Friday, April 13, 2012

Ji Firepaw: Use the Right Tool For the Job, In This Case, Two Razors

Once again, there's a bit of a kerfluffle on the internet regarding WoW. As usual, people are attaching a lot of excessive connotations to something that's not a social issue, but a storytelling issue. There's been a huge outcry over the Horde's panda escort character, Ji Firepaw, who was given a lecherous personality, in order to attempt to draw comparisons to other "mentor" stereotypes from anime/manga culture, which seems to be where Blizz is drawing a lot of their ideas from. Happosai from Ranma 1/2, Master Roshi from Dragon Ball, and Jiraiya from Naruto are all the sort of creeper mentors that are used as a stereotype now days. Blizzard tried to replicate this with Ji, giving him flirtatious and borderline obsessive lines to greet the players who come to him. He greeted female characters with:"Wow you are some kind of gorgeous aren't you? I can tell we are going to be good friends!" Male characters are greeted with: "You've got a strong look to you! I bet you're all the rage with the ladies!". The character was clearly designed to have sex on the mind, at all times. That whole vibe is reinforced with other lines in some of the other quests.

The blogosphere, Tweetosphere, and beta forums have exploded with all sorts of drama. People accusing Blizzard of misogyny and people accusing the people making the accusations of being kill joys have begun drawing lines. It's drawn some pretty hilarious reactions, my personal favorite being the two WoW Insider colums that saw the first getting its comments locked, and when the second topic came up, a few commenters were speculating as to how long it would take for this topic to be locked. Adam Holisky, the editor in chief of WoW insider showed up, explaining that the previous lock was do to technical problems with the new commenting system, certainly not due to the site's taking the easy route out of moderating the discussion. Ten minutes later, and exasperated Holisky locked the topic. That's why you can't have nice things, kids.

Anyhow, eventually, Blizzard opted to change the female dialogue, without changing any of the other dialogue. Which makes the character seem a little lopsided. Suddenly, people started raging about Blizzard caving to pressure, which they did, and claiming that the dialogue was crucial to the character, which it wasn't.

So let me make this clear. You're both wrong. Blizzard wasn't being misogynistic when they created the character. However, the lines needed to change, honestly, more dialogue needs to be changed.

First let me explain why the dialogue wasn't written with misogynistic intent. We do not live in a perfect world. No one's perfect. You can't create a perfect character and put them in an imperfect world, people won't identify with them. It's the literary equivalent of the uncanny valley. Characters need to be fleshed out. They need legitimate flaws. Making a character who's lecherous, or even outright misogynistic, might be vital for driving the plot. While there are works out there that are written with misogynistic intent, simply having a misogynistic character in the work doesn't necessarily equate to misogynistic intent on the part of the creator. Stanley Kowalski is one of the most misogynistic characters ever written, but it doesn't mean that A Streetcar Named Desire was written to push a misogynistic agenda, Stanley was simply the engine that pushed the story to a Pulitzer. In order to push an agenda within a narrative, you really need to associate the agenda with beneficial outcomes. If the story was constantly about women following their baser emotions to destructive ends, or constantly acting submissive to a dominant male character... Ok, that one kind of got away from me. But that's not the case with Ji, I promise, he didn't save the island by ogling female characters.

Some writers, either thinking they're being slick and people won't notice it, or amatuerish writers who are grasping at some flaw to add to a character, might tack on misogyny to a character who's otherwise lacking a flaw. Those who do it intentionally are trying to associate those negative tendencies with an overwhelmingly positive character. It's kind of the opposite of Reductio Ad Hitlerum. Only instead of "Hitler had a dog, therefore dogs are evil!" it's more along the lines of "Jesus beat his wife, therefore wife beating is good." These are typified by presenting the trait one wants to associate with Hitler/Jesus in a vacuum. They don't examine the consequences at all, they just rely on the association to make the case. Blizzard has made this mistake before, Thrall being a major offender, albeit for other things, like slavery and the fantastic white man's burden. But that wasn't the intent here. Ji isn't an admirable character, by any stretch of the imagination, even without the whole pervert aspect. He's short sighted, aggressive, prone to rash action, and doesn't care much about the consequences of his actions. His time spent in the starter zone shows a display of bumbling incompetence that puts him a Hugo Boss suit and a Swastika away from being Colonel Klink. He's an utterly two dimensional character who's redeeming features are roughly limited to "He's consistent" and "Well, he doesn't eat babies."

