This is part of an ongoing series that reviews and attempts to deconstruct common tropes in the Blizzard Fanart Gallery. This is not a critique of the choices of individual artists, but a look at the choices Blizzard and those artists have made. For reasons of time/expendiency I am limiting this series to what is currently in the Blizzard Fan Art Gallery, but please feel free to share your favourites from the fan community in the comments. Just please try to make sure they are credited properly and on the theme of the post.
Girl Fight by Dane Miner
I was browsing the official galleries once again, due to noticing that after I posted the Sylvanas profile, they put up yet more Sylvanas art. Hmmph. I’ve got a poll up to help decide which ‘group’ to look at next, but currently draenei women are winning and I don’t have the energy it would take to collect and format all of those links. Draenei women are as numerous as elves and humans in the galleries, so it would be a very long list. I’m not sure I could take looking at all the playboy poses, to be honest. I might have to break it down into character archetype too, e.g. warrior draenei, caster draenei, and so on.
Now on to the trolls
I was intrigued by troll women. Troll women were, until the arrival of Blood Elves, the most ‘conventionally attractive’ race on the horde side. As I understand it, playing a troll woman was more likely to net sexual propositions for the player than any other horde race. Troll women are also comparatively lanky, tall, and have big hands and feet, that some might describe as a bit goofy. While they are more conventionally attractive than an undead, for example, the character model does not represent idealised bodies in the same way that elves or human character models do.
The fan art
There is cultural appropriation inherent in azeroth’s trolls (and other horde cultures). While I normally don’t participate in discussions of race, in the case of horde women there is a very clear intersection between gender identity and race identity. Like the tauren, the culture of trolls is a disneyfied ‘tribal culture’ containing several different elements that generally lend themselves to words such as ‘earthy’ and ‘savage’ and ‘exotic’, and presented as something ‘other’, in contrast to the ‘white’ culture of azerothian humans. At this point you might it useful to go back and listen to Slip of the Tongue again. The appropriation and representation of non-white cultures in fantasy gaming is a big elephant in the room, and it tends to get less air-time in the WoW-sphere, or is simply ignored because “it’s a fantasy game, gawd” and “my friend is Caribbean and she doesn’t mind.”
I will say that since Cataclysm became the focus, work has been done on bringing the troll storyline more into the limelight, and I hope that the shaman-focused expansion will help expand on the complexity of horde lives in the same way that the expansion has illuminated dwarf culture and politics. As the game tends to focus on the human and orc aspects, I think there often isn’t room for the other races to be much more than one-dimensional bit-parts. To compound the issues created by the source of their culture, trolls have been something of a secondary race. Like the gnomes, they have existed in the shadow of their bulkier neighbours, the orcs, relegated to secondary plots.
In terms of the fan art in the official gallery, the lack of identifiable lore characters plays out in that nearly all the art is ‘character art’. That is fan art depicting a player character, rather than a recognisable archetype or major lore character as you might see for humans and elves. As with tauren, there is very little art to chose from in the first place, so the ‘data’ is somewhat skewed, and the majority of ‘troll women’ are drawn in a particularly cutsy art style, much like the tauren women.
Troll Shaman Girl by Yang Yang
The troll culture is a pastiche. It is disney. The female characters even more so, the majority of them are rendered in a very friendly, cute and non-threatening manner. Indeed some pieces harken to the rumoured ‘elvish’ connection, rendering the women elf-like in presentation. Combined with the ‘savagery’ connected to night elf culture in particular, and I sometimes had a hard time figuring out if a character was a troll, an elf, or an orc. The peculiarities of troll hands and feet probably contribute to this, it’s easier to draw a generic female body and add a wild hairstyle and some tusks.
However it still comes down to the majority of the images sharing a lot of DNA with tauren and even gnomes – goofy, silly, approachable and almost childlike. Much of this is down to art style, and the difficulty of drawing this body-types, but the consistent nature of this presentation across the different races is rather compelling. A lot of other troll art often has a very sketchy style, lending an extremely sinister and powerful edge to troll men, such as this shadow priest troll by Se Hyung Lee. As much as I love Troll Nouveau it definitely harks back to the tolkienesque elves.
