Friday, January 7, 2011

Galleries on official WoW site relaunched: Analysis (numbers)

The Impetus (or: why torture myself again?)

While looking for game art featuring female characters more obviously sexualized than Vanille, I visited the official WoW website and discovered that the website had been re-launched along with the Cataclysm expansion. There had been a significant re-design and re-organization, and that included the galleries.

The old website galleries had been subdivided (if memory serves) into galleries for the various expansions with another gallery for general concept art. The new galleries still have expansion-specific sub-galleries, but the generic concept art gallery is gone in favor of a "Races" gallery and a "Classes" gallery. Overall, there was a lot of new art in the galleries that I hadn't seen before. Furthermore, the wallpapers gallery has been split into 10 or 12 sub-galleries - although there's not as much new there.

I got curious as to how numbers from the new site would stack up against numbers from the old site that I had compiled while working on my Depictions of Women article. So I decided to go through the revamped WoW galleries according to the same criteria as the original survey to see what I'd come up with.

Criteria and caveats

Again, the criteria I was examining: number of figures with discernible gender, active versus neutral poses, fully clothed figures, suggestively attired figures, and class archetypes (fighter, thief, mage). (For specific details on how I defined these criteria, follow the link above to the original article.)

Interestingly, because of the large amount of new art, I found myself having to add a few caveats to the criteria simply due to things that I hadn't come across the first time around. Firstly, undead figures showing any signs of rot at all were never marked as suggestive no matter how much skin was showing. (Because, you know, eew.) Silvanas was still counted as suggestive since her "undeath" just turned her grey and spooky. Children, for obvious reasons, were never considered as suggestive. Lastly, there were some cityscape images (mostly from Burning Crusade) of Darnassus and Silvermoon where I didn't count any figures at all because the figures were very small and elves can be pretty ambiguous.

Numbers and counting

Coming up with an accurate count was a bit of a daunting task because there are so many more sub-galleries than the old site had and a small number of images were duplicated across two or more galleries. (For instance, a particular image showed up in the Burning Crusade, Races, and Classes galleries.) So when counting images, I did not count duplicates of that exact image reposted in another gallery. If an image was in both Races and Classes, I only counted it once.

There were some images that I did count multiples of; there are several iconic race/class characters that are used in a lot of promotional art and slapped onto custom backgrounds. Each iteration of the iconic characters with a distinct background was counted. I modified that rule slightly for the Arthases (Arthasi?) that I counted, since there were so many of them. Because Arthas was in the cover art for the Wrath of the Lich King, I didn't want my numbers to be overly skewed by just one character, so I counted each distinct Arthas pose only once.

And here are the results! You'll probably want to click for the large version, unfortunately these don't shrink down very well:


So looking at this, the new galleries undeniably display sexist trends. Women comprise only one third of all figures with discernible gender. Only one third of figures that are fully clothed are women while making up slightly more than two thirds of all suggestively clad figures. And women are twice as likely to be depicted as magic users rather than thieves/rogues or fighters.

So what happens when you stack the new numbers against the old numbers? (You'll definitely want to click through for this one)


Okay, I know this looks really crowded, but I really wanted to make it as easy as possible to compare the two sets of numbers. Old numbers are represented in pastels, new numbers are represented in brights.

Now, when you look at the numbers here, it looks as if there have been some marginal improvements. Certainly the ratio of female figures to male figures has increased from one in four to one in three. Also, the percentage of active figures slightly increased which puts women aaaaaalmost at 50% of all active figures (from around 45%). Similarly, class archetypes haven't changed much. There were slightly more fighters depicted as women, but half of all female figures are still mages - which doesn't represent a real change from the old numbers.

The biggest obvious difference is the large increase in suggestively attired male figures. This is pretty much directly attributable to the new Cataclysm expansion which introduced werewolves (Worgen) as a playable race. As everyone knows, werewolves are ALWAYS bare-chested men.

I know it's true because Stephenie Meyer says so!

Snark aside, I find it significant that 55 out of the 68 suggestive male figures were monstrous - either being orc, tauren, troll, goblin, worgen, or demon. (Illidan I counts as demon in my books, btw. I suppose if you felt like it you could ignore the giant bat wings and call him a night elf.) Out of the 13 non-monstrous suggestive male figures - 12 humans and a gnome (sounds like the punchline of a joke) - 5 were Vry'Kul, an enemy NPC faction. This leaves only 7 out of 68 suggestive male figures that are not monstrous and actually heroes.

In most of the images with suggestive monstrous male figures, it seems like the intent of the artist was to convey the savage nature of their race by dressing them in more "primitive" attire. As such, it seems to me like these figures should fall into a different category than the suggestive female figures. The suggestive female figures are suggestively attired because they are highly sexualized. The suggestive monstrous male figures seem to be suggestively attired as a way of defining something about that character.

However, since part of the point of my methods is to be intentionally ridiculous in counting male figures as suggestive, I counted them all anyway. (I'm even counting the tauren, remember, who are basically just bipedal cows.) I simply think it's a thing worth noting.

What's next

I plan on examining in detail why these numbers aren't as positive (ha!) as they seem. Also, I plan on looking at the inequality of class depictions between male and female figures. But that will have to wait for another day.

[EDIT: Part 2 can be found here.]