However, the whole Pervy Mentor idea needs to go. I mentioned that Ji is an extremely two dimensional character, and that's ok. Main characters need to be well rounded. The reader, player, or viewer spends a lot of time with that character, and inconsistencies will be noticed. The farther away from the main character you get, the more two dimensional the characters are. This is important, because if you learned everything there is to know about every ancillary character in a work, Jack and Jill would be a 400 page novel, and A Song of Ice and Fire would require the deforestation of the Amazon to print one copy. A character like Ji Firepaw, who shows up on the Wandering Isle for two purposes, to provide conflict, and to usher Horde Pandas to Orgrimmar, is so far on to the ancillary side of the spectrum of characters, that he's a bad fall away from being Captain Placeholder, who was replaced by a boat.

Ji Firepaw is a literary tool, not only in the sense of the character being a bumbling fool, but he exists in the story with a specific purpose, and doesn't exist beyond that role. In order to properly analyse and evaluate this tool, we have to use a couple tools of our own, Hanlon's Razor, and Occam's Razor. Hanlon's Razor is used in the analysis, and Occam's Razor is used to elucidate the solution.

Hanlon's Razor states: Do not attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity. We're talking about Dave Kosak, here. He's not siting in a high back swivel chair stroking his Persian cat commenting on how his master plan is 3/53 complete. I'd be shocked if his thought process on that quest series went anything beyond "Ji's a perv."

To observe how to correct the situation, we turn to Occam's Razor: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. It's better known in literary circles as Chekov's Gun, named after Anton Chekov, who once wrote: One must not put a rifle on the stage if no one is thinking about firing it. Blizzard should either take that aspect of Ji and do something with it, or they should excise it in its entirety. If they continued his story, and showed the consequences of his actions, then it would be a legitimate use. If the next time you see him is during the Pandaria Campaign, and he chats up Zaela and spends the rest of the campaign fleeing in terror from her, or he flirted with Sassy Hardwrench and didn't read the fine print, and winds up penniless after the first date, or he hits on Angry Jaina at the Siege of Orgrimmar and catches a pyroblast in face. Blizzard could use it to set up a further plot development down the road, but they're unlikely to do so. As it stands, Ji takes his place alongside Nobundo as starting zone characters who might show up again, on the other side of the Maelstrom, with no speaking lines, and as long as that's Blizzard's intention, then trying to add extraneous characterization to him is just piling on to the detriment of the narrative.


  1. Isn't Ji Firepaw the Horde Panda leader, while the Alliance get the lady?

    1. Yeah. The Alliance Counterpart is Aysa Cloudsinger. The idea was that Aysa represented the ideal of thinking through your actions, and Ji represented taking the initiative, but it wound up devolving to Ji represents cocking things up, and Aysa represents not screwing things up. Blizzard was presented with a problem, they had to get the Pandas off the island, and they didn't want to do it in a manner that implicated either the Horde or Alliance as directly responsible, so they opted to have proxys drive events and give the player a leading role between the factions.

  2. So Ji isn't actually a racial leader?

    1. Last time I logged into beta, neither of them had models in the capitols, or showed up outside the starting zone. They're racial leaders in the same vein as Gallywix and Greymane, there's no achievement for killing them.

    2. At least Greymane stands right next to the King of Stormwind.

      Gallywix is nowhere to be found in game. Which further implies that he's a temporary leader that will be replaced sometime in the future (which makes sense, since he's a douchebag like Garrosh. The difference being that at least Garrosh means well for his people, while Gallywix sees his only as a mere tool for profit).

      I went on a tangent here...

      My point was, Ji and Aysa ARE racial leaders (or at least ambassadors), just much more low profile than the other leaders.