No getting away from this word in these profiles, I’m afraid. The female figure is often a static one, presented for the audience to look at, rather than interacting with the other characters or environment that they’ve been placed in. Even when the troll women are drawn in context, the focus is not on the action but upon her physique. In Fishing Competition by Jian Guo, we see a more visceral art style, but the female form is still passive, a calm back drop the the dynamic actions of the men in the foreground.
There are exceptions to this, of course, such as the boobalicious Girl Fight and The moment before bloodshed, both by Dane Miner. The art style reminds me of Josh Kirby who used to illustrate the covers for Terry Pratchett. The boobs are OTT, but I just love that the troll woman in bloodshed actually has large tusks. Most artists tend to use the minimal tusks, much easier to draw and less threatening. I like the way Rob Ten Pas has drawn the facial expressions in Cousin Mani, and while Ushtarak Berserker is passive it is one of my favourite pieces. She isn’t a pretty female body to look at, she’s a character caught in a moment.
Ushtarak Berserker – Rob Ten Pas
Again, I’d like to reiterate that beauty and sex are not bad. Cleavage is not the end of the world. What these profiles are all about is the identification of themes. The sexualisation of a human male in the fan art gallery is the exception and not the norm, and male characters are rarely depicted with the idea that they have to be sexually attractive. The majority of female art in the fan art gallery is not there to portray a character, it’s there to show off the female form. Is fapping bad? Nah. Is it all there is to women? No. Pieces like Bun and Almost forgot it’s a troll are very obvious about what they’re supposed to be, but even when being actively savage, Cousin Mani and Girl fight both have a certain emphasis on physique.
One of the interesting things in CJ Ritter’s dissertation was a note that the troll jokes (in-game) play off the “lack of sexiness” of female trolls. This is not something that is followed through in fan art, even though artists have no problems with uglying up male characters. What I take away from this is a continuation of the difficulties of femininity and ‘beauty’. The beauty of troll women is only shown in art when they’re bodies are smoothed out and ‘humanised’. Troll women are only depicted at all if they are then made to fit traditional western definitions of feminine beauty, even as they are wrapped in the trappings of fetishised non-white cultures. Doubly objectified, as their ‘otherness’ is still a part of their attraction.
Now, I’m not saying those troll women are omg oppressed. The characters in-game are just pixels after all. However they are a symptom of widespread problems in the videogame industry, where a woman can be an object just for being female, and yet again have her racial/cultural/ethnic identity turned into an object for western gratification. There’s nothing easy about this situation, but if you’ve never thought about it before, it’s worth thinking about it now. Certainly a lot of my ‘white’ heritage is in the game, pastiched through Stormwind and Loredareon, but the key point here is that it isn’t presented as ‘other’ in the way that the Uldum Pygmies are, or the cannibalistic trolls are.
I don’t think I touched on native american culture at all in the tauren profile. In hindsight that was wrong of me. It’s also worth noting that just about every culture in WoW is a counter-part culture, but I don’t think that excuses the cultural imperialism of the gaming industry in the long run. The appropriation of these cultures similtaneously gives us the only non-white cultures in the game, an act of inclusion, and at the same time it erases non-white cultures, by making them exclusively non-human. The tension is somewhat similar to having to be happy that there are women lead characters in video games, even if they end up like Lara Croft.
Warcraft is certainly not the only media to present a pastishe of Caribbean, Indian, Mesoamerican and African culture, and criticising race in World of Warcraft tends to be a difficult enterprise for allies who don’t wish to make the mistake of white-knighting. If you want to read more about the erasure and representation of race in WoW, then CJ Ritter’s dissertation is a great place to start, as are the comments on his Topography section. There is a lot of work to do, but over the last three years a lot has been done to shift the horde from ‘ugly and evil’ to ‘brutal but complex and different’.
Disclaimer: I am white, and I have tried very hard not to fuck up this discussion because I think it is something that needs to be talked about, however if I have fucked up, please let me know via email. The cultures I talk about are certainly not my cultures, and I don’t have the right to tell anyone to feel guilty or stop enjoying the troll race.
Secondly the proper term for ‘trolls’ is ‘species’, not ‘race’, which in hindsight I should have known/realised, and would have made this post easier to write! Last of all, this isn’t some sort of ‘Blizz sucks’, and I’m not going to stop playing WoW any time soon, I find a lot of enjoyment in the game.