I can’t say I actually expected female pandaren to be a similar shape to the male ones. One always hopes that interesting design decisions will be made, but lets not forget that this is an expansion that is based completely on western ‘orientalism’. As much as it’s cute, and has some amazing ideas in terms of their goals for moving forward with WoW, the breadth of vision is not as speculative and fantastical as one would really hope. So when I originally saw the male Pandaren character design, I had hope that Blizzard would move away from ‘all women are shaped like hourglasses’.
I have a significant hip-waist ratio, despite being out and out obese. I have a waist, and in many ways conform to some ideas of what female ‘beauty’ is. I am already represented in game by the human, dwarf, orc and tauren physiques. Race changing to a dwarf (from a draenei) felt a little like ‘coming home’ because I was finally owning my body type instead of playing out a fantasy. And yet I was still playing out the fantasy by what I was doing and the character I was inhabiting, rather than the appearance of my avatar.
Yet even the gnomes, those smallest of bodies, and the tauren adhere to notions of female beauty. The male character models do too, don’t get me wrong – beefed up male power fantasies that they are. There is some of the long and lanky, but for the most part it’s broad-shoulders and six packs. The male pandaren are much more rotund. Still powerful and strong, but traditional ‘gaming character physique’ they are not.
They have beer bellies! Stout legs, no necks. They also still look awesome. The animations for this new race, from what I have seen, look badass.
The female pandaren. Well. We won’t know until the 19th March. We do have a teaser though, posted on the Warcraft Facebook earlier today.
A lot of similarities to the dwarf woman model. Big hips and chunky thighs, but I seriously doubt that she is small busted, otherwise I’d be chalking this up to a victory for a variation in female body types. I never really expected Blizzard to do anything different, and on the plus size she does look strong. But then so do orcs and tauren, even though I hate the female worgen faces, the physical body is awesome.
Blizzard does variations on the theme of ‘hourglass body shape’ very well. However there is much more variety out there in the world. Just look at the divided reaction to Therazane the Stone Mother. Not to mention the jokes and parodies of her daughter Theradras. A lot of people loved Therazane – that she existed at all, and that she takes no prisoners in her leadership of the Earth Elementals. She wasn’t a villain or a romantic foil – like Lorna Crowley she occupied her own place in the narrative as a standalone character.
Yet to many she was still clearly a joke.
At the end of the day, it looks like the new Pandaren model will be much better received than the last minute worgen. I can only hope that her emotes and voice acting are awesome. I am sad that Blizzard missed the opportunity to bring a little less sexual dimorphism to the table, but thankful that that she isn’t ridiculously slender compared to the male counterpart. Mixed feelings? You betcha.
Edit: Apple Cider Mage has her analysis up and made some very pertinent and interesting points about the language used by gamers to talk about character models. I highly suggest reading her post. One comment that leapt out at me from WoW Insider was ‘dwarf women are just the dwarf men with a female skin‘. Which…yeah, this is how character design in videogames has warped our understanding of gendered bodies.
At the end of the day – skeletons aren’t all that dis-similar to each other. You have to know more than a little bit about anatomy and bone structure to tell a female skull from a male one. You have to know about bone width and length, once musculature, cartilage, organs and fat reserves are gone. However the dimorphism in WoW means that female and male will often have different ‘skeletons’ (or stick figures) underlying the main animation. Dwarf women are successful because they aren’t that different from the males in terms of how they move. The differences are more subtle – and many real world women are likely to look like a tall WoW dwarf rather than like the human models.