Thursday, June 16, 2011

World of Warcraft, Fashion History, and so forth

It's been forever since I posted anything, I'm terrible I know. But I have realized recently that a lot of the comments I end up actually leaving have enough substance in them to be a "response" blog post. A couple weeks ago this nice lady Carol came over here after a comment I'd left on a blog we both read (and I really should start a series of posts on the things I discussed there), and was nice enough to be disappointed about my dearth of recent posts. And there's nothing like a total stranger believing you have something to say to make you believe you've got something to say. So I'm fleshing out a comment I recently left on WoW Insider, World of Warcraft blog I've been reading as I'm getting more and more into the game.

WoW Insider has a regular feature called "Breakfast Topic," and this morning they asked:

At what point does modern technology in World of Warcraft go too far? How far can gnomish technology really go? Is the game becoming too "steampunky?" Is that even a word?

Do you feel that introducing items from modern-day Earth into Azeroth interferes with the immersion of the game? Is it impossible to properly roleplay when someone just roared past you on what appears to be a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar attached to it? Or do you just shrug it off as gnomish eccentricity? Are the items properly introduced with a logical argument for why they exist, or are they there for the sole purpose of giving engineers something to do (and a way to make money hand over fist)? Do you personally own one of the mechanical vehicles, and, if you are a roleplayer, how do you work it into your storyline?

There was a lot of interesting discussion in the comments, with a not-insignificant number of people complaining that they didn't like to use guns as a "medieval-looking" character and so forth. I think that those people are fundamentally silly for thinking that a fantasy game somehow "has to be" medieval, so I told them so, armed with some Facts I've learned in my design classes and through my interest in design history over the years. Discussion of female underwear leans heavily on Elizabeth Ewing's Dress & Undress, a history of women's underwear in England which I'm currently devouring--highly recommended.

(Blockquote is things from my comment; non-blockquote, brackets, etc. are my attempt to explicate what I'm talking about for a non-WoW audience.)

So of course I thought of this response as soon as I left for work and didn't have time for WoW Insider at lunch . . . Anyways, my $.02 on the whole "Medieval" thing--the aesthetic of WoW is not really so much based on the actual Middle Ages here on Earth. At all. I am not a total architecture expert, but the cities and buildings we see are either completely imagined or drawn from a hodgepodge of historical times, it's not a dichotomy between medieval and steampunk. Even Stormwind, with its Gothic cathedral and crenelated walls, doesn't look much like any actual historical time/place combo.

Stormwind is the human capital city in the game. Below, a screenshot of my "main" (i.e., the character I play most), Syringe. She's a level 23 human fire mage, and yes that is her parrot. She's in Stormwind in the cap--as you can see, there's a bit of an old-timey vibe but the roofs are blue. There's also a player with googles, but that's not really anything to do with city architecture.


And if you're basing this assumption on clothes, well, speaking as a "clothes nerd" (I have the same major as aspiring fashion designers), let's just take a look at cloth-wearing human females (which I am and my main is), who wear close-fitting bodices over a natural torso--that is, we can pretty safely assume no corsetry of any kind, just some sort of bosom support. (No jiggling.)

Here we've got a nice head-to-toe shot of Syringe, in a simpler outfit because sometimes I like to dress my characters pretty, not practical. Notice that even she is not immune to the problem of blinking when her picture's being taken. She's just like me you guys! Except for she's a natural redhead. And she knows magic.


This is actually a very modern idea--the defined waist and fitted bodice first came into fashion in England in the twelfth century, but did not establish themselves firmly on the fashion landscape until the fourteenth--meaning that for most of the time period thought of as the Middle Ages, women in Western Europe (which I know is what you all mean when you say "Medieval") all wore loose-fitting robes, shifts or skirts. Because the fitted bodice was so closely associated with corsetry, it was not worn by women who needed to run or lift things--as our player characters do--for many hundreds of years after it was adopted by fashionable women. During the nineteenth century, women who performed physical labor sometimes wore restricting undergarments, but that didn't last. The "prom-dress" silhouette of a human female in a robe is very, very twentieth-century.

Look look! I'm doing magic!


As far as the combinations of armor and guns--this is a world with magic. In the real world, we don't bring a knife to a gunfight, and we stopped wearing plate because once guns are in the picture it's just too encumbering and not protective enough; also because why would you spend that much money on cannon fodder? Whereas in WoW nearly everything the players use--our guns, our knives, our armor--is enchanted. When your toon [this is another word for "character" but it takes less space to type] puts on plate armor it can actually make you MORE agile than basic, close-fitting cloth, but somehow I still wear cotton/spandex blends when I do yoga.

I've only rolled one Horde character (I'm pretty much a total n00b) so I have less to say about their areas; but in a world where the Plains Indian-styled Tauren and the quasi-medieval Humans and some goat-inspired hotties from outer space with holographic technology are all in contact with each other isn't any less medieval than a world where gnomes build awesome shit out of gears.

Phew! A lot in there definitely would have been a bit over my head just a week or two ago. So let's unpack:

This is Ysylya. She's a level 20 Draenei frost mage. (Shut up. I like playing mages.) The backstory of her race is that they are from a different planet--Outland. (Most of the game takes place on the planet Azeroth.) But as you can see, the model for the race is pretty goat-y. She's currently in a human area, but the space-shippy background she's in gives you a good idea of the spaceship interiors that are very common in lower-level Draenei areas. (I can't go to Outland yet, I need to actually level instead of blogging.)


It's a little easier to see the goat-based styling in this cap--look at the legs. Speaking of the history of underwear, wow is she working the Gibson Girl s-bend--I think it's got something to do with the way the cape interacts with the tail, but I think you'd even see the line if you took the cape off. The main difference between Ysylya and the ideal Gibson figure? The separated bosom.


And finally, my Tauren:


Not sure if I'll keep playing her--she's in a different faction (aka "side") as the other two, and can't be in the Alliance guild I play in with my boyfriend and his siblings and sister-in-law. We also all made a Horde guild but there's a limit on the number of characters you can play on any one server and at least one person was running out. Also the more literal animal-based races look kind of awful in the female form, so even if I wanted to play through all the content exclusive to that race I might want to be less scary-looking, aka I'd be a dude.

Now I'm off to go level Syringe's tailoring, and run a dungeon or two with the guild. I hope to keep up posting--I've got two jumping-off points for rambling on "women's work and the nature of making" not even COUNTING books I'm reading, I've got a lot more to say about WoW which I think would still be interesting to a non-gamer and some of which intersects with my identity as a maker, and of course if I've made quite a lot of things since last time I posted but that would require actually, you know, taking pictures.