman her proportions would give her a 38-inch (96.5 cm) chest with an 18-inch (45.7 cm) waist. Likewise, the action figures that boys play with often are portrayed as having 70-inch (177 cm) chests and 35-inch (89 cm) arms with no body fat at all. For the purposes of this column, I don’t think that it is important to delve into the psyche related to the repercussions of stereotypes. But I don’t see why we can’t shoot for something a little more realistic. If I recall, the superman and batman shows of the 50s and 60s featured actors that were not even muscular.

The reason that I say western society has a double standard is that our movies, games, toys, etc, constantly contain physical portrayals that are not altogether feasible. Yet, when somebody goes outside of “the rules” in an attempt to create a body that is more in-line with the fantastic, we yell and scream that they are cheating. Case in point. In the mid 90’s Joe Weider decided to test Mr. Olympia competitors for anabolic and performance enhancing drugs. This was announced a year in advance of the contest so there wouldn’t be any surprises to the contestants. The result? The audience complained about how small and “uncut” the competitors looked compared to other years. Well, duh, what did people expect? Thus, Weider immediately abandoned drug testing from that point on. Similar things happen in sports regardless of the country. We cheer the best athletes for winning but condemn them if their methods are construed as cheating. Unfortunately the message that gets sent is “its OK to cheat, just don’t get caught!”

Ok, let me get off my soapbox for a moment. I really don’t mind that the barbarians in Diablo are huge muscular dudes. I also don’t mind that the sorceresses are only one step removed from looking like a sexy librarian if she just had a business suit and some glasses. I’m just asking for some variety outside of equipment changes. Over the years I have often found the D&D based video games to be slow to play. However, I think that Blizzard could learn a lesson from the character generation features found on those games. If nothing else, at least let the gamer select a gender and/or body type. We might even be able to distinguish who is who when the entire gaming community get stuck in MMORPG only worlds.

[B]Disclaimer:[/B] Fortuitous Ephiphaneia is written by Drandimere (Paul J. Darling) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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